A small but determined cadre of reform-minded residents is intent on determining if voters in Chino Hills are ready to embrace term limits for members of the county’s southwesternmost city.
On Tuesday night’s city council meeting, John Bruner addressed the council. He said the group he represents intends “to start a conversation about term limits. We understand the conversation will be entirely one-side. For good reason you won’t offer a reply.”
Bruner continued, “Mayor, this is why you have received many letters from residents asking that you put the issue on the public hearing agenda during the February meeting. We hope you consider the conversation important enough to grant the opportunity to the residents of Chino Hills. Tonight our members will offer a glimpse into a few of the positive outcomes that can be realized through the city’s adoption of term limits. We want to emphasize that no member of our group is here to provide solutions. Rather, our goal is to create a discussion by which we can determine the importance of term limits as a way to preserve and invigorate the governance in our city.”
Bruner acknowledged the initiative to introduce term limits in Chino Hills could be seen by the mayor and city council as a political threat.
“We understand why by your initiative the council may not bring this subject to floor, but for many reasons, the time has come to explore the possible benefits and adverse effects of this change,” he said. “Given the sensitivity of the issue, the only way the city can reach a consensus is to let residents vote this November on the issue. Residents know that you can put anything on the ballot that you choose. To get input from all sides, we have selected the council’s public hearing process as a tool to bring sunlight and credibility to this idea. Mayor, the council will offer their input, but the decision is 100 percent yours. You make it and you live with it. Using whatever administrative procedure is appropriate, we sincerely hope you add this issue to February’s agenda.”
Elaine Anderson said “We believe term limits needs to be addressed and discussed. Term limits can improve accountability to residents by encouraging elected officials to be more responsive to public input. Mayor, I know you have encouraged residents to call you and bring issues and concerns to you. We appreciate that encouragement. We’d be grateful if you and the city council would consider an open discussion regarding term limits, so we can all look at the perceived benefits and opportunities, as well as any perceived downsides to such a proposal.
Von Stiegel said he recognized that the concept involved a challenge to the individual council members’ continuing tenure in office but asked the to “keep an open mind about term limits. The Chino Chills district and citizen can be protected by term limits to eliminate decades of council member tenure and electeds’ election coffers, thus making it easier for new candidates with newer ideas to incorporate into council positions. This would include diversity and new thought direction. Many cities have incorporated term limits and are functioning quite well. An example of what can happen without term limits can be enormously unhealthy. I point to our own federal government. Let’s be honest. How many of you have thought to yourself, ‘Why can’t we get rid of these people? They just keep coming back with the same old problems and questions.’ We all know the reasons why we have that. It’s because they don’t want to vote in term limits, either.”
Stiegel said, “I also truly feel that by adding term limits we might add some voter excitement to the city.”
He said many residents were apathetic and completely uninvolved in city government. Stiegel said he asked some of those residents why they did not take an interest in civic affairs or attending council meetings or vote. He said, “The answer, 90 percent of the time, is “‘It don’t matter, Von. Nothing ever changes.’”
Doug McCormick asked the council to put a discussion of term limits on the agenda for a future council meeting, “so there can be an open and public discussion that may or may not lead to a ballot initiative supporting a term limit proposal. While I’ve loved living in the City of Chino Hills for the past 30 years and I understand that the various city councils have done great things for the city since its incorporation, I think the fact that most of our current and past city council members have hung on to their offices for numerous terms is a direct result of a system that stifles an introduction of fresh ideas and change. Be it campaign finance, political influence, district gerrymandering, name recognition, the system favors incumbents. It perpetuates the status quo. One way to combat this political malaise is term limits.”
McCormick said, “The voters of California overwhelmingly voted in favor of term limits for the executive and legislative branch. San Bernardino County voted for term limits for county supervisors and voters for various neighboring cities have overwhelmingly voted in favor of term limits for their city councils. I think the time has come for the City of Chino Hills to have an open and honest discussion of the pros and cons of term limits for our city council seats. Personally, I hope this decision would lead to a ballot measure, so that voices of the public can be heard and not ignored. I think the current city council should step up and take the lead by doing what’s necessary to open this discussion in the form of a council meeting agenda item.”
Sherry Anderson told the council, “I believe many residents of our beautiful Chino Hills community are apathetic” and too caught up in the minutiae and intensity of their lives to get involved with members of the city council who represent their own district but are out of touch with the other four-fifths of the city. A way of making the council answerable and accountable to the city’s residents to encourage them to meet with individuals outside their own districts is needed, she said.
“Transparency is the key to great governance, as is the process for term limits, so that the community has a chance for new leadership on a regular basis,” she said.
While none of the term limit advocates spoke with specificity about precisely what the limitations would be, in general, the limits that have been put in place in local jurisdictions have been two to three four-year terms. The members of the board of supervisors are now and have been, since 2006, subject to three terms of a four-year duration, such that they are capped at 12 years in office, with the potential of extending that to as much as one day less than 14 years if an individual is appointed to fill an open supervisorial post for less than two years, in which that officeholder is eligible to run for three full terms after such an appointment is conferred upon him or her.
