March 3, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

SMa.r.t.-Term Limits: The Heart of Democracy

A Santa Monica City Councilmember and the leader of Santa Monica’s Transparency project are circulating a petition to put the brakes on perennial City Council members. The initiative proposed by Sue Himmelrich and Mary Marlow holds the ability to be transformative in a city that rarely sees new faces on its City Council. The Santa Monica City Council has refused to limit how long a council member can hold office, and it often appears that members of that august body are “homesteading” their city council seats.

Santa Monica City Council limited the amount of time that their appointed commissioners and board members can serve in their voluntary roles (three four-year terms) in 2013. However, they have failed to adopt the same rules for their tenure. Once elected, the power of incumbency trumps all challengers who wish to serve, by letting those who are in office remain in office perpetually. That’s why thirty-six states have limits on the amount of time an elected official can serve in a single office. In California, term limits exist for all principal statewide offices. In our area, Culver City, West Hollywood, and Malibu are among those who limit the amount of time council members can be in office.

Why not Santa Monica? Term limits have existed since the ancient councils in Athens and Sparta. According to historian Garrett Fagan, office holding in the Roman Republic was based on “limited tenure of office” which ensured that “authority circulated frequently,” helping to prevent corruption. From antiquity to the early American Republic our leaders felt that the rotation of power was essential. George Mason wrote, “nothing is so essential to the preservation of a Republican government as a periodic rotation.” Mercy Otis Warren, a female political writer during the American Revolution, warned that the Constitution did not provide “for a rotation, nor anything to prevent the perpetuity of office in the same hands for life; which by little well-timed bribery, will probably be done.”

A SMa.r.t. look at history suggests that term limits are reasonable and essential for an influx of new ideas into government. While many in Santa Monica argued for two four-year terms as the maximum an elected official should serve, the makers of the initiative petition now circulating throughout our city wisely chose a maximum of three four-year terms. The initiative matches the term limits mandated in the City of Los Angeles for their council members. It allows the women and men elected to navigate the halls of government and become competent lawmakers. It does not allow them to become thoroughly entrenched in their positions. Limiting the time an official can serve is a “mechanism in place to bring fresh perspectives and new energy to the council,” said Lauren Meister, a West Hollywood resident who helped spearhead WeHo’s term limits campaign. “It opens the door to broader public participation in the legislative process in our city, which benefits everyone,” Meister said in a statement.

The prime opposition to Himmelrich and Marlow’s initiative appears to be the same power brokers who have pulled strings behind the scenes in our city for decades. This group also encompasses those who are currently residing as perennial “homesteaders” in city council chairs. In the past 25 years, only two incumbents have been voted out of office in the City by the Bay. It appears that the only way an incumbent can lose a seat in Santa Monica is by retiring or passing away while in office. That’s wrong. The same entrenched ideas and positions lead to stagnant government and an eventual loss of innovation. Also, the outcries against the potential for a corrupt government become louder as the same people reside in office and refuse to give way to the fresh viewpoints of new candidates. Yes, money is also a culprit in Santa Monica elections. $200,000 is now the norm for financing a municipal campaign, and that issue needs to be dealt with as well. However, we need to take steps to “Febreeze,” the city council and the term limits initiative is the first of several vital steps that will lead to better governance by the people and for the people in the City of Santa Monica.

SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow) Daniel Jansenson Architect, Building and Fire Life-Safety Commissioner, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Thane Roberts AIA, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Arts Commissioner.

Related Posts

S.M.a.r.t Column: Gelson’s Looms Large

February 22, 2024

February 22, 2024

Our guest column this week is by SMCLC (the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City). SMCLC is a well-established...

S.M.a.r.t Column: Top Toady Town

February 18, 2024

February 18, 2024

Throughout history, from the ancient Romans and Assyrians to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, siege warfare has served as an...

S.M.a.r.t Column: The Sunset of Home Ownership

February 11, 2024

February 11, 2024

We are watching the sunset of our historical and cultural American dream of home ownership as we now are crossing...

SMa.r.t. Column: B(U)Y RIGHT

February 4, 2024

February 4, 2024

“By Right” state housing laws that give developers, in certain projects, the ability to ignore codes ‘by right.’ Well, that...

S.M.a.r.t  Column: Serf City

January 28, 2024

January 28, 2024

Homelessness is a problem in California, and nowhere is this more evident than in our fair city, where the unhoused...

S.M.a.r.t  Column: Bond Fatigue

January 22, 2024

January 22, 2024

Last week’s SMart article,  described two critical problems faced by our Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD): the declining...

S.M.a.r.t Column: Peace on Earth

December 27, 2023

December 27, 2023

We are all, by now, saturated with jingles, holiday cards, “ho ho ho’s,” countless commercial advertisements, and exhortations to feel...

S.M.a.r.t Column: On the Clock with Mayor Brock

December 17, 2023

December 17, 2023

I became Santa Monica’s Mayor on Tuesday, December 12, 2023, following a simple “switch of the chairs” transition with outgoing...

S.M.a.r.t Column: SANTA MONICA CITY COUNCIL 2024

December 10, 2023

December 10, 2023

Position:Seeking Santa Monica City Council Candidate(s) Introduction:Exciting opportunity for the right candidate(s) to work with like-minded Council members committed to...

S.M.a.r.t Column: ARB (NOT Ready to Build!)

December 3, 2023

December 3, 2023

Santa Monica City’s Architectural Review Board (ARB), established in 1974, acts “…to preserve existing areas of natural beauty, cultural importance...

SMa.r.t. Column: We are thankful for….

November 27, 2023

November 27, 2023

SMa.r.t. would like to wish you all a great Thanksgiving with friends and family and also to thank its readers...

S.M.a.r.t Column: Make the City New Again

November 19, 2023

November 19, 2023

When the COVID crisis struck, it cut the city’s income in half, demolishing many businesses and causing widespread layoffs and...

S.M.a.r.t Column: Four Futures

October 29, 2023

October 29, 2023

As well described by Paul Krugman, all cities have a core competency: things they do well or better regionally or...

SMa.r.t column: Beautiful Quartz Countertops Are Hurting Workers and Should Be Banned

October 9, 2023

October 9, 2023

Quartz countertops are super popular because they’re tough and can handle stains, scratches, and heat. But there’s a big problem:...

S.M.a.r.t Column: Architect’s Son Reflects On Civic Auditorium

October 2, 2023

October 2, 2023

Welton (David) Becket (1902-1969), pictured above, backed by a picture of our Civic Auditorium, was the designer of that famed...