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Santa Ana voters to decide in February on term limits

Mayor would be elected every four years rather than two and could serve no more than 16 in a row. Council members would get a 12-year cap.

August 11, 2007|Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writer

Santa Ana will spend as much as $150,000 on a special election in February so voters can decide whether to limit their mayor to 16 consecutive years in office and whether to increase a mayoral term from two to four years.

The ballot measure would for the first time cap how long a person can serve as mayor. It would also increase the time council members can serve by four years -- to 12 years.

Because the term limits would not be retroactive, the measure would have little immediate effect on Miguel Pulido, who has been mayor for 13 years. Under the measure, he could serve an additional 16 years.

If it is approved by voters, the big winner would be Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez, who otherwise would term out in November.

Alvarez, elected in 2000, was reelected in 2004. She failed in two attempts to win a seat in the California Assembly.

Council members currently can serve two four-year terms but must then take an eight-year break before serving again. The ballot measure would allow them to hold office for 12 years before taking a break for eight years.

The council on Monday approved sending the measure to voters by a 5-2 vote, with David Benavides and Michele Martinez opposed.

Martinez said she did not feel the voters should pay for an election "when we have so many needs, like our recreation programs and our roads."

Benavides said he voted against the measure because he believed four mayoral terms were too many and the cost of the election too high.

"I don't think the voters are going to go for this, and the money will be wasted," he said.

Brett Rowley, a spokesman for the registrar of voters, said a November election would be cheaper because more jurisdictions could share in its cost.

Council members Carlos Bustamante, Pulido and Alvarez did not return calls seeking comment. Members Sal Tinajero and Vince Sarmiento could not be reached.

Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization, said the Santa Ana council's actions mirror those of officials in Los Angeles and the state Assembly.

To get voters to approve term limit increases, politicians "always throw in a sweetener," he said.

In Los Angeles, voters were asked to increase term limits from eight to 12 years in 2006 but were offered ethics reforms in the voting package. In Santa Ana, term limits would restrict the mayor, but at the same time the mayor's term of office would be doubled and term limits for council members would be increased.

State legislators can serve six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate. Signatures have been collected to place on the 2008 ballot an initiative that would change the limit to a combined 12 years in either house. That would lessen the number of years legislators can serve, but probably increase the amount of time incumbents remain in a particular office, Stern said.

Pulido has twice been able to defeat attempts by council members to put term limits before voters. The Orange County Register recently reported that Pulido said he didn't expect to still be mayor in 2024, when the limits of his term would expire under the proposed measure.

"But I think it's important, whoever the mayor is, to have the ability to serve for a long period of time in order to lead the city," Pulido said.

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jennifer.delson@latimes.com

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