On July 27, the Chula Vista City Council will revisit four potential ballot propositions to consider placing them before voters in November. The items to be considered are: (1) term limits for the mayor and city council; (2) term limits for the city attorney; (3) electing council members for specific districts; and, (4) dispensing with the June primary elections.
Though these issues had been referred to Chula Vista’s Charter Review Commission, no consensus was achieved. Two themes that emerged in the July 13 council discussion of these issues were whether the move to place these items on the November ballot would allow ample time to obtain sufficient public input, and whether Chula Vista can afford the cost of primaries or propositions.
There are existing term limits for the mayor and councilmembers: currently, representatives who are termed out after eight years can begin campaigning for a new seat after being out of office for a year. New ballot language would allow residents to vote for or against strict eight-year term limits, which would eliminate the option to run again after a yearlong hiatus.
Speaking to the term-limits issue, councilmember Steve Castaneda said the proposal has been vetted by the Charter Review Commission in the past and that “term limits are a straightforward issue. We are just asking the voters to vote on this question.” Castaneda also noted that over 60 percent of the voters in San Diego County voted for finite term limits for county supervisors.
Councilmember John McCann expressed concern about the process. Though he noted that the public favors term limits “even for a dogcatcher,” he felt the process for placing the issue on the ballot needed to be more transparent and less hurried.
In June, Chula Vista voters elected a city attorney for the first time. The second question before the council will be whether or not to set term limits for this position. Mayor Cheryl Cox, who voted against bringing any of these items back to the council, said, “It’s not that I don’t think what’s good for the council is good for the city attorney, but this [discussion of city attorney term limits] smacks of maybe some people didn’t get the candidate they wanted, so now they want term limits.” Later, in the council meeting, the mayor commented that each ballot proposition would cost about $35,000.
The city attorney’s office acknowledged that ballot language and details for dividing the city into districts and electing councilmembers from respective districts is complex. While Castaneda addressed the need for representatives from each district, he also said the districting would likely rely on information from census data that will not be available until 2011.
Councilmember Pamela Bensoussan urged the council to consider dispensing with the June primary. A common concern expressed about this idea was that, by skipping the primary, a candidate could be elected in November with as little as 20 percent of the vote. According to Bensoussan, however, the primary costs the city $350,000 (for five items); the cost of staff time would have to be added to that figure in order to calculate the full price tag. She reminded the council that only a few meetings ago the City declared a fiscal emergency.