The Beverly Hills City Council took up the question of term limits for council members and the treasurer at the Jan. 26 Study Session, voting to place the matter on the November 2021 ballot. The Council addressed the topic after requests to do so by two former Mayors. The proposal would restrict council members and the treasurer to three terms, including the existing council members and treasurer.
“What was being suggested is that we ask the residents if they support term limits in our election. I think that’s reasonable; I think the voters should decide,” said Councilmember Dr. Julian Gold. “I do think that, in the end, it offers an opportunity for others to serve.”
While term limits exist throughout different levels of government, they are not required in most cases. At the highest level of government, the President of the United States has been limited to two terms since the ratification of the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution. United States Senators and Representatives, however, can serve without term limits. On the state level, members of the California State Legislature can serve 12 years in either the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination of the two. Californian governors are limited to two terms. In Los Angeles County, County Supervisors can hold the position for three terms.
The staff report compiled for the Jan. 26 Study Session notes that, as of October 2019, 123 of California’s 482 cities had voter established term limits. Voters in Santa Monica passed a ballot initiative in 2018 restricting city council members to three terms.
The issue came before the Beverly Hills City Council at a Study Session in July 2020. At that time, former mayors Bob Tannenbaum and Nancy Krasne requested that the Council consider adopting term limits.
“The real nature of the idea of having term limits, is that it’s the politics of opportunity to open up the government to new people to present the community with the opportunity to serve,” Tannenbaum said. “Government service, [according to] the founders, was not to be a lifetime career. It was to be something that we volunteered basically, given the comparative nature of what we would earn in the private sector during the years we spent in the government, but we’d go back. We wouldn’t stay in government in perpetuity, we would go back to our private lives and into private practice.”
At the Jan. 26 Study Session, the Council heard a letter signed by 11 former Beverly Hills Mayors, including Tannenbaum and Krasne, in favor of the limits.
“We are concerned residents repeating a request submitted last year to ask the council to place on the Nov. 2, 2021 ballot a measure to create term limits for elected officials in the city of Beverly Hills. We suggest a lifetime limit of no more than three terms in any one position. This limit should apply to all residents, including current office holders,” the letter read.
All five council members indicated support for placing the initiative on the ballot, though some had mixed feelings about the efficacy of term limits in the first place.
“At some point, we will have to allow for new ideas and new leadership. It’s also up to us to help mentor and encourage new blood and new leadership as well,” Councilmember Lili Bosse said.
Councilmember Robert Wunderlich, although in favor of placing the item on the ballot, expressed a less favorable opinion on term limits. “I’m generally not a fan of term limits, but that’s just one person’s view and I don’t have an objection to people being able to vote on what their preference might be,” he said. “I think there’s pros and cons of long-standing service. On the one hand, there’s fresh blood, new ideas. And on the other hand, there’s experience, there’s knowledge.”
Mayor Friedman agreed with Wunderlich, but said that term limits served a greater purpose at lower levels of government. “Generally, term limits [are] something I’m not in favor of, but the closer you get to the community, I think it makes more and more sense.”
Councilmember John Mirisch indicated that the Nov. 2, 2021, date might present issues in terms of voter turnout. “How many people are going to actually show up for an election that nobody even knows what’s on the ballot this November?”
Beyond this, Mirisch made a broader call for district-based representation in the city. “If we are going to talk about reform, we should ensure that all parts in town are represented,” he said. Mirisch requested that the city agendize a request to consider distinct-based elections.