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Hahn Vetoes Ballot Measure on Term Limits

City Hall: Mayor says council effort could jeopardize $600-million police bond. The panel needs one vote to override his action.

November 29, 2001|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn on Wednesday swiftly vetoed an ordinance approved by the City Council that would put a measure on the March ballot to limit elected city officials to three terms in office instead of two.

The council voted 9 to 4 to approve the measure. It was uncertain whether supporters could muster the 10 votes needed to override the veto. Though the proposal picked up 10 votes the first time it was considered a week ago, at least two supporters were backing away by late Wednesday.

Hahn, who issued his veto just hours after the vote, said he opposes the ballot measure because it "detracts from more important city issues, and because it is too soon to evaluate the impact of term limits which have only recently gone into effect."

Although Hahn did not initially support the 1993 law that limited city officials to two terms, he said it has "brought new and dynamic individuals into the council and given it new life." He noted that five council members are in office because term limits prevented their predecessors from running for reelection this year.

But several of those newly elected council members said two, four-year terms do not provide enough time to accomplish major goals and deprived the council of experienced members.

"I believe three terms is an appropriate number," said Councilman Nick Pacheco, who was first elected in 1999. "Eight years is not working and in some cases has been a detriment."

The mayor also is concerned that the term-limit measure will prove controversial, and as a result could hurt the chances for voter approval of a $600-million police bond measure on the same ballot. He said some voters may become angry over an effort by politicians to extend their tenure and take their anger out on other ballot measures.

"It could turn voters off of the bond measure," Hahn said.

The council voted final adoption of the election ordinance an hour after Hahn released a letter opposing the ballot measure.

Hahn, who started calling council members Tuesday night to voice his concern, complained that he was not consulted before the council introduced the term-limit proposal.

"For all practical purposes, term limits have just taken effect," Hahn wrote to the council. "It is my view that it is too soon to attempt to overturn what is the clear sentiment of the voters. At this time, I oppose any change to the city's term-limit laws."

He told the council that if it was intent on putting a term-limit measure on the ballot, it should at least retain the two-term limit for the citywide officeholders--the mayor, city attorney and city controller.

Councilman Nate Holden introduced an amendment Wednesday to comply with Hahn's request.

"Why put the mayor in an embarrassing position of having to veto something that members of the council think highly of?" Holden asked his colleagues.

But changing the ordinance and winning final approval by the deadline for the March ballot required a unanimous vote Wednesday, and council members Janice Hahn, Ruth Galanter and Tom LaBonge voted against it.

Holden, the original proponent of the ballot measure, cast a "no" vote after his compromise measure failed.

Holden said afterward that he is not ruling out providing the 10th vote to override a veto. "If they have nine votes, I'll think about being the 10th," he said.

Another potential vote for an override might be Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was absent Wednesday and has not said where he stands.

But there were signs that support for the measure was weakening.

Two past supporters, Hal Bernson and Eric Garcetti, have excused absences from Friday's meeting and a third supporter, Dennis Zine, said he is inclined not to vote to overturn the veto.

Zine said he never was a leading proponent of the measure and believes government needs to reform so that council members can accomplish goals in eight years.

Bernson said that if he were able to attend Friday's meeting, he would vote with the mayor because he agrees that the term-limit measure might undermine efforts to pass the police bond.

Council President Alex Padilla said he will schedule a vote for Friday's meeting and will argue to override the veto.

The city has to take final action by Dec. 7 to get the measure on the ballot.

However, the council is in recess next week. That means the council must override any veto by Friday.

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