How to Measure BBB

Steve Propes

As part of a package of mayoral-sponsored measures on the Nov. 6 municipal ballot, BBB stands out as the most controversial proposal as it deals with new term limits and disallowing write-in votes for incumbents. As described on the ballot, BBB “limits the number of terms for the mayor and city councilmembers to three terms and closes the confusing loophole that allows city officials to run indefinitely as write-in candidates. Measure BBB makes voting easier and sets firm and fair term limits that align with the state and county.”

Ian S. Patton, executive director of the Long Beach Reform Coalition said term limits came in to being in 1992 after Dennis Carroll, then a private citizen contemplated running against decades-long Fourth District Councilman Tom Clark. Spending about $65,000 of his own money and mortgaging his house, Carroll got it passed. In 2000, Carroll was elected to the Fourth council seat.

The first to run and win as a third term write-in was Mayor Beverly O’Neill in 2002, though a measure designed to allow write-in candidates to have their names to be placed on ballots under certain circumstances failed.

In 2007, after Bob Foster was elected mayor, “he put a spate of amendments on the ballot, including one to extend term limits to three terms which failed, and one to make the write-in easier which passed,” said Patton. If the write-in wins in the primary, then the candidate’s name can appear on the run-off ballot, which happened only once, with the Fourth District write-in candidacy of Patrick O’Donnell.

In the opinion of Patton, the current BBB is an effort to allow the mayor to remain in office until a viable race for another office opens up. “There are a bunch of people who sit behind the dais that are facing term limits and don’t want to lose their seat,” said Patton, referring to some city council members and the mayor.

“For the mayor, it’s an insurance policy,” said Patton. “If it passes, he’s got an option. Do I go to the state senate and do I go to congress? When the mayor’s out of office, his star fades quickly.”

Several politicos have come out against BBB, including State Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, who won as a write-in, and Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who said the current write-in option works.

“The mayor’s big issue is getting rid of the write-in, but that’s how you hold people accountable,” said Patton. “Three others have tried and failed,” Jackie Kell in 2006 and Tonia Uranga and Val Lerch in 2010. “This has deterred others,” but not Dee Andrews, who currently represents the Sixth District as a third term write-in.

As to the Measures AAA, CCC and DDD, Patton said, “They are clearly window dressing. Talk to anybody in City Hall circles. It’s just cover in an attempt to extend term limits.”

Several requests for comments from the pro-BBB camp were unsuccessful. The stated pro-BBB argument is that it puts Long Beach in line with state and county policies. Another BBB argument maintains less sophisticated voters and those with limited education or language skills would have trouble understanding the write-in process. To that argument, both Patton and Price said that keeping two terms would mean greater opportunity to elect candidates those voters might favor.

Recently, an opinion was advanced that, if passed, BBB would allow incumbents to start their three terms from scratch. Beachcomber columnist and former Fifth District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske wrote in her Open Up Long Beach blog, “Government Code section 36502(b) requires that any term limits provision may only apply to terms served after the effective date of the measure.

“This means that should Measure BBB pass, this current mayor and City Council will be allowed to seek 12 more years in office. No wonder they are pushing so hard for its passage!”

In the opinion of attorney Tom Beck, “I read this provision to mean that if terms limits rules are changed (which is what BBB I assume does) it can only operate forward and cannot benefit incumbents unless the issue is submitted to the voters first. So if BBB is that submission, the present officer holders appear to be able to make use of the newly established term limits.”

Attorney Tom Barham opined, “Government Code 36505(b) says that term limits apply prospectively. Therefore, an incumbent’s prior terms in office cannot be counted for purposes of newly enacted term limits.”

Beachcomber columnist Steve Downing thinks passage might spark lawsuits. “The issue is muddy as evidenced by the differing opinions of different attorneys. Our city attorney should have paid attention to his primary job of protecting the city from lawsuits. He did not, thus if BBB passes we can look forward to more lawsuits,” necessarily defended by the city through taxpayer resources.

Asked if she might decide to run for a third term write-in if BBB fails, Price said, “I don’t even know what I’ll be doing later today, much less three years from now.”



Disingenuously the Mayor and his minions play the race card against those of us opposed to Measure BBB by claiming that adding one extra term for the politicians gives people like me (for whom English is not our first language, minorities, immigrants, etc.) a better chance at participating in the electoral process. That couldn't be further from the truth. Giving the politicians an extra term means we'll have more incumbents serving a third term, meaning LESS opportunities for ANYONE who seeks the privilege of serving our city through elected office to compete against entrenched politicians regardless of race, color, or place of birth. I find their desperate strategy of playing the race card offensive and patronizing.

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