By Mary Marlow
“Some sitting city councilmembers have been in office since I was in elementary school” said one young teacher, who was among the 19,000 plus voters signing the petition to put term limits on the November ballot. Santa Monica imposes no term limits whatsoever on how many terms councilmembers can serve.
Are life tenures for city council incumbents the best way to run a city? Of course not. Incumbents win largely because they can raise substantial amounts of money and have overwhelming support from powerful special interests, which have done business before them.
Over time, political office becomes an insider’s game. Beholden to special interests after many years in office, our entrenched politicians often forget about the people they were elected to serve. Talented, qualified Santa Monicans are at such a disadvantage that they are often discouraged from running. The result is that power remains in the hands of the same politicians and their benefactors for decades.
Passing Measure TL will break this cycle of entrenched incumbency. A reasonable limit of three council terms for a total of no more than twelve years of service will begin after the November 6 election; it is not retroactive. It will weaken the power of lobbyists and special interest groups, who will no longer be able to form deleterious long-term relationships with councilmembers.
Historically, Santa Monicans have supported term limits for both elected and appointed offices. Since its inception in 1979, the elected Rent Control Board has been limited to two terms of four years. Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) created these limits. These elected board members set rent control rates, limit pass- through taxes and fees and defend renters when needed, not city council. If SMRR thinks term limits, are good for elected Rent Control Board members, why not for our City Council?
Neighboring cities throughout Southern California have joined the good governance movement. Term limits apply to elected officials at the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, West Hollywood, Culver City, Malibu, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. Term limits also apply to California’s statewide elected officers (governor, treasurer, attorney general, secretary of state, insurance commissioner, etc.) and Senate and Assembly legislators. The President of the United States is term limited, voluntarily observed for most of American history. Why do our City Councilmembers need more experience and knowledge than the President to effectively perform their jobs?
In 1999, City Council adopted limits of two terms for its City Boards and Commissions. If our Council thinks term limits are good for Santa Monica board and commission members, why aren’t they good for those same councilmembers who enacted them?
Opponents argue that experience will be lost and long-term projects jeopardized if council members are term limited. The history of our past and current long-term projects refutes this claim. Updating the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) of the City’s general plan lasted 10 years. The Metro light rail began in 2007 and opened in 2016, a 9-year project. The plan to close the Santa Monica airport, by agreement with the FAA in 2017, will complete in 2028 – 11 years.
All of these were completed in less than the proposed 12-year term limit. Valuable experience and institutional knowledge must be balanced with new vision and fresh perspectives. Our unlimited system favors the re election of incumbents time and again while preventing new candidates from emerging. The proposed term limits allow up to 12 years of service – plenty of time for our city to benefit from the experience and knowledge gained by our councilmembers, while still giving new people, with new ideas and vision, a chance to serve the public.
Term limits have resulted in more involvement by women and people of diverse backgrounds, fresh innovative ideas and more voter satisfaction with the responsiveness of elected representatives. Term limits for Santa Monica City Councilmembers will give voters a real chance for change, fresh perspectives, and new ideas.
Term limits will improve our political process and open up our government.
Vote YES on Measure TL.