Opinion: Musings on the Coast

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Let’s Add Term Limits

It is time to enact term limits for city councilmembers in Laguna Beach.   

Here are the reasons why:

  1. Since the Founding Fathers, the general consensus has been that people, given power, eventually will be corrupted by it. As Henry Kissinger quoted Lord Acton: “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
  2. In Laguna Beach, there is in fact partisan politics. On one side is Village Laguna. On the other side is Liberate Laguna. If term limits were enacted, toeing the party line for either side would be less important.
  3. With term limits, holding on to one’s seat would be less important, thus freeing up the councilmember to cast votes as he/she really sees fit, and not through a partisan lens.
  4. It means fresh ideas continually will be injected into the system. 

California has term limits of 12 years for both assembly and senate members. It is working quite well. Members actually work to help their districts, not just to hang on to power. 

Further, the state has term limits of two terms, or eight years for its statewide offices like governor, attorney general, treasurer, and so on. That, too, is working quite well. No one person gains such preeminent power that other points of view are ignored or quickly shot down.

Even the United States has term limits for the Presidency. That limit is two terms or eight years, an example set by the father of our country, George Washington. The limit was enacted after President Franklin Roosevelt ignored the precedent, ran four times and died in office. 

If there are term limits for the Presidency and California’s state elected officials that should be good enough for Laguna.

In Laguna Beach itself, Mayor Bob Whalen has served since 2012, and when his current term ends, it will be 2024. That is 12 years. I think Bob has done a tremendous job—more than that, he has been so great the Council itself keeps selecting him for repeated terms as mayor. But 12 years is enough.

Another Councilmember, Toni Iseman, has been on the City Council since 1988, when Ronald Reagan was president. That’s six [residents ago. The world population was 5 billion; now it is 8 billion. The singer Sunny Bono, now long dead (from a skiing accident), had just been voted Mayor of Palm Springs.

Toni championed the city trolley service and deserves thanks for that. But by the time her current term is over she will have served 34 years, twice what works completely fine for the state. It is time for us to thank her; and time for her to move on.

Term limits for Laguna should not be controversial. I would wonder about anyone who opposes it. What would be their real agenda?

So let’s focus on what is meaningful to this city. Install term limits. 12 years, or three terms, exactly what a state senator or assemblymember can serve, should be good enough for Laguna Beach.

Who is with me on this? Please do comment.

Michael is co-founder of Orange County School of the Arts and The Discovery Cube

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Ray, THANK YOU for addressing this issue. It’s long overdue! I fully support City Council (and Boards and Commissions) term limits. IMO, there is no real reason for City Councilmembers to serve more than two consecutive four-year terms if they are effective. And the ability to serve again after being off the CC for a minimum of two years could be considered.

    Public Official Term limits and By-District elections have been discussed for years. Re: By-District Elections – other cities near us (SJC, DP, SC to name a few) have already moved forward with term limits and by-district elections. I think LB may have at least 5 recognized separate communities; North LB, Downtown/LagunaCanyon, Central LB, LB Hilltops and South Laguna. Not all of these communities have representatives living within them and they are very different from one another which is why we have several communities underrepresented and underserved. Electing one representative from each area is the only way to ensure that all of LB is served and city resources are distributed equitably.

    SJC City Council and City Manager Ben Siegel made the switch from at-large to by-district municipal elections 2016! Laguna Beach City Council…let’s get this done!

  2. I agree with you Michael. In the past LB election, in the Greater Laguna Beach GOP candidate debate forum, we asked all the LB candidates if they supported term limits, including Bob Whalen, Steve Dicterow and George Weiss. None of them supported term limits. Next time, lets elect councilmembers who believe in term limits. I remember Bob Whalen saying he was only going to serve one term when he was elected. This is what happens when people get in a position of power. It is well past time for term limits in LB.

