Attorneys for Santa Ana and for an ally of City Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez are awaiting a court ruling on whether Alvarez may run for a another term.
They argued their cases in a hearing Wednesday before Superior Court Judge Charles Margines, who is expected to rule soon. A ruling hadn’t been issued as of Wednesday evening, according to the court’s website.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this month by Max Madrid, a state Senate staffer whom Alvarez appointed as a city parks commissioner.
The issue centers on Measure D, a ballot initiative approved by voters in 2008 that extended City Council term limits from two terms to three. At issue is whether the measure's restrictions apply retroactively.
When it was approved, the measure had allowed Alvarez, who had been approaching the previous two-term limit, to run for and ultimately win a third term on the council. Now as her third term nears its end, Alvarez wants to run for a fourth.
The city, however, has ruled that Alvarez may not run in the upcoming election, since she will have served three consecutive terms.
But in his lawsuit, Madrid argues that terms served before Measure D's passage should not be counted. His attorney, Steve Baric, pointed to a recent state attorney general opinion that in the case of the Loomis Town Council, term limits can’t be applied retroactively.
“The time that the ordinance was adopted is the trigger,” Baric told the judge. “It’s three terms from that date.”
The city’s attorney, however, countered that the Loomis case dealt with an “entirely different” set of facts from the matter at hand. Santa Ana’s status as a charter city exempts it from the state law cited in the attorney general opinion, and the Loomis case also dealt with a city that was enacting term limits for the first time, said Mitchell Abbott, the attorney representing the city.
“The voters didn’t intend for any council member to serve for five terms,” Abbott told the judge. That intent, he asserted, was expressed in the text of Measure D.
The opposing attorneys, however, did agree that much was at stake.
If the court were to prevent Alvarez from seeking another term, Baric said, it would be “denying the fundamental right of Claudia Alvarez to run for office.”
That right does exist, Abbott conceded. But, he added, it “does not trump the people’s right to impose term limits.”