Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pacifica term limits qualifies for ballot

In case people didn't know it yet, Bernie Sifry has confirmed that enough signatures were collected and officially verified to put the issue of Pacifica City Council term limits on either the June or November ballot. (He doesn't know which one yet.)  It's basically a limit of 2 consecutive terms, and terms served by a Councilmember before term limits go into effect don't count.

Council has the option of implementing term limits on its own in lieu of an election. While he doesn't expect anything to come of it, Bernie will offer them the chance to do that first.

I've personally been ambivalent about local term limits, but Bernie certainly deserves credit for his effort on this.

The language on the petition was as follows -

The proposed initiative states that its purpose is to limit the number of consecutive terms which may be served by members of the Pacifica City Council.

The proposed initiative states that it shall be interpreted so as to be consistent with all federal and state laws, rules, and regulations.  It also states that if any portion of the act is found invalid, such invalidity shall not affect any application of this Act which can be given effect.  Government Code Section 36502 authorizes term limits to be established by initiative for a general law city such as Pacifica, provided that the measure applies prospectively only.

The measure states that "no person who has served two terms of office as a Pacifica City Councilmember shall be eligible to run for election as a Pacifica City Councilmember.  If for any reason a person serves a partial term as a Pacifica City Councilmember in excess of two years, that partial term shall be considered a full term for purposes of this term limit provision."

Accordingly, if the measure is approved by the voters of Pacifica, no person may be elected to more than two terms on the Pacifica City Council after the effective date of the measure, but terms served in office prior to the effective date of the measure by present and former members of the Pacifica City Council will not count toward the two-term limit.

Under California law, the measure will be adopted upon the date that the election results are formally declared and will take effect 10 days after that date.

Posted by Steve Sinai


Richard Saunders said...

That wording doesn't sound like a limit to two consecutive terms. Rather, it sounds like two terms total.

Is the full wording available?

Steve Sinai said...

Now that you mention it, it looks like you have a point, Richard. When I was talking to Bernie about this recently, he said a council member who had served two terms could then sit out four years and run again. But from what I can see, that's not spelled out in the text from the petition.

The body of text on the petition is displayed on the term limits website at

Richard Saunders said...

Thanks. Unfortunately, that's the notice of intent, not the petition itself. Odd that the whole thing's not there. Maybe the city will put it online once deemed accepted.

I'm concerned about this whole thing. Term limits have been a disaster in Sacramento.

Steve Sinai said...

As far as I know, the wording on the petition is legally required to reflect the actual text of the ballot measure, so what was posted should literally be the text on the ballot.

I don't think term limits are the cause of the problems in Sacramento. There aren't term limits for representatives and senators in Washington, and it's in the same kind of mess.

That's one of the reasons I don't think term limits will make much of a difference. I'm a big supporter of term limits at the state level because I thought the system was rigged, and term limits were meant to overcome that. But what I'd really rather have is an independent citizens' group handle the redistricting instead of legislators drawing boundaries to protect their seats. If that was the case, I'd be willing to do away with term limits in Sacramento.

I don't view Pacifica elections to be rigged in the same way as state elections, so in that respect I'm opposed to term limits in town. On the other hand, our councils have a history of pushing everything off to the future and never getting anything done. With term limits, perhaps they'd be more motivated to get things done if they knew they "only" had 8 years to accomplish objectives.

Anonymous said...

I vote for a November vote on term limits. If you're going to vote on it, do it at a time that you can make it an election issue. Vreeland, 12 years. Julie, 12 years. Sue, 8 years (seems like 16). They have all had enough time and shouldn't even consider running.

Richard Saunders said...

We have redistricting underway now.

Having been a big fan of term limits for Sacramento at the time of the vote, and a close watcher of what actually transpired, I'm comfortable with calling term limits a disaster with terrible consequences for the people of the state.

Richard Saunders said...

Sorry about that. Blogspot said there were errors with the first one, and didn't display the posts, even when looking from a different browser. Steve, if you want to delete some of those, please do.

Steve Sinai said...

OK, I got rid of all the extra links, Richard.

I was just reading in the San Mateo County Times about how state legislators were trying to undercut the independent redistricting effort. This is one of those things where I need to see the results of independent redistricting before I'd be willing to eliminate term limits.

Editorial on Term Limits

Scotty said...

