A Santa Ana parks commissioner, who was appointed by City Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez, has filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city to allow Alvarez to circumvent its term limits law and run for a fourth term on council.
The lawsuit, filed by Max Madrid, argues that the city cannot retroactively apply the three-term limit that was set out in Measure D, which was approved by voters in 2008. In other words, the suit is arguing that Alvarez's fourth term would only be her second term under Measure D.
“Absent a clear intent to have Measure D apply retroactively, Ms. Alvarez cannot be barred from running for a fourth term,” the lawsuit states.
There has long been speculation that Alvarez, the only sitting council member approaching Measure D's 12-year limit, is searching for a loophole that would allow her to run for at least one more term. The 30-day nomination period for City Council candidates to file paperwork begins next week.
The city brought in outside counsel to evaluate the term-limit provisions of Measure D. A Voice of OC request for the report made under the California Public Records Act was denied, citing attorney-client privilege. Nonetheless, the city's official stance is that Alvarez cannot run for a fourth consecutive term.
"For somebody to question that, is, I think, a misunderstanding of what the voter intent was," said City Councilman David Benavides. "I'm hopeful that she's not behind it."
Alvarez and Madrid could not be immediately reached for comment.
Madrid works on the staff of state Sen. Lou Correa handling veterans affairs issues. Correa said that while he couldn't speculate on Madrid's motive in filing the lawsuit, Correa described Madrid as “very civic-minded.”
As for Alvarez, Correa said that elected officials should “interpret the will of the voters the way you see it.”
At the time Measure D was passed, Alvarez was the only council member approaching a two-term limit. The campaign, which was run out of Alvarez's home, promoted Measure D as a check against the influence of powerful special interests.
The Los Angeles Times reported in 2008 that Madrid was the campaign treasurer for Measure D.
“A YES vote on Measure D establishes a limit of three terms on City Council members to reduce the power and influence of City Hall bureaucrats and developers,” read the ballot argument in favor of the measure, which was signed by Madrid.
City Attorney Sonia Carvalho is reviewing the suit, said City Manager Paul Walters.
“We got it today," said Walters, who is also Santa Ana's chief of police and police commissioner. "Hopefully in the next day or two we will know her analysis, what she recommends."