Term limits for City Council Finally Coming to Santa Monica

On Monday, January 29, 2017 the first step was taken to allow Santa Monica to join with the California State Assembly, State Senate, the L.A. City Council, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and countless other cities across California that have brought term limits to elected officials.

The “Term Limits for City Councilmembers” Initiative has been filed with the Santa Monica City Clerk. The proposed initiative will need the signatures of 15% of registered Santa Monica voters, approximately 10,500 signers, to appear on the November ballot.

The City of Santa Monica currently imposes no limits on the number of four-year terms an individual may serve on the City Council, which allows incumbents to remain on the Council for decades. We currently have two councilmembers who have been in office for five terms (twenty years) and six terms (twenty-four years).

In fact, in the last twenty–five years, only two Council incumbents have lost an election. Two incumbents died in office and were replaced by appointees, who became incumbents at the next election.

Incumbents seldom lose elections because of the power of incumbency, which includes significant financial support from outside Political Action Committees (PACs) that is unavailable to most challengers. Contributions to PACs are unlimited (Citizens’ United). This creates a huge campaign-funding gap for challengers with fresh ideas and perspectives.

This proposal will put an end to career politicians, who become less and less responsive to constituents the longer they stay in office. The proposed charter amendment will limit City Councilmembers to three terms for no more than twelve years in office. Current officeholders will have an opportunity to serve for up to twelve more years should we choose to re-elect them.

Santa Monica already limits members of their Boards and Commissions to no more than three terms. Why isn’t what’s right for every other official in Santa Monica right for the Council members who appoint them?

Any hope that public financing of elections will solve incumbency problems was effectively nullified by the 2010 Supreme Court decision on Citizens United that removed campaign contribution limits for corporations and unions. Public financing simply can’t compete with corporate donors with deep pockets.   Unless the U.S. Constitution is amended, Santa Monica will never be able to adopt meaningful campaign financing limits. Incumbents will always have an advantage.

Entrenched incumbency has made our electoral system less free, less competitive, and less representative. We need term limits to keep our city government open, honest, effective, accessible, and accountable to voters.