  3. Michael, you write: “Term limits for Laguna should not be controversial. I would wonder about anyone who opposes it. What would be their real agenda?” Actually, term limits are quite controversial, and a Google search will reveal plenty of rational pros and cons. That’s why the “real agenda” of someone who opposes term limits needn’t be nefarious. It could be a desire for good governance.

    Term limits can be antidemocratic and can deprive us of experienced and effective public officials. If we don’t like our elected officials, after all, we can and should vote them out of office. That said, there are way too many entrenched politicians from both parties who are beholden to PACs and corporate donors. Term limits won’t do much to solve this problem, but getting big money out of state and national politics would.

    Locally, no one has ever come close to Toni’s years of service on the Council or Jan’s on the School Board. (Steve was second, but wasn’t reelected.) It’s not as if the voters were unaware of this and should we fault them for preferring experienced leaders, considering the alternatives? District voting doesn’t address term limits. It also would be tough to prove that our small homogenized town of rich white people had a problem with disenfranchised voters, which is why San Juan Capistrano instituted district voting. But we don’t. We do, however, have a minority rule problem. In 2020, Bob won with 25 percent of the votes, and George with 22.4 percent. That’s a problem that ranked choice voting is designed to address, yet it is hardly ever discussed locally.

  4. Michael, you are spot on! Term limits is not at the ballot box or 95% of all congressional politicians (and over 80% of all state) would not keep getting re-elected. Politicians know these statistics and use them to their advantage. The power, prestige and position they hold makes them safe and secure from candidates without the money nor the gravitas to unseat even the poorest performer. The same politicians who have voted to put us into this current morass of divisiness, corruption, angst, debt, and eroding education, infrastructure, and values are the same ones who say only they can fix it! Are we stupid? I hope not to go that far, but we are certainly easily led, especially with slick ads and bombastic statements just prior to all elections. We can spend millions on ad campaigns, but we can’t afford to fix the schools or roads.
    So term limits is a great idea. The 22nd Amendment termed the president to two terms. In 36 states the governor is term limited (including California); in 15 states the state legislature has term limits (including California); and in 9 of the top 10 cities in the U.S. there are term limits (only Chicago doesn’t). Only the politicians try to overturn the term limit requirements; never have the people request a ballot measure to review them.
    You will never get new ideas, people who are willing to work for the common good instead of holding grudges and pride themselves on parliamentary procedures, or get rid of the “network” of lobbyist without mandating term limits. Politicians will not term limit themselves. Would you term limit yourself out of your reporting job? Of course not.
    I am the California State Director for U.S. Term Limits (www.termlimits.com) and am working to have California become one of the 34-states needed to call for a Convention of States to propose an Amendment to the Constitution to term limits congressional legislators. We bypass congress – they don’t get a vote! We use the current Article V of the Constitution as our methodology.
    Michael, again I say, you are spot on. Term limits at every level of government returns the power to the constituents. How can I hellp?

  5. Thank you, Michael Ray for bringing the subject of Term Limits to the table that will serve to benefit this community by breaking the current stranglehold of incumbent politicians.
    I promoted the concept of Term Limits for all Laguna Beach Commissions, Committees and City Council when I ran during the crowded 12 candidate City Council race, held in 2018. Elected Council member Peter Blake spoke to support Term Limits, during his campaign, however term limits will likely remain a campaign promise unfulfilled as is the typical political shift. I agree, that a politician will not “term limit” themselves. Term Limits will need to become a ballot measure to allow residents to vote. A considerable conflict of interest exists when the current system allows City Council to throttle themselves with term limits.
    MJ, thank you, I have supported that District Elections would best serve the residents of this community. This city is not a “homogenized town of rich white people” as erroneously stated by Mr Quilter. City Manager Ben Siegel has insight and the residents of San Juan Capistrano understand that district elections now enables an equal share of democracy to address the disparity. Districts would provide a greater balance of city resources to service the particular concerns of each unique neighborhood. Each City Council district representative could be required to hold district neighborhood town hall meetings and each representative would be required to respond to 90-100% of emails from their district constituents, without bias or favor. These measures would vastly improve communication & transparency with city officials. This city does yield to an inequitable economic disparity with the Census reporting over 40% renters and the majority of retired seniors, many on fixed incomes and associated blight caused by deferred property maintenance.
    Chris Quilter, I beg to differ with the antiquated ill-begotten stale argument that experience is somehow necessary to fulfill elected office or any committee or committee position. Consider the facts that any resident over aged 18 with US Citizenship may run for City Council.
    On the contrary, fresh vibrant ideas will come from real people, not politicians.
    Entrenched politicians will not likely effect any change nor do they bring fresh new ideas.
    The city and residents of this community lose when elected officials become embroiled in collaborative identity politics. Nationwide Term Limit ballot measures have widely been embraced and have passed voters by a wide majority. It is time that Laguna Beach voters are allowed to vote for term limits on commissions, committees & City Council.

