City of Santa Monica

Staff Report

Qualified Initiative Petition amending the City Charter to establish term limits for members of the City Council


Department:Records & Elections Services DepartmentSponsors:City Attorney Lane Dilg
Category:08. Administrative Item

Recommended Action

Recommended Action

Staff recommends that the City Council:

1.     Receive and file the attached Certification of Qualification regarding an initiative measure that proposes an amendment to the City Charter that would limit the time a person may serve on the City Council to three terms;

2.     Adopt the attached resolution requesting and directing the actions necessary to place the measure on the November 6, 2018 General Municipal ballot.

Staff Report Body

Executive Summary

On May 21, 2018, an initiative petition proposing a City Charter amendment that would establish term limits for members of the City Council was submitted to the Office of the City Clerk and forwarded to the County Registrar-Recorder (“the County) for signature verification.  On July 3, 2018, the County notified the City Clerk’s Office that it had certified the measure as containing the required number of signatures for placement on the ballot. Accordingly, staff recommends that Council receive and file the certification and adopt the attached resolution, which requests and directs the actions necessary to place the initiative on the November 2018 ballot.



On January 29, 2018, proponents of the measure notified the City Clerk’s Office of their intent to circulate an initiative petition.  On February 9, 2018, the City Attorney prepared a ballot title and summary, as required by law, which describes the measure as “amending the City Charter to limit the time a person may serve on the City Council to three terms.”  Thereafter, the proponents gathered signatures, and filed their signed petition with the City Clerk’s Office on May 21, 2018.  On July 3, 2018, the County notified the City Clerk that the measure had received the required number of signatures, which is 15% of the voters or 10,424.  The County found that 19,166 signatures were filed; 18,943 signatures were verified; 10,620 were found sufficient; 8,323 were not found sufficient; and 797 signatures were found not sufficient because the signatures were duplicates. (See Attachment C).



California Elections Code Section 9255 provides that if an initiative petition to amend a city charter is signed by no less than 15 percent of the registered voters in the city, it “shall be submitted to the voters at an established statewide general, statewide primary, or regularly scheduled municipal election . . . occurring not less than 88 days after the date of the order of election.”  Elections Code section 1415 further confirms that a qualified initiative measure “shall be submitted to the voters at the next regularly scheduled general municipal election . . . or at any established statewide general or statewide primary election . . . occurring not less than 88 days after the date of the order of election.”  Pursuant to these provisions, the action of placing the certified petition on the ballot is ministerial, not discretionary.  Thus, if the County certifies the petition, then the law requires the Council to send the measure to the voters. 


As discussed in a 2014 staff report related to a prior initiative measure, Elections Code Section 9255 specifies that a qualified initiative measure must go to the voters, but it does not specify that the measure must be placed on the next election ballot.  See Jeffrey v. Superior Court, 125 Cal.Rptr.2d 175 (2002) (upholding the decision of the Huntington Beach city council to place an initiative measure creating council districts and imposing term limits on the March 2004 ballot rather than the November 2002 ballot, where the measure provided by its own terms that it would become effective in November of 2004).


Staff recommends against delaying placement of the present initiative measure on the ballot based on Jeffrey for several reasons.  Jeffrey appears to be the only California case directly on point, and, while it also addressed an initiative measure related to term limits, its facts are different because the present measure has no specified effective date.  Thus, unlike the fact situation in Jeffrey, proponents could argue that a delay by the City raises the specter of a legislative body using infinite delay to thwart the initiative power.  Also, in general, California law staunchly protects the initiative power, and courts are highly critical of any apparent attempt to thwart that power.  See De Vita v. County of Napa, 9 Cal.4th 763,776 (1995).  Finally, declining to place the measure on the November ballot would be inconsistent with the City's past practice and could be perceived as contrary to its commitment to participatory democracy. 


The alternative is litigation.  The Council could decline to place the measure on the November 2018 ballot, publicly state its intent to place the measure on the ballot at a future election, and defend the lawsuit that would likely be filed by the proponents.  A court would then have to determine whether the precedent set by Jeffrey applies where, as here, an initiative measure has no effective date. 

If the Council adopts the attached resolution, the City Attorney will prepare an impartial analysis and the timeline for submission of arguments and rebuttals for and against the measure will begin. Additionally, the City Clerk will transmit the materials to the County for preparation of the ballot as required by law.  The City will prepare and distribute the Voter Information Pamphlet.


Financial Impacts and Budget Actions

The cost of adding the measure to the November 6, 2018 ballot is included in the FY 2018-19 Adopted Budget in the Records & Election Services (City Clerk) Department.

Meeting History

Jul 24, 2018 5:30 PM  City Council Regular Meeting
draft Draft