I'm not a fan of term limits locally, but I'm curious why you call state term limits "a disaster with terrible consequences", Richard. Most of the problems at all levels of government have more to do with childish partisan bickering taking the place of policy-making, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, all of this talk about term limits. Has anyone considered what it will do to Pacifica representation in relationship to the rest of the county? Most of the cities in San Mateo county that actually have term limits are poorly represented on various county boards. I have heard that council people really need at least two terms to work their way up in the county hierarchy and gain respect. Whether we have had this in the past or not is not the issue, we need to become much more involved in San Mateo County. How will term limits help or will it really hurt more?

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't we have CEO term limits, too? Think how much better Oracle and Apple and Google would be if their CEOs were term limited!

Steve Sinai said...

Shouldn't we have CEO term limits, too? Think how much better Lehman and Enron and AIG would be (or would have been) if their CEOs were term limited!

Richard Saunders said...

Term limits are a blunt instrument, and they turn out the best and the worst and everyone in between.

Look how hard it's been to find and field candidates to run against the incumbents, especially candidates that the electorate is willing to vote for. Term limits is not going to make that any easier.

Of Pacifica's 40,000 people, how many are going to be really good at leading the city? How many are going to be willing, and will have the time it takes? How many have the personality and temperament to get along with other council members, staff, intergovernmental relationships (e.g., ABAG, CCAG, state representatives and senators, League of Cities, SAMTrans, and many others)?

With term limits, you're guaranteed to throw out anyone who's really good and replace them with an unknown quantity. And you'll be doing it at a time in their political experience where they're really getting enough experience where the mechanics of things like reading budgets, seeing through staff obfuscation, and understanding the consequences of city actions start to come into focus, and instead of having the city benefit from that experience, you kick them out and usher in a newbie.

If you can't turn out the politicians you dislike at the ballot box, maybe there's a lesson in there to be learned.

Bark Nuggets said...

I worry about scenarios like this:

You're in Year 7 of your 8-year term-limited position. A very difficult issue comes up that may require you to make an unpopular decision that's ultimately the best for Pacifica.

Do you tackle the problem and risk the wrath of your constituents or do you avoid the issue, "kick the can down the road," and let the next council member deal with it (thus preserving your goodwill among the people).

Kathy Meeh said...

The current city council was able to accomplish what they planned and intend in 8 years, leaving only a few more lands to rid this city of to make its future completely insolvent.

Some of the damage of failure to provide a balanced city economy may have been avoided, by having term limits.

Richard Saunders said...

So you don't like them and their policies. That's pretty clear. Why not vote them out by running candidates who can win? We've seen that it's possible.

In case someone wants to talk about candidates who have tried and failed, let's talk about that. Jeff ran a pretty good race, but the electorate didn't like what he was selling, not in sufficient quantity to put him in office. He's not shy about being rude, and that alone is enough for many people to vote for anyone else.

Term limits will not help you find good people to run, yet that's been the biggest challenge to turning out the people you want to be rid of.

I wonder if you'd comment on the points in my post above, and Bark Nuggets' scenario.

Steve Sinai said...

While not necessarily in favor of term limits, I can easily see some counter-arguments to what Richard, Bark, and Anonymous have said.

If you're in year 7 of an 8-year term and a difficult decision comes up, you could argue, as Bark does, that you might prefer to put off the decision in order not to look bad. But that's happening right now, even without term limits. If there's one word that describes Pacifica at the moment, it would be "stagnation." The current council only makes difficult decisions when they're backed into a corner with no way to escape. Otherwise, their standard operating procedure is to have staff endlessly study issues, send things back to the planning commission, create a citizens committee to recommend a course of action, etc.

You could just as easily argue that if you're faced with a difficult decision that many people won't be happy with no matter what you decide, then term limits could free the council member up to make a decision without worrying about how it will affect them in the next election.

As for the issue of getting good people to run, I've talked to several people who've seriously thought about running but decided not to, and a typical reason was that too much money was required to overcome the name recognition of established candidates. It's very common for people to vote based on name-recognition, and not much else. Without incumbents running, perhaps voters will feel more obligated to at least take a cursory look at candidates' positions.

As to Anonymous's comment about needing time on council to build up a reputation at the county level, I constantly hear that Pacifica's current reputation with the county is as a poorly-managed city that takes much more from the county than it contributes. Sometimes the longer you stay, the worse your reputation gets.

Bark Nuggets said...

It seems to me that the argument boils down to that fact that a group of people want certain council members removed but are unable to offer electable alternatives. Instead, they've chosen to perform an "end around" and kick them out via a Charter amdendment process.

It reminds me a congressional body in which a minority party relies upon parlimentary procedures in order to stymie an up/down vote (which wouldn't be to their favor).

I think if people were honest, most would admit that they want term limits due to frustration in their inability to elect council members they prefer.

