Asserting that Redondo Beach’s two-term limit is an unconstitutional infringement on voters’ rights, City Councilman Ron Cawdrey on Thursday filed suit to force the city to allow him to run for a third term.
The veteran councilman demanded in a Torrance Superior Court petition that his name be placed on the March 5 ballot despite a City Charter amendment limiting him to two four-year terms. The petition was filed on behalf of Cawdrey and one of his constituents, Recreation and Parks Commissioner Mark Conte.
The suit is the second legal challenge in two years to City Charter-imposed term limits and could have statewide significance for California’s 81 charter cities, if it reaches the appellate courts, lawyers on both sides said.
“It would impact the extent of actual home rule and the extent to which charter cities can in fact govern themselves,” said Redondo Beach City Atty. Gordon Phillips. “That’s really the issue.”
The litigation will also have a financial impact, both on Cawdrey and the city. Phillips estimated the lawsuit will cost Redondo Beach taxpayers at least $20,000. Cawdrey has placed his own potential legal costs at $10,000 or more.
Cawdrey’s suit, filed by attorney Barry Fisher, contends that Redondo Beach’s 16-year-old term limit illegally prevents Cawdrey’s District 5 constituents from voting for the council candidate of their choice.
There are five candidates running for Cawdrey’s North Redondo council seat, but City Clerk John Oliver has refused to place the incumbent councilman’s name on the ballot because, under the City Charter, Cawdrey is ineligible to hold office.
But Cawdrey’s petition contends that charter cities cannot impose term limitations because the state has jurisdiction over questions of eligibility to hold office. Moreover, the suit asserts, municipal term limits interfere with voters’ rights.
“A small district in a small city . . . should epitomize democracy, not constrict it,” Fisher argued in the suit. “There is no reason, let alone a compelling reason, why its voters should not be trusted with their own minds.”
Conte, a longtime friend and political ally of Cawdrey, said he joined Cawdrey in the suit because “I voted for him before and I want the opportunity to vote for him again.”
“This is America and I think people should be able to bid against each other for jobs,” Conte said.
Added Cawdrey: “I think people should be allowed to vote for anybody they want. If they don’t like the job I’ve done, obviously they’ll support somebody else. But if they do (approve), they should have the right to vote for me.”
But City Atty. Phillips said the home rule granted charter cities in the California Constitution does cover the right to limit terms of office. Phillips noted that the only instances in which municipal term limits have been struck down have been in charter counties--which have narrower authority than charter cities--and in municipalities that are not covered by a City Charter.
Lawyer Valerie Armento, who represented the city of South San Francisco in a precedent-setting case involving term limits in cities without charters, said the law regarding term limits in charter cities has yet to be thoroughly tested.
A challenge to limits in the charter city of Cerritos failed in Superior Court in 1989. But it was not appealed, and only appellate rulings can be cited as legal precedents.
“The only real issue remaining is with charter cities,” Armento said. But, she added, “term limits in general have become a real issue since they were passed (in November) at the state level.”
Fisher, Cawdrey’s lawyer, also noted that the Redondo Beach suit comes at the same time that state legislators are preparing their own legal challenge to Proposition 140, the landmark voter initiative that limited the terms of statewide officers and members of the Legislature.
The ballot measure’s approval was widely viewed as a reflection of the public’s dissatisfaction with the Legislature. But at the same time that they passed Proposition 140 in November, voters also reelected 68 of 72 incumbent Assembly members and 19 of 20 state senators.