Proposition R is bad for Los Angeles.
This measure is an attempt to trick voters into extending term limits for City Councilmembers. It was conceived as a simple City Charter amendment to permit councilmembers to serve three terms instead of two. But after polling showed that this idea wasn't popular with voters, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters of Los Angeles jerry-rigged an assortment of changes to the City's ethics laws solely so they could peddle a term limits extension as "reform."
The Chamber and League delivered their two-issue package to City Hall on the morning of July 18. Within hours, the City Council acted to place it on the November ballot.
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said this process failed to "include study and comment of the proposed revisions by the City Ethics Commission" and precluded "a full debate by government ethics watchdog groups, the regulated community and the public at large."
The Chamber and League maintain that an open and participatory process was unnecessary because they discussed their proposal in private meetings with Ethics Commission staff and the City Attorney's office. But this is not enough.
The business community should oppose any ballot measure that feeds into the perception that important decisions at City Hall are made through backroom deals. Many long-range issues important to the business community, including improving our transportation infrastructure, dealing with increased traffic at our airports and harbor, and housing a growing population, are likely to engender fierce opposition by affected communities. But much NIMBYism results from the feeling that residents don't get a fair shake from City Hall.
Because Proposition R feeds the dangerous perception that city officials operate on behalf of moneyed interests instead of in the public interest, it is bad for Los Angeles.
As if the process weren't bad enough, the substance of Proposition R suffers from equally fatal defects.
Proposition R is flawed because it extends term limits for councilmembers but not for citywide offices of mayor, city attorney and city controller. This undercuts the voters' 1999 decision to adopt a new City Charter that strengthened the mayor at the City Council's expense. And if longer tenure is necessary to master city government, why doesn't this logic apply to the , mayor?
City Controller Laura Chick has predicted that different limits for different offices would worsen the game of political musical chairs at City Hall. Even the Chamber and League say "further consideration of limiting the city attorney and/or city controller to three four-year terms may be warranted."
Term limits should be addressed comprehensively, and Angelenos should vote against this half-baked measure.
The city attorney warns that Proposition R would actually weaken our ethics laws.
For example, Proposition R would change the lobbyist registration threshold from a dollar amount of $4,000, to a time-based 30 hours. At hourly rates exceeding $500, highly compensated lobbyists reach the existing threshold in seven or eight hours. The new rule would let them lobby four times longer before having to register with the city.
Further, existing law requires registration when a lobbyist "becomes entitled to receive" compensation, even if "payment is contingent on the accomplishment of the client's purposes." Proposition R deletes the registration requirement for lobbyists working on a contingent-fee basis until after the city has decided in the client's favor.
The city controller said, "I do not think in its current form it should go on the ballot, and if it does, it should not pass." The city attorney was more blunt, saying: "The people of Los Angeles have been cheated." City Ethics Commissioner Bill Boyarksy called the proposal "outrageous," and said that the City Council "showed absolute contempt for the Ethics Commission."
Fortunately, there is a solution.
The City Council can place a stand-alone term limits measure on a future ballot, after a public discussion about which city offices to include. Because no sitting councilmember would be termed out until 2009, this year's rush to the ballot was unnecessary.
Proposition R is funded by public sector labor unions, politically-connected developers, lobbying firms and companies that do business with the City. That does not engender public confidence that the chamber's proposals are in the public interest.
As the city attorney pointed out, all of the ethics, lobbying and campaign finance changes can be enacted by ordinance. The business community should insist that our City Council and Ethics Commission implement meaningful reforms, but in an open and transparent manner that reinforces rather than undercuts public trust in city government.
Jeff Jacobberger is treasurer of NotPropR and serves on the City of Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Review Commission.
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