The City Council Monday handed voters a chance to make big changes in the local electoral system by agreeing to place a term-limits measure on the April 2000 ballot.
Most council members found themselves between a rock and a hard place as they considered the outlines of the ballot measure, which was sponsored by Councilman Tom Hasse.
If the council members had refused to place the measure on the ballot, the voters may have held it against them because such a decision would have deprived the electorate of the opportunity to vote on the issue. But by agreeing to place the initiative before voters, the members of the council have probably cut short their political lives in Malibu, if the success of term-limits measures in other cities is any guide. According to the advocacy group, U.S. Term Limits, virtually everywhere voters are given the chance, they overwhelmingly pass measures limiting the terms of city officials.
Still, term limits is not the hot political issue it was a few years ago, and whether it can always win the support of the majority of voters remains to be seen.
The term-limits initiative proposed for Malibu voters would limit council members to two four-year terms. Such measures cannot legally be applied retroactively, so the limits on holding office would start to take effect with those council members elected next April.
In proposing the measure, Hasse said he was trying to implement a council resolution from 1992 that imposed term limits on the council. While Hasse won the support of Mayor Pro Tem Harry Barovsky and Councilwoman Joan House to submit the issue to voters, none of his colleagues echoed his support for the concept of term limits.
“I have a philosophic problem with term limits,” Barovksy said. “We are going to be losing a superb assemblywoman, Sheila Kuehl, because of term limits and [West Los Angeles] is going to be losing a fine assemblyman, [Wally] Knox, because of term limits.”
Mayor Carolyn Van Horn, who supported the 1992 council resolution requiring term limits, said she has changed her mind on the issue after watching it take its effect on the state legislature.
“I have seen how it played out … [in Sacramento] … and it has its downsides,” said Van Horn. “What you have is the staff and lobbyists are running it … they have the institutional memory … and there’s a lot lost in the learning curve [with] the new people coming in.”
Councilman Walt Keller, who lost a re-election bid in 1994, said term limits at the municipal level are unnecessary because City Council members do not have a lock on their jobs the way politicians at higher levels do.
“In a town like ours, I feel people can provide a term limit for any elected official any time they want to,” said Keller. “They don’t need an ordinance … requiring it.”
But House and Barovksy concluded that issue should be left for the voters to decide, and they provided the support necessary for the measure to win a place on the next ballot.
“I’m certainly not stating my opinion whether I’ll be supporting this particular item at the ballot box,” said House. “But I do support taking it to the people to give them an opportunity to make their voices heard.”