By Edwin Folven, 8/16/2012
Initiative could be placed on March ballot
Some residents and political activists in West Hollywood want to limit city councilmembers to 12 years in office, and have filed the paperwork for a March 2013 ballot initiative to allow voters to consider term limits.
The proposal is being spearheaded by three West Hollywood residents — Scott Schmidt, Sheila Lightfoot and Elyse Eisenberg — who claim that a lack of term limits makes it difficult for new candidates to win seats on the council. Members of the council, a majority of whom have been in office for more than a decade, claim that term limits would restrict their ability to effectively guide the city over the long term. Current councilmember John Heilman has served for 28 years, Abbe Land has been in office for 19 years, Jeffrey Prang has served for 15 years and John Duran for 11 years. Councilmember John D’Amico was elected in 2011.
“We believe there is tons of talent in West Hollywood, intelligent people who are denied the ability to rise up and have leadership experience and serve on the city council,” Schmidt said. “We believe twelve years is enough to accomplish their goals.”
Schmidt said he met Lightfoot and Eisenberg, both longtime West Hollywood residents, after he became involved in the city’s community affairs. He added that they are acting as private citizens who are concerned about the city’s future. Schmidt has been a transportation commissioner for the city for the past five years, and was a candidate for the West Hollywood City Council in 2011.
Eisenberg, who is chair of the West Hollywood Heights Neighborhood Association, an organization representing residents north of Sunset Boulevard, said she has been interested in local politics since 2000, when traffic started becoming worse near her neighborhood. Eisenberg said she “personally likes” all of the current councilmembers, but that most have been in office for too long.
“We feel it is time for some fresh faces,” Eisenberg added. “As much good as the councilmembers have done, it is really time to give other people an opportunity to serve. If the president is expected to change the world in eight years, and we have term limits in the state, we feel that it is fair that our councilmember have twelve years to achieve their goals.”
Lightfoot, a 25-year West Hollywood resident, echoed that sentiment, and added that a lack of term limits gives incumbents an unfair advantage over prospective candidates. She claimed that because incumbents are well-known, they have more ability to raise funds and awareness for their political campaigns.
“More people need the opportunity to serve the community,” Lightfoot said. “In a community of so many intelligent and capable people, it doesn’t make sense to me that only the same councilmembers are capable of serving and running this city.”
West Hollywood voters previously struck down a measure on term limits in 1997 that would have limited councilmembers to two terms. Schmidt said he believes the new measure will fare better because it gives councilmembers more time in office, and that times have changed in the last 15 years. If approved, the existing councilmembers could still serve an additional 12 years because state law does not allow term limits to be retroactive. Land, Duran, Prang and D’Amico said they oppose term limits. Heilman could not be reached for comment.
“I don’t support term limits. I know it sounds cliché, but people have the opportunity every two years to vote the councilmembers out,” Prang said. “West Hollywood is small and accessible, and people should have the right to chose who they want to represent them. If you chose to vote for people who have been serving for a long period of time, people should have that opportunity.”
Duran added that he opposes term limits because they restrict councilmembers’ ability to accomplish long-term goals.
“I oppose term limits not because it protects my own hide, but because we’ve seen what term limits have done in Sacramento,” Duran said. “Sacramento is unable to address long-term problems because people are always in revolving chairs. West Hollywood continues to be one of the eight percent of cities in the United States that is in the black during these tough economic times, and that suggests that city hall and the city council is doing a good job in terms of fiscal responsibility.”
Land, who served on the council from 1986 to 1997, and again from 2003 to the present, said the current system works because citizens have a chance to vote for new councilmembers every two years. Under the current system, councilmembers serve four-year terms, but the elections are offset so that every two years, either two or three councilmembers are up for reelection.
“I have not been supportive of term limits because I think we have the ability to reelect people to office every two years, and people can exercise their power to make change through the ballot box,” Land added. “There is always a rotation.”
D’Amico said he is proof that the current system works, because last year he unseated an incumbent councilmember, Lindsey Horvath. The councilmember said although he opposes term limits, he does support a ballot measure.
“If the residents want term limits, then they should have a vote on them,” D’Amico added. “Mostly, I think voters are very smart, and they elect the people who they want to be elected. I got myself elected by beating an incumbent. I think getting elected should be difficult.”
West Hollywood City Clerk Corey Schaffer confirmed the city has received the paperwork required for a ballot initiative, and the West Hollywood City Attorney has until Aug. 22 to return a title and summary. Once that is completed, proponents need to collect approximately 2,300 signatures from West Hollywood residents, or 10 percent of registered voters. The deadline for having a ballot initiative placed on the March 2013 ballot is Dec. 7, Schaffer added.