Under California’s Government Code, term limits that are adopted cannot apply to terms served prior to the advent of the limits and apply “prospectively only.” That is, in California, term limits are operative only after they have been put into effect. In this way, the tenure in office limitation is not applicable to any of the terms served by officeholders who were serving previous to the term limits being adopted. In this way, any of the terms served by an incumbent officeholder are not considered a served term in the tally of terms that particular elected official is limited to and do not count against their time in office. Thus, if Chino Hills were to incorporate term limits into its municipal code, the current incumbents or any of those who have served on the city council in the past would be subject to the limits going forward and have the limits apply to terms to which they are elected in the future only and not to those they have already served or are currently serving.
Since its incorporation in 1991, Chino Hills has been, along with Loma Linda and Montclair one of the more politically stable cities in San Bernardino County. In that time, it has had 13 members of its city council, a remarkably limited degree of turnover in its elected decision-makers over a period of three decades. Perspectives on whether that is a positive attribute or not vary. There is something to be said for having seasoned leaders in place who do not have constantly learn the ropes and regauge the orientation and attitudes of their colleagues. On the other hand, there is a case to be made that personalities and relationships that remain locked into place for too long can create a stodgy atmosphere that can only be changed with the infusion of new blood.
At present, Councilman Peter Rogers, who lives in District 2, is the longest serving member on the council, having been elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2010, 2014, 2018, and 2022. He has served as appointed mayor four times, in 2009, 2013, and 2018, and 2023.
Councilman Art Bennett, a resident of District 3, has served on the Chino Hills City Council since 2008, having been appointed and then facing no opposition in that year’s election. He was re-elected in 2012, 2016, and 2020. He has served three terms as mayor in 2012, 2016, and in 2020.
Mayor Cynthia Moran, who lives in District 5, was first elected to the Chino Hills City Council in 2012 and re-elected in 2016 and 2020. She is currently serving her third term as mayor, having served previously as Mayor in 2015 and 2019.
Councilman Ray Marquez was elected to the city council in a special election in 2013 and re-elected in 2014, 2018, and 2022. He served as mayor in 2017 and 2022.
Councilman Brian Johsz was appointed to the Chino Hills City Council in 2017 and was then elected to in 2018 and reelected in 2022. He served a single term as appointed mayor in 2021.
City council members in California can impose term limits on themselves, according to California Government Code Section 36502(b). In practical terms, however, as most politicians have ambition to remain in office, only rarely have California officeholders at any level subjected themselves to a limitation on their time in office.
Similarly, a city council has the authority to place a measure impacting its particular municipality on the ballot by means of a majority vote. In California, citizens can request from the county election official the placement of a measure to be voted upon by those in a particular jurisdiction, but can only do so by collecting sufficient signatures of registered voters within that jurisdiction – specified as equal to 8 percent of the number of voters in that jurisdiction who voted in the last gubernatorial election. Thus, to qualify a referendum for the ballot, proponents of such a measure would need to affix at least 1,563 signatures of Chino Hills voters to their petition.
That is not a daunting task but would require a degree of work and coordination. Rather than have to go to that effort, the proponents, who are calling themselves “Term Limiters,” are hoping that they can get the city council to open a discussion of the matter at a city council meeting in February and then inspire enough of their fellow citizens to show up at the meeting to endorse the concept, thereby convincing the council that it should spare them the need to do the heavy lifting themselves by gather the signatures and use its authority to ask the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters to put the measure on the November 2024 ballot.
What the term limit proponents are asking is that the members of the council, in effect, pull the political rug out from underneath themselves.
In an effort to determine how realistic that request is, the Sentinel phoned Mayor Moran but was unable to get a response. Thereafter, the Sentinel sent emails to all five council members. The emails inquired whether the mayor and each individual council member believed such a signature gathering effort by the term limit advocates would be likely to succeed.
The Sentinel noted that one of those advocates indicated that the group will continue to ask the city to provide that shortcut to getting the referendum on term limits on the ballot until the council either agrees to do so or gives what was termed a “clear” indication it will not do so. The Sentinel was told that if the council chooses not to facilitate putting the matter before the city’s voters, then a core of determined individuals are resolved to take it upon themselves to do what needs to be done to get the measure on the ballot through the signature gathering process.
The Sentinel asked the mayor and council whether as incumbent politicians, whether each considered term limits to be ill-advised as applies to the Chino Hills City Council. The Sentinel asked the mayor and each of the council members if they will support assisting the term limit advocates in their quest to place the question of whether the governance of Chino Hills should be subjected to term limits or whether they felt that the Term Limiters, if they are to effectuate the change they are advocating, should do it the hard way by completing the daunting gauntlet of gathering sufficient signatures and then carrying out a convincing enough campaign to get a majority of the city’s voters to side with them.
