Irvine City Council members Tuesday night directed the city attorney to prepare documents for a November ballot measure that would establish a strict term limit and stop the constant rotation between mayor and council seats allowable under the current system.
Mayor Steven Choi’s proposal – which passed in a 4-0 vote, with Councilwoman Beth Krom absent – is to eliminate the “revolving door” that allows Irvine’s elected officials to perpetually remain on council, he said at the meeting.
In providing reasons for the move, Councilwoman Christina Shea referred to “long-term members on the council who tend to dominate the political landscape.”
They didn’t say it outright, but these were clear references from the dais to Councilman Larry Agran, a longtime city powerbroker with over 20 years worth of council service since he was first elected in 1978. The Democrat — who took an eight-year hiatus in the 1990s — held the council majority for years until a Republican slate took control in the 2012 election cycle.
Yet while the proposal would implement a hard term limit — a lifetime maximum of two four-year council terms and two, two-year mayoral terms — it can’t be applied retroactively. That means such a measure’s immediate effect would be to extend term limits already in place for the current council.
For example, Choi, who is in the middle of his first two-year term as mayor, is allowed to serve two consecutive mayoral terms under the current system. If he wants to stay on council at the end of a possible second mayoral term, he would have to run for a council seat.
Choi’s proposal would restart the clock and actually grant him the ability to run for a third consecutive mayoral term, Agran noted at the meeting. He said he didn’t object to the idea, but wanted to see the measure written to close “as many loopholes as possible.”
“I think there will perhaps be a suspicion out there that while everyone loves term limits, we kind of arranged it so it doesn’t really apply to us as a practical matter,” Agran said. “Under these rules, I could be on this council into my eighties.”
“Hundreds,” Choi replied.
Councilman Jeff Lalloway said he supported the measure because voters across America have overwhelmingly passed term limits, making clear they want elected officials to be regularly rotated out of power.
“The people don’t want to see career politicians who don’t necessarily have the best interest of their citizens, but rather in continuing their political careers,” Lalloway said. “They lose their ear for what the voters want”
The measure must come back to council for approval, probably in two weeks, before it can be placed on the November ballot.