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Council OKs Plan to Ease Term Limits

Times Staff Writers

Revisiting an issue that has defined the face of city government in Los Angeles for more than a decade, the City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a ballot measure that would extend from two to three the number of terms a council member can serve.

Among other items that would change the City Charter, the measure also would impose new restrictions on campaign contributions by lobbyists. Proponents say the new rules are intended to clean up local politics, but critics contend they are being included simply to entice voters to approve the package.

The council’s action outraged City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, who immediately called for a mayoral veto, and two ethics commissioners, who questioned whether the proposal had been properly vetted before going to the voters Nov. 7.

Voters in Los Angeles enacted term limits in 1993, leading to a sweep of the old guard from City Hall. In recent years, the conversation has continued between those who said term limits have gone too far -- denying voters the chance to reelect good people -- and others who said term limits ensured turnover needed to keep City Hall clean.

The ballot measure, if approved by a majority of voters, could change the face of city government for years to come. Seven of the council’s members are due to be forced from office by term limits in 2009.

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If the measure passes, it is possible that nearly the entire council could serve together until 2013. In addition, according to the city attorney, council members previously termed out of office, including Controller Laura Chick and Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) could seek a third term.

Delgadillo advised the council that the measure might not withstand a legal challenge because it was unclear whether term limits and campaign finance reform could be legally combined.

“I’m going to continue to say I cannot support an end-run around our Ethics Commission and neighborhood councils” with “a package designed to hide from voters a scheme to extend term limits,” Delgadillo said.

Revising term limits requires a change to the City Charter, he said, while the other proposals could be enacted at any time by the council.

Council President Eric Garcetti said that it is better to allow voters to change the City Charter than have the council pass an ordinance that could be overturned by future panels.

Delgadillo said he would not bring a challenge himself and would, if necessary, defend the city in a lawsuit over the measure. He added that he might withdraw his opposition if the council broke the measure into two proposals, one concerning term limits and the other on campaign finance laws.

Villaraigosa did not take a position Wednesday.

“Mayor Villaraigosa will review the ethics and term-limits package sent to him by the City Council and make his decision known in the coming days,” his office said in a written statement.

Villaraigosa has not exercised his veto power since taking office in July 2005. Vetoing the ballot proposal probably would anger the council, whose members want more time in office and who could derail future mayoral programs. Friday is the deadline for putting a measure on the fall ballot.

The ballot measure proposal was spearheaded by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters, which linked the ethics provisions to those easing term limits in the measure.

Two members of the Ethics Commission said its panel members often have weeks or months to consider and make recommendations on important measures. In this case, they were barely given time to familiarize themselves with the plan’s details, they said.

“It showed absolute contempt for the Ethics Commission. I’m really outraged by this,” Commissioner Bill Boyarsky said.

Boyarsky, a former editor at The Times, called the bundled measure “outrageous” and said it actually weakened the city’s ethics laws.

“It’s just not the way to do it,” Boyarsky said. “Why didn’t they bring it to the Ethics Commission weeks earlier? You mean to tell me this was written at the last minute?”

Commissioner Sean Treglia, who supports the measure, nonetheless echoed Boyarsky’s comments about the process.

“I mean, we’re the Ethics Commission and we were created by the citizens of Los Angeles for this very purpose: to in essence act as the citizens’ voice in crafting policy in this area,” Treglia said.

Commission President Gil Garcetti said through a spokeswoman that he had no comment because the council had acted unanimously. He is the father of Eric Garcetti, who in recent months has been under pressure from colleagues to shepherd the term-limits package onto the fall ballot.

LeeAnn Pelham, the ethics panel’s executive director, said she thought it was unfortunate that the commissioners could not weigh in on the proposal.

Both the L.A. chamber and League of Women Voters asked the council to forge ahead with the original proposal.

Eric Garcetti took strong exception to Delgadillo’s assertion that the council was trying to hoodwink voters. He said Delgadillo, who will be forced out by term limits in 2009, has a personal reason for knocking the measure.

“My understanding is that the League of Women Voters was in constant contact with the city attorney’s office and worked closely with them on drafting this proposal,” Eric Garcetti said. “Then suddenly the city attorney did a 180" after he learned that his office was not to be included in the term-extension proposal.

Delgadillo disagreed.

“It was about being clear and honest with the voters,” he said.


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