The Sentinel asked the mayor and each of the city council members point blank if they are opposed, in concept and philosophy, to term limits and if so, why. The Sentinel asked each of them if they considered imposing term limits on the city’s officeholders to be a bad idea and, if so, that they provide a cogent reason why the city should not impose a limitation on the number of years a single individual can hold such a significant decision-making position in the city with regard to municipal affairs. In particular, the Sentinel asked, if each of them believed their status as officeholder for the duration of time each has been in office gave them any special insight on how the city is benefited by having political leaders with extended tenures in office. The Sentinel asked each if the advantage of experience, in their individual view, outweighs the opportunity to provide the community with leadership that involves a fresh view of the world uninhibited by the encrustation that attends being for an extended time a personification of the establishment.
The Sentinel asked the mayor and the city council, if they indeed felt that allowing city council members to remain in place for an indefinite period of time to be beneficial to the city, whether they had confidence that the advantage of preserving individuals with experience in office is sufficiently recognized by the city’s residents, such that the voters would take that into consideration if they were allowed to vote on having the city council subject to term limits or not. The Sentinel asked the council and the mayor whether they believed the voters in Chino Hills could be trusted to make the right decision if they were called upon to vote with regard to whether the city should subject its elected leadership to term limits.
The Sentinel asked the mayor and council whether they would, as had been requested, place the matter on the council agenda for one of your meetings in February to allow for a full-dimensional public discussion of this issue.
Neither Mayor Moran nor council members Johsz, Bennett nor Rogers responded by press time.
Councilman Marquez told the Sentinel he respected the advocates for term limits but did not believe that at present they had the adequate organization to coordinate a signature gathering effort to qualify a term limit referendum for the upcoming November ballot, and that as such, they were entirely dependent upon the mayor and city council to bring about the vote they are seeking.
Marquez said that he thought the downside of term limits, particularly in the case of municipal governance outweighed whatever benefit they might provide.
“We already have term limits,” Marquez said. “It’s called an election. I’m a believer in making use of the control over government we already have. Every two years, there is an election with either two or three of the current officeholders running. If the residents of the city are unhappy with the people on the council, that’s the opportunity their best opportunity to make a change.”
Those seeking to limit the tenure of the city council should consider what they are proposing, Marquez said. “I believe we already have knowledgeable and good people on the council, ones with different talents. If they can no longer run, who will we get in their place?”
Marquez said certain advantages accrue to the city by having leaders who understand how government works and know what they are doing. He cited the example of the State of California Department of Housing and Economic Development’s initial insistence that the city clear the way for the approval of more than 4,000 dwelling units during the state’s current eight-year ongoing Regional Housing Needs Assessment planning cycle. “We were able to have a dialogue with Sacramento through the Southern California Association of Governments, or regional joint powers planning authority, and reduced that number from 4,000 to 3,729. That is something that newly elected members of the council probably wouldn’t have had the understanding or knowledge to do.”
He noted that after ten years of participation on the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency Board of Directors, consisting of a representative from each of the county’s 22 cites and two incorporated towns and the five members of the county board of supervisors.
“It takes a while to get into those positions,” he said. “It took me that long to be able to get into a leadership position where the city will now have a little more reach in controlling our transportation destiny. If we had term limits, I would not have been able to do that and no one from Chino Hills would ever have that opportunity. There is a real advantage to our city and its residents by having someone from our council in that role or other regional joint powers leadership capacities. Having someone who knows the ins and outs of government opens up possibilities for the city I think those who want term limits don’t appreciate.”
It is Marquez’s perception that the impetus for imposing term limits arises from what he said was “the passion of a core group over a singular topic. They are upset over the removal of Bob Goodwin from the Public Works Commission.”
Goodwin, who had been rewarded with an appointment to the Chino Hills Public Works Commission after he had led a successful effort a decade ago to prevent Southern California Edison from construction high tension electrical towers from Tonner Canyon across Chino Hills to the Riverside County boundary, was ignominiously bounced from the commission by a 4-to-1 vote of council, with Marquez dissenting, in October after he questioned the city council’s vote to expend taxpayer money to erect a shrine to the city’s mayors within City Hall.
“I disagreed with that vote, but I don’t see how term limits is going to be a solution to that,” Marquez said. “I think the questions should be, “Have the people we have in place now done a good job? Should they be kept in office? Are we happy with our city?”
Nevertheless, Marquez said, he wasn’t absolutely opposed to giving the city’s residents a chance to determine whether term limits should be applied in Chino Hills. “I’m willing to go to any of their meetings, if they’ll have me,” Marquez said. “I’d like to show up and explain to them how I see it. I think they’re sincere and I am just as interested in hearing from them about why they think I should reconsider my position.”
A small but determined cadre of reform-minded residents is intent on determining if voters in Chino Hills are ready to embrace term limits for members of the county’s southwesternmost city.