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Here’s why L.A. council members could get a one-time shot at a six-year term

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s David Zahniser, with an assist from Dakota Smith, giving you the play-by-play from the past week at City Hall.

If you’ve been following the push for reform at Los Angeles City Hall, you’ve heard plenty of arguments in favor of expanding the size of the City Council.

Supporters say the change — now being contemplated for the November 2024 ballot — will make city government more responsive, more diverse and possibly even less corrupt, given that each council member’s fiefdom would shrink.

As it turns out, the proposal could also end up providing council members an intriguing side benefit. As they flesh out the specifics of the expansion plan, two new arrivals at City Hall have begun pursuing a proposal to give council members elected in 2026 the opportunity to serve a six-year term in office — longer than the typical four years allowed under the City Charter.

The politicians floating that idea come from very different places on the ideological spectrum. Councilmember Traci Park was elected on the Westside with huge support from the city’s police union. Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who represents part of the Eastside, regularly votes against police spending.

Hernandez and Park, who took office in December, have argued that giving council members a one-time shot at a six-year term would reduce some of the disruption caused as the city makes the transition from a 15-member council to a much larger legislative body.

Critics of the idea say they fear that the proposal could cause voters to turn against council expansion altogether.

“I don’t think the public goes for six-year term,” said Councilmember Bob Blumenfield earlier this week.

The backstory takes some explaining.

The council’s reform committee, which counts both Hernandez and Park as members, hasn’t yet decided how much the council should grow. But committee members have begun coalescing around the idea of having council expansion take effect in 2032.

Under that scenario, every council office would come up for election at once. In other words, if voters pass a ballot measure next year to expand the council to 25 members, the city would hold 25 council election contests in 2032.

But the transition would be complicated. Council elections are currently staggered, with even-numbered districts coming up for a vote in presidential election years — 2024, 2028, 2032 — and odd-numbered districts having elections in the off years — 2026, 2030 and 2034. Having every council seat up for grabs in 2032 would suddenly put every district’s election cycle in sync, resulting in 25 council contests every four years.

To avoid that situation, and preserve the system of staggered terms, city policy analysts initially suggested that candidates for odd-numbered districts run for a two-year seat in 2030, then again for a four-year seat in 2032. Under that transition period, even-numbered districts would have an election for a two-year seat in 2032, then another election in 2034 for a four-year seat.

This is where Park and Hernandez come in. Both sounded troubled by the idea of two-year terms. Serving such a short time in office, Hernandez said, would disrupt council members’ efforts to deliver services to their districts, while also increasing city election costs.

“It doesn’t feel like a process that would help the continuity of serving constituents,” Hernandez said this week. “I think the six years is something that we should really consider.”

That approach could directly affect Park and Hernandez. Both will be up for reelection in 2026. If their plan is approved, and they then run for another term and win, they would end up receiving a six-year stay in office — the same length as U.S. senators. Such a change would give council members the opportunity to serve a maximum of 14 years, instead of the 12 that exist under term limits.

During a meeting this week, Park echoed Hernandez’s arguments, warning that if council members were asked to serve only two years in 2030, they would have to file for reelection six months into their term.

“To come into [office], and have such a short turnaround and automatically go back into campaign mode, just seems inordinately disruptive,” she said. “Part of the reasons that we value the four-year term is because that’s when we start actually delivering on things.”

A way to address the problem, Park and Hernandez said, would be to give council members elected from odd-numbered districts in 2026 a longer, six-year term in office. Then, in 2032, council members elected in even-numbered districts would also get to serve six years.

Blumenfield pointed out this week that many legislators, including those in the state Assembly, already serve two-year terms. He warned his colleagues on the reform committee that a ballot proposal that offers council members two extra years could doom the entire idea of council expansion.

“A six-year term has a chance of sinking this entire thing,” said Blumenfield, who will be termed out in 2026, and therefore won’t be affected by council expansion.

