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Term Limits for Pacifica City Council?


In the August 26 Pacifica Tribune, a story buried on page 2 referred to a legal advertisement of potentially great local significance: "Notice is hereby given...of...intention to circulate the petition within the City of Pacifica for the purpose of amending the Pacifica Municipal Code in order to limit the number of terms which an individual may serve as Pacifica City Councilmember."

Part of the language in this petition is as follows: "Term limits are good enough for the President of the United States, for Governors, for (CA) Assembly Members and Senators. ... Term Limits increase competition, encouraging new challengers with new ideas. By contrast, unlimited terms promulgate a seniority system—a haven where mediocre politicians thrive."

The particular limits of running for election to the Pacifica council proposed in the measure are: " person who has served  two terms of office as a Pacifica City Councilmember shall be eligible to run for election as a Pacifica City Councilmember. If for any reason a person serves a partial term as a Pacifica City Councilmember in excess of two years, that partial term shall be considered a full term for purposes of this term limit provision." The measure goes on to state that any previous terms served would not count toward the limit. Only those after the effective date of the measure would count.

The signatories to the proposed measure are Bernie Sifry, a veteran attendee at council meetings, and Deborah Nagle-Burks, a former member of the West Sharp Park community planning group that ended in controversy.

The potential of this measure becoming a referendum on the performance of the council in recent years is possible, given the recent crushing defeat of the proposed sales tax increase. Pacifica council members enjoy one of the best salary and benefit packages in San Mateo County, despite the recent self-denial of increased benefits that were to take effect this year. Council members take home $700 per month and are allowed $920 per month in health benefits that, if not used for insurance, can be paid to the council member as tax-free cash. It is unknown whether council members have taken advantage of this option.

The measure, if it qualifies with enough signatures, will appear on the November ballot.


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Gee Whiz are you guys gonna feel sorry when HMB gets the interstellar transportation hub and we're here wishing we had listened to Jenny Apodaca. The times when I have been most sure of myself have surprisingly coincided with when I was furthest off base.

Guys, I believe Jenny had problems. Have some heart.

Developing Pacifica into an interstellar transportation hub would be a fine idea. Star Fleet Academy will eventually be based in the Presidio, so we might as well get a jump on things.

"Ian, I think you're forgetting Jenny Apodaca, who received 1,566 votes in 2000. And that was after she suggested Pacifica build a landing pad for UFOs off the shore of Rockaway."

I stand corrected. I should have said Tod got less votes than any candidate in recent history who didn't plan to build a landing pad for UFO's off the shore of Rockaway 5 elections ago.

Matt, we need a balanced city economy and this city council of 7-13 years has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt they are unwilling and incapable of delivering. It's that simple. Term Limits will solve part of the problem.

Obviously you like the present condition of Pacifica, you think we have a solid foundation for recovery and you think Council has done a great job.
Not everyone agrees with you."


Call me Matt.

Of course not everyone agrees with the straw man you set up and easily knock down.

What I think is that incumbency is not what's preventing the Messiah from running for Council and fixing all our problems.

What I think is that the current Council is better than any alternative we have been presented with.

Actually, even that's not entirely true. I came very close to voting for Jeff, because I think there should be another voice represented on the Council. In the end, the only reason I didn't is that, based on his posts here, I was concerned he wouldn't be able to work with the rest of the Council and that it would become less effective, not more.

Look how Mary Ann even comes over here to weigh in on this issue. She doesn't accuse, she listens to opposing views, she keeps her cool, she does the research, she tries to win friends instead of make enemies. And it works!

I think if you want to get someone elected, that someone should emulate those qualities. If they do, I'll certainly consider voting for them. And if Mary Ann ever stops demonstrating those qualities, then I'll stop voting for her.

Ian, I think you're forgetting Jenny Apodaca, who received 1,566 votes in 2000. And that was after she suggested Pacifica build a landing pad for UFOs off the shore of Rockaway.

And I barely edged out Tod when I received 2,683.


I'd like to see you run in 2010 and get more votes, otherwise your criticism feels empty.

"Your supposition that promoters of term limits are elitists who disrespect Pacificans by treating them as stupid sheep, idiots and blockheads who aren't smart enough to vote correctly, is curious."

Remember, it was Tod S. at the City Council candidate's debates that referred to the voters of Pacifica as "Stupid and apathetic".

"And I will say this for Tod Schlesinger, my friend even now that I am in Texas...he still received 2,500 votes."

Yes, he did, and the only candidate to get less votes in recent history is...Tod S. in his previous campaign!

Regarding your post of (9/2):

Your supposition that promoters of term limits are elitists who disrespect Pacificans by treating them as stupid sheep, idiots and blockheads who aren't smart enough to vote correctly, is curious.

By name calling in reverse, you have apparently found a loophole in the Riptide ban on such practices. Good one!

Obviously you like the present condition of Pacifica, you think we have a solid foundation for recovery and you think Council has done a great job.

Not everyone agrees with you. Council is supposed to listen to the total public, represent the broadest possible spectrum of citizens and lead with openness and wisdom. Our Council listens to its friends, vilifies those who disagree, represents a narrow group of people who despise development or expansion of any kind and is not transparent in spite of their claims to the contrary.

Over the past 12 or so years, well before the current worldwide recession ever materialized, we have been in a steady decline. Our debt has ballooned, our taxes raised, our business base is on life support, our infrastructure has crumbled, services have been chopped, plans for improvement shelved, lawsuits due to negligent and provocative governance have multiplied, good development has been prevented, traffic problems have been ignored, millions of dollars have been wasted and we have no foundation for recovery as this current recession begins to ease.

