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Longer terms in Santa Ana?

Council members will be allowed to serve a total of 12 years if a measure passes Feb. 5.

January 09, 2008|Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writer

At first it seemed voters in Santa Ana would be asked to consider setting term limits for the mayor. After all, the current mayor has been in office for 16 years.

But after much discussion, council members went in the opposite direction. Instead of setting term limits for the mayor's office, voters in Orange County's largest city next month will be asked to increase the number of terms council members can serve. As it now stands, there is no limit on the number of terms the mayor can serve, but council members are limited to two four-year terms. The ballot measure, if approved, will increase the limit to three terms. As before, there would be no limits placed on the mayor.

"It says on the ballot that we are voting on term limits. In this measure, we are extending terms," said Art Lomeli, who chairs the committee opposing the Feb. 5 ballot measure. "The voters are being played for fools."

Measure D, which cost $150,000 to put on the primary ballot, has upset some residents who say they believe City Hall isn't listening to them. To others, though, a term-limit extension will reward Santa Ana with a more experienced City Council.

"Change is good, but it's also good when council members stay put," said Max Madrid, a city parks commissioner. "If you change them all the time, they barely get going and they have to get out of office."

Last year, Santa Ana's City Council began pondering term limits for the mayor, which could have ended the reign of Miguel Pulido.

Two committees, one of City Council members and the other of residents, had recommended asking voters to limit the number of terms the mayor can serve. The ballot measure doesn't address a term limit for the mayor but does ask voters to let council members serve 12 years before stepping down.

Councilman Sal Tinajero said an extra term would help council members have "better relationships with our city staff, which they really need to get projects done."

Only a few cities let council members serve 12 years, among them Los Angeles, Yorba Linda, Los Alamitos and Placentia, according to surveys of dozens of California cities taken by the city of Santa Ana and U.S. Term Limits, a Virginia-based group advocating term limits.

Unlike in Santa Ana, most mayors face term limits. Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Long Beach, Fresno, Sacramento, Oakland and Anaheim all limit politicians to two terms as mayor.

Tinajero said two recent Santa Ana City Council votes that would have limited the mayor's time in office failed. Pulido fought two previous efforts to bring mayoral term limits before voters.

Pulido, a native of Mexico City who grew up in Orange County, gets strong support among the city's white voters, who view him as a seasoned politician capable of leading an often fractious all-Latino City Council.

The city is 76% Latino, but 37% of the registered voters are white, and about 80% of that bloc has turned out in recent elections, a far higher rate of participation than other groups, said analyst Steve Sammarco.

Opposition to Pulido has become more vocal in the last year, with Councilwoman Michele Martinez talking openly about taking on the mayor in the November election.

Martinez said all of the city's elected officials should have term limits. She opposes relaxing the council members' terms to 12 years. "We need to keep bringing new ideas into our city," Martinez said. "Extending terms is playing politics."

Pulido did not return calls seeking comment. If the term limits plan is approved by voters, the big winner would be Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez, who otherwise would have to step down in November.

Alvarez, elected in 2000, was reelected in 2004. She failed in two attempts to win a seat in the Assembly. Alvarez did not return calls for comment.

Residents have been walking door to door throughout the city, explaining to voters what they will encounter on the Feb. 5 ballot. The volunteers are motivated in part by opposition to Alvarez and by opposition to the term-limits measure.

"This was supposed to have been brought up to give the mayor term limits," said Tish Leon, a onetime council candidate who has walked door to door to fight Measure D. "And giving our council members 12 years is way too long."

Resident Julie Stroud, a staunch supporter of Pulido, has also walked door to door to encourage a "no" vote. It doesn't concern her that Pulido doesn't have a term limit because "he's the smartest one sitting up there. Miguel is holding this city together."

But the City Council as a whole, she said, "isn't doing that great a job, and to give them another term is just not a good idea."


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