Voicing strong concerns over Los Angeles' term limits law, members of the City Council agreed Wednesday to ask voters to lengthen the amount of time they and other elected officials could spend in office.
The council members say they will seek a March ballot measure to overturn a 1993 referendum that limited city officials to two four-year terms.
The move is being made by a council that has been dramatically affected by term limits. In this year's municipal election, five newcomers filled seats that were vacated by longtime incumbents.
"We are not making a power grab," newly elected Councilman Eric Garcetti told his colleagues. "We are trusting again in the democratic process to check back with the people to see if term limits are working."
Others said two terms in office do not give them enough time to master the issues and learn how to manage the city's bureaucracy.
Council President Alex Padilla, a self-described "term limit baby," said his three years in office have shown him that there is value in longer-term service."
"I think it's incumbent upon us to look at Washington," he said. "There's a reason there's no term limits for members of Congress."
The city lawmakers still must decide on the language of the ballot measure. The council Wednesday directed the city attorney to prepare three resolutions. The first would call for extending the current limit from two terms to three, the second for limiting service to four terms and the third for removing all limits. The council is set to vote next week on which measure to put before voters.
Although four council members went on record Wednesday opposing the complete abolition of term limits, all 12 in attendance agreed that voters should be given the chance to lengthen the terms.
Even former Mayor Richard Riordan, who urged voters to approve the restrictions eight years ago, has expressed his misgivings. As he was leaving office in June, Riordan said that, in retrospect, he believed City Council members should have been allowed to serve up to 12 years rather than eight, because they face a steep learning curve.
"I have been working with some of these new members since they got sworn in," said four-term Councilman Nate Holden, a longtime opponent of the city's term-limit law. "They are already bellyaching that they don't have enough time to get things done."
He said he also believes that public opinion has changed since 1993, when voters overwhelmingly approved measures limiting terms for city and state elected officials.
Term limits "have created a mess in Sacramento, and they have caused major problems here," said Holden, who must leave his post in 2002. "The tide has changed. The mood of the people and the voters of this city and this state has changed."
But other council members said they doubted that the public would support the effort.
"If we put this on the ballot, it is going to fail," said Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who is also serving her last term. "People think it's easier to throw people out with term limits. . . . People are not going to want to increase" the number of terms allowed.
Although she ultimately supported the effort, Councilwoman Janice Hahn said she, too, had misgivings about asking voters to change the law.
"This is a tough issue for me personally," she said. "When you talk about people who have devoted their life for a career in public service, you cannot have a debate without talking about my dad, [the late county Supervisor] Kenny Hahn. He spent 46 years in public service."
On the other hand, she said it would appear "disingenuous" for the council's new members to support longer terms.
"We're here because our predecessors were term-limited out. We might not have challenged them because they were incumbents," Hahn said.
The council action comes at a time when elected officials throughout the state are exploring similar measures. A group of activists--backed by some powerful lawmakers--recently succeeded in gathering enough signatures to ask California voters in March to revise the state law that limits state senators to eight years and Assembly members to six.
"There are people who've devoted most of their lives to serving the public," said Councilman Hal Bernson, the council's senior member. "Some of the people who served were able to accomplish a lot of the things they accomplished because of the knowledge they had and the experience they had."
He added: "New members do not have the opportunity to develop projects and things that you want for your communities. One project I worked on took me eight years alone."
Even though each council member present Wednesday voted in favor of one of the three resolutions, the overall vote was mixed. The proposal to extend limits to three terms was approved 10 to 2, while the four-term and no-limits proposals both passed 8 to 4.