The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously on August 7 to place four out of five proposed amendments to the city charter on the November ballot.
The amendments are as follows:
1. Allow the mayor and city councilmembers to serve three terms instead of two and abolish what’s known as the “term limits loophole” for write-in candidates. Currently, the Long Beach City Charter allows the mayor and city councilmembers to serve two full terms in office. Following two terms, they are allowed to run as write-in candidates without term limits.
2. Create a citizen redistricting commission to reconfigure the council districts every 10 years, following the census. As it stands now, the charter allows councilmembers to change the boundaries themselves, according to Long Beach City Attorney Charles Parkin. The amendment was intended to prevent councilmembers from configuring the districts in a way that might support their reelection. The goal is to ensure that communities are fairly represented and that each district has an approximately equal number of residents, according to a report from the city attorney’s office. The commission would consist of 13 members and two alternates who reflect the diversity of the city.
3. Authorize the city auditor to conduct performance reviews of any city department, board or commission. City Auditor Laura Doud previously told the Business Journal that the amendment is needed to reflect the services she has already been performing. It also clarifies that her office is authorized to access all city records in order to conduct a thorough audit, unless prohibited by law.
4. Establish an ethics commission of city residents to ensure that government officials are adhering to the ethics laws of Long Beach. City employees and elected officials are ineligible for membership. Commissioner responsibilities would include advising city representatives on issues concerning financial reform and conflicts of interest.
At the request of the city’s water commission, councilmembers voted to defer until later the fifth proposed charter amendment, which addresses consolidating the water and gas utilities under a single utilities commission. According to Mayor Robert Garcia, the commission is looking to 2020 to bring the matter to voters because they would like more time to develop the proposal with their staff and the community.
Ninth District Councilmember Rex Richardson spoke to the importance of reworking the council districts to keep distinct communities together. “I think it’s shameful for us to acknowledge that we have a community of interest, the Cambodian community, that was divided into four distinct districts when elected officials drew the line,” he said. “The right thing to do now is to fix the process that wronged them in the past.” Long Beach is home to the largest population of Cambodians outside of Cambodia.
Seventh District Councilmember Roberto Uranga echoed this sentiment. “I’m hopeful that, once we establish this commission, it will view this community as viable and vibrant and give them the opportunity to vote for a representative of their choice.” The first new council districts map is slated for adoption before the end of 2021.
Although 3rd District Councilmember Suzie Price said she would vote to place the amendments on the ballot, she is conflicted about extending term limits. “A PTA [Parent-Teacher Association] mom who works like me, who has a full-time job, would never have had the opportunity to run for public office and win if I had been running against an incumbent. It’s not something I would’ve signed up for . . . because everyone knows going up against an incumbent is very difficult.”
Fourth District Councilmember Daryl Supernaw stated that, while he shares Price’s stance on term limits, he “places a great deal of faith in voters” to shape the future of their community.