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Two Who Want to Limit Office Tenure Differ on How to Do It

Times Staff Writer

Proponents of initiatives to limit City Council terms in two Palos Verdes Peninsula cities are reacting differently to a state Court of Appeal ruling that such local regulations are invalid because eligibility to hold office is controlled by state law.

Rolling Hills Estates City Councilwoman Jacki McGuire, though not retreating from her view that it is “absolutely essential” to limit council service to two terms, said she has shelved plans to circulate initiative petitions.

Avoiding Lawsuits

“I do not wish to engage in any type of litigation,” said McGuire, who advocated limiting terms when she successfully campaigned for office in a March special election.

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McGuire said she will try to drum up interest in a statewide measure to put limitation of terms into state election law.

In neighboring Rancho Palos Verdes, on the other hand, resident Joel Justin King said he plans to proceed with a petition drive for a November initiative limiting council service to two terms. He called the court ruling a “denial of the constitutional right to limit tenure in office.”

City Clerk Jo Purcell, however, said that even if King obtains enough voters’ signatures to qualify his initiative, it will not be put on the ballot. “The city attorney would issue an opinion saying it could not be put on the ballot because it is unconstitutional,” she said.

Rolling Hills Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes are general-law cities. Such cities operate under the general laws of the state rather than their own municipal charters.

In a ruling affecting the general-law city of South San Francisco, the 1st Appellate District court in San Francisco ruled on whether South San Francisco City Councilwoman Roberta Cerri Teglia should hold office.

Teglia, who is serving a third term on the South San Francisco council, was reelected in 1987 despite an ordinance limiting council members to two consecutive terms, according to Jim Parrinello, her attorney.

t The appellate court decided that numerous state code provisions governing eligibility to hold office in general-law cities indicate that the state governs such matters.

Parrinello said the South San Francisco city attorney believed the local law was invalid, but it had not been repealed by the City Council. Warren Steinkamp, a former councilman, challenged Teglia’s reelection in a lawsuit, Parrinello said.

The April 12 appellate court opinion became law when it was published and was not appealed to the state Supreme Court within the specified time limit.

“The whole area of term and scope and nature of election has been preempted, certainly in general-law cities,” said Richard R. Terzian, Rolling Hills Estates city attorney.

Legal Opinion Differs

But because the Teglia case involved a general-law city, legal opinion is divided over its application to charter cities such as Redondo Beach and Cerritos, which have ordinances limiting time in office to two terms.

The Redondo Beach law, enacted in a charter election in 1975, prevented former Mayor Barbara Doerr and Councilman Archie Snow from running for their offices again this year. The two then ran for other offices: Doerr won election to a council seat in the March General Election and Snow was defeated in a bid for mayor.

City Atty. Gordon Phillips was firm in his belief that the Teglia case is limited to general-law cities and does not apply to Redondo Beach.

“We would certainly contend that the number of terms a person can serve is a municipal affair within the purview of a charter city,” he said. “The charter regulates municipal affairs.”

Phillips said this view is strengthened by the fact that the term limit was voted in “by the people as a charter initiative. . . . My thinking is, the courts would give great deference to this.”

For her part, Doerr said, she supports the two-term limit and would not favor a legal challenge. “It’s good,” she said. “You need new blood, new ideas.”

Snow could not be reached for comment.

The Cerritos two-term limit was approved by voters in 1986 as a means of preventing long-term incumbents from seeking office again. But confusing wording led City Atty. Ken Brown to issue an opinion that the limit applied only to terms beginning after the ordinance took effect. It has yet to prevent anyone from running again.

‘Statewide Interest’

Brown, like Phillips, said he does not believe the Teglia ruling applies to Cerritos as a charter city. But, he said, a court might decide that the issue of term limitation is “a matter of statewide interest” and apply it to both general-law and charter cities.

Teglia’s attorney Parrinello said he thinks the ruling applies to both categories of cities because one of the cases cited by the Court of Appeal related to eligibility of elected officers in a chartered county.

“We used this case as precedent in the Teglia matter,” he said, adding that the other side attempted to distinguish between the two. But the court held that “the distinction is not pertinent in this case.”

Parrinello said there may be a distinction when it comes to executive officers, such as a mayor, because although there are no limits on consecutive terms in Congress, there is a constitutional limit on presidential terms.

Terzian also said he believes charter cities as well as general-law cities are affected by the ruling, adding that the reason cities have adopted term limitations is that “no one has said ‘no’ before.”

Although they have decided to take different roads on term limitations, McGuire, in Rolling Hills Estates, and King, in Rancho Palos Verdes, are united in a belief that the limitations are needed.

“When individuals hold office for long periods of time, they lose their perspective, and they stop listening to the residents,” said McGuire.

King said: “If we can’t limit tenure in office, we might as well have a king.”


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