  6. This is a rare occasion when I agree with Michael Ray. I have wanted term limits since I first became aware of the dangers of the same people in office for a long time with the same viewpoints. The founding fathers envisioned public service as a duty, not a lifetime career. Ms. Zeiter you are incorrect on two points. George Weiss did not attend your forum. Secondly George is fully in support of term limits. I walked the neighborhoods with him and he discussed that very issue with residents. This is a long overdue change that Laguna needs to enact now. It has bipartisan support.

    I’d also like to see by district voting enacting. Living in South Laguna I have felt like a step child since I moved to this part of town. The $2M resident act that CC passed last week has a few bones thrown our way but we are still ignored and we are one of three major entry points into Laguna. We need someone on the CC to represent our issues as does TOW, Canyon etc. But first let’s get those term limits done!

  7. Enacting Term Limits may put an end to the future Political Action Committee PAC devised tenor of terror reigned upon city hall. This may be the best & most provocative opinion article that Micheal Ray has put forth in the past decade. Please begin a movement to support Term Limits before you perish without notice!
    District Representative City Council elections, brilliant move. HOA have been formed, over decades, proves this ideology is valuable & necessary! Post and comment made by Chris Quilter do give the strong impression that he has been living under a rock!!

  8. Agree with everyone here. I’ll add that the City of San Clemente passed City Councilmember Term Limits in 2020 and so did the City of Westminister. IN fact, there’s only a few cities left in Orange County that haven’t adopted term limits for public officials. It’s time for our City to get this done and include Boards and Commissions member term limits too.

  9. I made a mistake in my column. Toni Iseman was first elected to the Council in 1998, not 1988. At the end of her current term, she will have been in office for 24 years, or three times the term limits for our State Governor and Constitutional Officers.

  10. Thanks to Michael Ray for his correction about Councilperson Iseman’s many years of serving the community. It seems that some other people served many terms, too. Any idea how long Steve Dicterow was on City Council? (I seem to recall he was recognized by Mayor Whalen for his many years of serving on Council). How about Kelly Boyd?

  11. Deborah, Mr. Ray’s correction regarding CC member Toni Iseman’s council member 24 years of service is correct when her current term ends in 2022. I’m not sure but I think she will hold the most terms served by a public official record in LB. You asked about CC members Boyd and Dicterow years of service. CC Kelly Boyd served as a LB council member for a total of 16 years. He declined to run again and left office in 2019. CC Steve Dicterow served as a LB council member for 20 years. He was not reelected and left office in 2020.

    While I certainly appreciate the commitment of these individuals over several decades, I fully support enacting Term Limits and look forward to welcoming diversity and new ideas and energy from respectable members of our community who are willing to step-up and lead. It’s time we join the majority of OC cities who have adopted Term Limits for our City Council Members and our appointed Boards and Commission decision-making members as well. Only a few OC cities remain without public official term limits and its just matter of time before these cities realize the necessity of setting term limits in todays political environment. Voter research shows that when Term Limits for public officials are put on a ballot they are approved by an overwhelming majority of voters. It’s clear that it is time for Laguna Beach to move forward on this issue as well. I say YES to setting elected public service Term Limits!

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