If this group of council members is as horrible as they're made out to be, it should be fairly easy to vote them out.

Steve Sinai said...

Even though nothing would happen to the incumbents for at least 8 years, I agree with Bark that for a lot of people, term limits are all about the current city council. On the other hand, I'm finding plenty of others who feel this is genuinely about good governance.

At one point I was very angry at Bernie because I also thought his push for term limits was a very poorly-disguised and dishonest attempt to get rid of the current council, and would undercut the credibility of those of us who want to see changes in the way the city's run. It was going to be another example of the way we keep shooting ourselves in the foot whenever we start developing some kind of momentum.

The more I talk to him though, the more I think that's not his motivation. In discussing this issue with him a few days ago, he was also bringing up county and statewide problems, and hardly even talked about the council. I'm coming to the realization he's doing this because he feels term limits at any level of government are a good idea.

I'm not sure I agree with him, since I think imposing term limits solves some problems at the cost of introducing others. I do feel that if the pro-term limits arguments become mostly about the current city council, it will be easy to paint term limits supporters as an angry, frustrated, sneaky group, and that won't play well with other voters.

Richard Saunders said...

Steve, "reputation at the county level" has to do with much more than just the Board of Supervisors, and Pacifica would hardly have the worst reputation in these parts (e.g., consider Half Moon Bay and the way they embarrassed state officials with their attempts to get bailed out, only to give big pay raises at the worst possible time. They made people like Jerry Hill look bad, and that's just dumb.)

There are all sorts of organizations council members participate with. The city doesn't get power until council members serve long enough to get elected to positions of responsibility with those organizations. C/CAG is one good example. Pacifica needs someone serving there who the other members get to know and like. It's often not much more than that to have a city's needs get a little bit of attention, and that can translate to material benefits to the city.

Throw away relationships at C/CAG and other organizations at the city's peril. Those relationships are the kind of momentum the city really needs.

By way of comparison, look at what freshmen legislators go through in Sacramento and DC. It takes two years just to get to the point where they have even the smallest responsibility (just look at how long it took Jackie Speer to start getting any traction). By the time they get to where they can introduce bills and get them passed, it's been a few years. With term limits in Sacto, that means that they get the boot right about the time they hit their stride. In Sacramento, term limits have created a sickening game of musical chairs. Anybody who really wants to be effective has to spend roughly half of their time campaigning at all times.

Lionel Emde said...

The sell-by date gets reached at different times. But it's always there.
"We know what's best for you."
"I know what's best for the community."
"I have the pulse of the people."
Term limits are a good thing.

Richard Saunders said...

You sound so certain. What's your reasoning?

Bark Nuggets said...

If you feel that our council-members go "bad" and don't serve Pacifica's best interests after two terms, why don't you have faith that other residents won't arrive at the same conclusion and simply vote them out?

On the one hand you're arguing people need to know that council members get stale enough that they need replacing via term limits, but on the other hand you're claiming people aren't aware of this during a regular election.

The very reasons put forth for term limits are the reasons that should be used to drum up support for an alternative candidate during an election. But I guess that hasn't worked so...

Anonymous said...

Anyone who wants to dictate who you can and can't vote for is a fascist authoritarian creep and should be shouted down.

Kathy Meeh said...

Bark, both term limits and drumming-up new candidates to actually support the balanced vision needs of the city can co-exist-- rather than long-term, faking the economic component (by saying one thing doing another to fulfill a previously undisclosed agenda).

As you probably know incumbents have a huge advantage, particularly where the people default to an assumed leadership competence (which by economic accountability and vision doesn't exist in this city). Also, running for city council outside a "popularity contest" is very expensive for any challenger.

Last year Mayor Digre along with "our environmnet is our economy" said "I'm just now learning my job"; and this year "more open space is better". Big oops, the city needs more than a city council of "nothing for Pacifica" babysitters.

Doesn't the city need a balanced economy economic plan to solve a whole bunch of infrastructure problems? We've had 8 years of proof that this city council will deliver "nothing significant" for the economic benefit of the people of this city. Meantime, city infrastructure continues to collapse from the ongoing recession cause by this city council, not to be confused with the national recession.

Your comments Richard are from my view revisionist history, another propagandized diversion. Jeff's campaign as a challenger was late, he was an unknown by the general population but 4500 people "got it". "Warm and fuzzy" words or behavior do not trump the city need for an accountable city council, and the substantial infrastructure needs of this city and its population. Honorable civic leadership includes educating, rather than caving into special interest.

Steve Sinai said...

