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Voters to Get Say on City Term Limits

September 30, 2006|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

An appeals court Friday postponed until after the Nov. 7 election a hearing on the legality of a ballot measure to ease term limits for the Los Angeles City Council.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal hearing, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, will be held Nov. 28, allowing voters their say before the court weighs in.

Earlier this week, the court had asked all parties involved in a lawsuit over the ballot measure their views on a possible postponement. Proponents of the measure wanted a delay, but opponents wanted the matter resolved before the election.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge had ruled the measure is illegal. But the appeals court decided to allow it on the Nov. 7 ballot, pending the court's own hearing and ruling. That put the city in the awkward position of offering a measure that might have been tossed out by the court before voters could mark their ballots.

"We felt the decision should wait until after the voters have weighed in -- if they've rejected the measure, it's a moot point; if they support it, the judge would have to look at it," said Nick Velasquez, a spokesman for City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo.

Charles Bell, an attorney for the Los Angeles resident challenging the measure, argued against a delay.

"The public deserves to know whether to spend its time debating and deliberating" the measure, Bell wrote in his argument to the court.

Measure R would allow council members, currently limited to two four-year terms, to serve three terms. It also would impose new restrictions on lobbyists.

The ballot measure was written by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters Los Angeles. The council put the measure on the ballot this summer.

But Los Angeles resident Neal Donner, with the backing of a national advocacy group, U.S. Term Limits, sued, saying the measure violates the state Constitution by combining two unrelated issues -- term limits and lobbyist restrictions.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Robert H. O'Brien ruled in Donner's favor. The city, chamber and league appealed.

Ron Gastelum, a chamber board member, said that the suit against the ballot measure is part of a larger trend of groups using legal action to prevent issues from reaching voters.

"In this case, a well-funded out of state organization is trying to tell us we don't want people to vote on it," Gastelum said.

Courts have generally taken a cautious approach and allowed controversial ballot measures to go before voters before ruling on their legality.

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