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Voters to Decide on Easing Term Limits, Housing Bonds

October 15, 2006|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

Voters in the city of Los Angeles have three local ballot measures to consider on election day, including one that would ease term limits for the City Council and a $1-billion affordable housing bond proposal that would increase property tax bills.

The third ballot measure would give the city more flexibility on where it builds fire stations.

The proposal that has received the most attention is Measure R, which would allow council members to serve three four-year terms instead of the two terms allowed under the current law.

It also would add to the City Charter several restrictions on lobbyists. They include: a ban on lobbyist donations to city campaigns, a ban on lobbyists giving gifts to city officials, and a ban on lobbyists serving on city commissions -- a prohibition already put in effect by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa but not yet part of the charter.

The measure has been controversial. A Superior Court judge in September ruled that Measure R violated the state Constitution by asking voters to cast one vote on two unrelated items: term limits and lobbying rules. Furthermore, Judge Robert H. O'Brien said, the two were linked to entice residents into voting for the term limits.

O'Brien's ruling, however, was stayed by an appeals court and a hearing on the measure's legality will be held Nov. 28, three weeks after votes are counted.

Because of the controversy, it has often been hard to separate the policy from the politics.

First, the policy. In 1993, at the urging of then-mayoral candidate Richard Riordan, voters imposed two-term limits on all elected city offices.

The restriction ushered in a new era of revolving doors at City Hall as politicians were forced to move on after eight years instead of holding the same seat for two or three decades.

Currently, the longest-serving council member is Alex Padilla, who was elected in 1999 and is favored to win election to the state Senate on Nov. 7.

Proponents of the measure believe that limiting terms discourages long-term solutions to complex civic problems, punishes incumbents who are doing a good job, and serves as a catalyst for politicians always to be seeking and positioning themselves for their next jobs instead of concentrating on the ones they have.

Those who favor term limits say they ensure a regular turnover of elected officials. In addition, they see term limits as helping to prevent politicians from getting too comfortable in their jobs and for making them more accountable to voters.

Now, the politics:

The measure was written by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles. Instead of gathering signatures to put it on the ballot, the two groups brought it to the council in mid-July and asked it to put the measure on the ballot.

With seven members due to be forced from office in 2009 and five more in 2011, the council agreed to do so -- by 14 to 0. That has led to weeks of tumult. Among several issues, one was a concern that the city Ethics Commission didn't get a chance to discuss the lobbying reforms.

Proponents of the package say the measure in its entirety would buffer the council from special interests and allow them to do their jobs better, but opponents say the lobbying reforms were added only to make the proposal more palatable to voters uneasy with allowing pols more time in office.

More than a dozen neighborhood council members have joined to create Not Prop R, a committee in opposition to the measure. They are joined by Los Angeles resident Neal Donner, who brought the lawsuit now on appeal. Donner is receiving legal backing from U.S. Term Limits, a national advocacy group that seeks to preserve and implement the restrictions.

Measure R would be approved with a simple majority.

Less controversial is Measure H, the $1-billion affordable housing bond issue. If passed, proponents say, it would allow the city to raise enough money to help nonprofit and for-profit developers build anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 units of housing for low- or middle-income earners who qualify.

Measure H has attracted a wide array of support from housing activists, developers and unions, whose members may benefit from the housing and jobs created by construction of the projects.

If passed, however, it would raise property taxes about $14 for each $100,000 of assessed value of a parcel.

Opponents of the measure say the bond issue isn't necessary, that it unfairly would tax all property owners, and that some of the housing would be for people who make enough money and don't need the government's help.

Included among opponents are the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.; the United Organization of Taxpayers; Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn.; and former mayoral candidate Walter Moore.

The measure requires two-thirds approval for passage.

Measure J would allow the city more flexibility in building fire stations.

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