Kathy, I think you're making a big mistake arguing the way you are. It helps prove Bark's and Richard's point that people supporting term limits are only doing it because they can't win a straight-up election.

To me, the issue is about deciding whether Pacifica's problems have been caused by stagnation and an empty well of good ideas among city leadership, and if so, whether term limits are a good practical solution to that problem.

The city has problems with stagnation and lack of good ideas, but term limits aren't any guarantee of good government. They wouldn't make things worse than they already are, though. That's why, at the moment, I think they ultimately won't make a difference.

Bark Nuggets said...


I'm afraid we'll just have to respectfully agree to disagree.

If the City Council is as out-of-touch as you make them out to be, there is a simple process already in place by which they may be removed at the end of their current terms.

Kathy Meeh said...

Steve and Bark, your respective opinions are yours, and mine will stand. Steve, "big mistake" from your view, is "simple facts" from my view (observation of city transactions).

With the current oligarchical control of this city extended into commissions and ad hoc cronies, what you may view as "stale ideas" I view as a "predetermined agenda". And, "we the people" are the beneficiaries of the spin and consequences of that agenda.

Yes Bark, we will disagree. City council is out-of-touch with what constitutes the "good of the people"-- nothing balanced here. This city is the poster child for the need for term limits 14 years ago, unfortunately.

Incumbents have an election name recognition, (in place experience, media, authority), and county connection for endorsements advantage. With a "nothing for Pacifica" 8 year track record, maybe those who have not been paying attention and/or believed this city leadership prior will "get it" this time.

My position is a little above neutral on term limits, but observing how this city has been co-opted by irresponsible economic leadership, I'll check the "yes" on term limits box.

Richard Saunders said...

Are you agreeing that your desire for term limits is simply to kick out the current council members you haven't been able to defeat at the ballot box?

Kathy Meeh said...

Richard, since city leadership is not fair in Pacifica, then we really don't need to pretend it is either, do we? And, since you come-in with a fake "pen-name", maybe you will be willing to explain your position better.

From my view the current city council has proven 8 years is long enough to claim "mission accomplished". They have almost completely destroyed any potential economic/financial advantage this city could hope to have outside taxing citizens directly, while leaving this city with failed infrastructure.

Remember last time Vreeland, Lancelle, Digre ran for office they all claimed "the city has never been in better financial shape". And, they all gave the "right answer" dialog to gain continued County endorsements, and for the same "easy answer" incumbent reasons gained enough support of the people to get elected (fooled you again).

Last election Pete DeJarnatt said he supports "development" and "dog parks", and we've heard Jim Vreeland supports "development", Sue Digre supports "marketing", Julie Lancelle supports being nice and golf. They all support these issues during elections, whereas once elected they support "nothing for Pacifica". Do any of them really even support the "open space" golf course? Julie Lancelle does support not tearing down the sea wall hiking trail (I saw that level of her golf support in SF at the last two golf hearings).

One thing city council does seem to support are more taxes for Pacificans. And, in December (09) they even found a way for property owners to pay to fix their own 50+ year old roads, (designated as old county roads). So some Pacifican should pay for roads, others should not, or will we all be paying to repave and repair our roads next? Property owners paying for sewer laterals happened on the watch of this city council, why not city roads? Remember the "temporary" Fire tax? Measure D? Highway and general fund money for trails? The not generally understood sewer tax money transferred to the city general fund? This all happened on the watch of this city council, and more.

For some of these reasons, and based upon general principal having term limits in cities could be a beneficial protection for citizens. Steve and others have also mentioned an urgency to accomplish goals-- and, that's an important point. Of course, this city council has seemingly had vision goals and objectives, which have not been fully disclosed in advance to our citizens. And, since such scrutiny and accountability has not occurred in practice, term limits seems like an appropriate city default.

Richard Saunders said...

So you don't like them, want them gone, and if term limits will do what you can't accomplish at the ballot box, that's what you want?


Thanks Steve,"Pacifica's current reputation with the county is as a poorly-managed city that takes much more from the county than it contributes. Sometimes the longer you stay, the worse your reputation gets." I know county government and unfortunately this is true. The good news is Pacifica was kicked out of the county pool so they did not have the same Lehman losses as others. The bad news is that if there were a competent Treasurer investing, Pacifica could lose out. Regardless, Pacifica needs to clean up it's image with competent city council members.


O.K. If term limits do not pass, how about accountability. City council members that do not do what they promised, do not get paid. It's like a contractor, you build the deck, homeowner happy, you get your money. No deck, no money, for failed city council members. That is the way real business works. I am a Dem but still believe nothing is too big or small to fail. Mission accomplished or....No mission.