There is precedent for what Park and Hernandez are pursuing. In 2015, the council asked voters to approve a measure to shift city elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered ones. Voters embraced the idea, even though it meant giving every politician at City Hall — not just council members but also the mayor, city attorney and city controller — a one-time chance at a five-and-a-half-year term, or 18 extra months in office.

Hernandez pointed out that the man she ousted from the council, former Councilmember Gil Cedillo, was one of the people who benefited from that longer term. So was former Councilmember Mike Bonin, who was replaced by Park last year.

Park, in an interview, expressed doubts about the overall idea of council expansion, saying she is “just not convinced that more politicians makes for less corruption.” She also pointed out that a six-year term would occur only one time in each council district — and only to ensure continuity of constituent services.

“Just to be clear,” she said, “I’m not an advocate for six-year terms generally or permanently, but to resolve this particular issue.”

State of play

— HE’S RUNNING: After many weeks of will-he-or-won’t-he, Councilmember Kevin de León made his move, launching a campaign for reelection nearly a year after being revealed as a participant in a secretly recorded conversation featuring racist remarks. As part of his campaign rollout, he told news outlets that he believes his constituents have his back.

— SINGER SEEKS SEAT: You might know her as the woman who appears before the City Council to sing about her desire for De León to resign from office. But now, Stacey Segarra-Bohlinger, board secretary for the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council, is also aiming to run in March for the seat held by Councilmember Nithya Raman, according to a posting on the Ethics Commission website. Segarra-Bohlinger, a full-time activist, is known for her ability to put anti-De León lyrics to nearly any song, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” the Bonnie Tyler smash that hit No 1. in 1983.

— MEJIA CHANGES HORSES: City Controller Kenneth Mejia offered up a new nominee to the Ethics Commission, one month after the City Council rejected his selection of Reseda Neighborhood Council President Jamie York. Mejia’s new nominee is Rabbi Aryeh Eli Cohen, professor of Rabbinic literature at American Jewish University and a social justice activist. Mejia thanked York for her advocacy, saying he knows “she’ll continue to advocate for necessary changes to our laws.”

— CASE CLOSED: Federal prosecutors confirmed that they have ended their probe into the city attorney’s office and the Department of Water and Power. But questions remain about why more senior city lawyers weren’t charged in the wide-reaching scandal, which has cost the city tens of millions of dollars.

— REMOVING RVS: City and county agencies have begun working to remove RV encampments, a process that requires months of planning and cooperation from government agencies and nonprofit groups, writes Times columnist Erika Smith. “We now realize it’s more complicated than just someone is in a vehicle,” said Va Lecia Adams Kellum, the top executive at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

— BURYING BODY CAMS: An internal report produced by the Los Angeles Police Department has found that the agency’s body camera problem is more widespread than previously acknowledged. The confidential report concluded that patrol officers from the 77th, Hollenbeck and Hollywood divisions were also in the habit of turning off their cameras in violation of department policy — not just those at the Mission station.

— SMALL BUSINESS SCAMS: An L.A. County program meant to assist small businesses is now the subject of multiple fraud investigations, The Times reports. In one case now under review, a Seal Beach entrepreneur created three companies that bid exclusively against each other at least 26 times for county contracts. The county program has generated at least a dozen other fraud probes.

— RENT RELIEF IS READY: The city’s housing department began taking applications this week from Angelenos who are in need of emergency rent relief. The funds for the rental aid come from the proceeds of ULA, a ballot measure approved last year that increased taxes on real estate sales of $5 million and up.

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Quick hits

  • Where did Inside Safe go? The mayor’s initiative to combat homelessness traveled to the west San Fernando Valley district of Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, focusing on a section of Reseda. More than 60 people went indoors, according to the mayor’s team.
  • On the docket for next week: On Wednesday, the council will take up Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s nominee to the Ethics Commission — Alex Johnson, vice president of the consulting firm Bryson Gillette. Harris-Dawson said Johnson has “the highest ethical standards.” But some questioned the pick, noting that Bryson Gillette worked last year for several city candidates, including former Councilmember Joe Buscaino, who waged an unsuccessful bid for mayor.

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