Santa Ana has sought an outside legal opinion on whether Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez — who is thought to be termed out of office next year — can run for a fourth term on the City Council, Santa Ana interim City Manager Paul Walters confirmed this week.
Prior to the passage of Measure D in 2008, City Council members could serve only two consecutive four-year terms. The successful campaign for Measure D, which was run from Alvarez's home, added a third four-year term to that limit.
At least, that is what everybody thought.
But the rumor has long circulated that Alvarez — the only sitting council member approaching her 12-year limit — is searching for a loophole that would allow her to run for at least one other term.
Walters' confirmation is the first official acknowledgement that the city is actually studying the issue. Other details, such as the outside attorney's identity, have not been disclosed.
Interim City Attorney Joe Straka declined to comment on the issue and said only that the attorney's contract is public record. Voice of OC has requested the contract under the state's public records law.
Alvarez couldn't immediately be reached for comment. Other council members interviewed said they knew little about an outside attorney's involvement.
"Have you confirmed that?" asked Councilman Vincent Sarmiento when asked about the issue. "I don't know much about that, so I couldn't comment on it intelligently."
Council members Sal Tinajero and Michele Martinez said they had heard about outside counsel's involvement but hadn't confirmed it.
"It's probably about her [Alvarez]," Martinez said. "She's the only one that's going on her 12th year. No one else is."
Martinez said she approved of the study and it was important for residents to understand what they truly voted on, and for council members to know their actual term limits. "I would also like to know if I have two more terms," Martinez said.
The only council member interviewed who acknowledged knowing about the study was Councilman David Benavides, though he said he didn't know the attorney's identity.
Benavides said that the city attorney and city clerk made the decision to bring in outside attorneys to study the issue because members of the community — specifically the city's service employees union — were inquiring at City Hall about the possibility of another council term for Alvarez.
The union, however, claims not to have made such an inquiry.
"It's interesting that someone would say that, because we don't care," said union President Joaquin Avalos. "No formal request was ever made to the city manager or city attorney — ever — on that topic."
Clarification: A previous version of this post might have given the impression that Councilwoman Michele Martiniez wants to serve two more terms on the Santa Ana City Council. That is not her stated intention.
— ADAM ELMAHREK