If term limits had been in place 20 years ago we might not be living in the economic wreck that the current council and its friends have brought us. Sadly it won't be retroactive and it will probably affect Mary Ann Nihart, who is doing a great job, but you have to start somewhere. The past abuses have created this situation and we can't risk having any more entrenched one-sided councils in our future.

Pacifica belongs to all of us.


I don't understand what anything you said has to do with term limits. If you disagree with the way Pacifica's being run, vote them out--if you can. Even if term limits makes it onto the ballot soon and passes, which it won't, it'll be at least eight more years before anybody terms out, so I don't see how this has anything whatsoever to do with good government.

A city run by fear and propaganda? What utter nonsense. I don't want people who write incomprehensible tirades running the city. I want people who build bridges in office, not people who burn them.

Yep, Matthew, had Tod spent more than $200, run an issue campaign, and actually won, he might have cleaned up some ethical and financial problems in this city.

Term Limits. We look at these nice soft-spoken, reasonable city council members year afteryear, and hear their creative excuses for not delivering a balanced, sustainable economic base for this city.

Nothing thrives here for the economic benefit of the people, vacant city council vision statements, a planning commission loaded with environmental attorneys, qualified people excluded from the process. Mori Point saved for the GGNRA, not us. Meantime, sewer laterals, roads, most city infrastructure is run down; city budget failing; jobs canceled, downsized, replaced by volunteers; not even a city hall that is ADA compliant. A city run by a political oligarchy (thanks, Mike) through propaganda, a little fear, a little exclusion; served up as an inertia formula tripping into its own coffin.

Remember these slogans: "everything is fine," "never had a better economy," “we’re talking to the quarry developer.” Eight years of enjoying all the benefits of fake promises, leaving this city "threadbare." Finally, the real economic plan was unveiled in the January mayor's “state of the city” address, followed by Measure D: all the taxes that parcel owners and retail purchasers are willing to afford—there’s the plan! Eight years of opportunities skipped over, but this year council unveiled the final solution.

Term limits is another solution to bring in new energy, ideas, action, accountability, and to get what’s left of this city back on track. Term limits will be "good government" for this city.

The above is my personal view only, and does not reflect any official position for the Friends of Good Government (FOGG) Term Limits campaign, for which I am Treasurer and will gladly accept your donations, CA ID 1319586. You may view the campaign position at

Mary Ann,

You had 15 people? You were lucky (to paraphrase a Monty Python sketch). My hat's off to you for all your campaigning, you definitely earned your rousing victory and you are representing Pacifica well. My point was that it takes more than just wanting change and registering a candidate to win an election. You put in a lot of work, day and night, that many people just don't have the time or energy to do. I certainly didn't, so you earned my undying respect.

I was also surprised that no other candidates had met with the Fairmont Homeowner Improvement Association when I did. The north part of town is pretty neglected, hence the "Fairmont Bubble," so I hope the City Council can work to change that.

You make a good point about prior candidates with some experience on city commissions, but I did apply for the Planning Commission 3 times. Apparently, it was "environmental attorney" day every time I applied. So it's tough to gain that inside edge if you happen to disagree with an entrenched, multi-term council and its direction.

As a military veteran, I am a lover of all the freedoms we enjoy in this country and I agree to a point that term limits restrict your right to vote for whom you want. But as I said, when the same people run over and over, and they have all those state connections and local connections to the ruling county party, the labor council, the Realtors, etc., it does make it harder for someone to break onto the scene and win an election.

You have to admit, the deck is stacked for insiders and incumbents. Maybe that's the way it should be, I don't know, but term limits definitely level the playing field a bit.

And I will say this for Tod Schlesinger, my friend even now that I am in Texas, for a guy who put his name on the ballot and spent nary a dime and hardly campaigned, he still received 2,500 votes (8%). That's impressive by anyone's standards. All those people who trashed him during the election--you know, the guys who made the videos, the people who trashed him in the Tribune--I don't think any one of them could have done that.

Run next election, you guys, prove me wrong.

I'd agree with Mary Ann, it is not impossible for a newcomer to win a seat. I see that Mary Ann did it the old-fashioned way, walking.

When I ran, I did not walk as many districts as I should have. I could give you reasons (some valid, some not), but obviously just sending out mailers is not enough.

I will note, though, that Mary Ann did not polarize the population as Jeff and I did, nor did she run while there was any really contentious issue. (I ran at the same time as Measure E.)

Even though I was against Measure E, and I had the endorsement of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, I was not one of the chosen few and there was an active campaign to make sure I did not split the vote.

Regardless of any of this, I am against the concept of term limits. If it keeps bad or so-so people from remaining in office, it also keeps good people from remaining.

I still believe that if a good, viable person runs a proper campaign (walk the districts, send out mailers, have a good, dedicated ground force, etc.), he or she can win.

I know what I did wrong and I know what I did right when I ran. I can assess blame all I want, but in the end it was the will of the people.

"I didn't see Ken Restivo or Todd Bray or Dan Underhill lining up to commend me for literally putting my money where my mouth was to run for office."

Please allow me to commend you now. My responses were to specific assertions. I appreciate that people take the time and spend the money necessary to participate in the process that way. More choices are better. We can't elect everybody, though.


Your post came up while I was writing mine. Hope you are doing well in Texas.

Meanwhile, I just want to dispel a myth that has cropped up a couple of times. There were about 15 people who helped with my campaign and about 8 did the bulk of the work. There are two people I can name who can walk streets and drop flyers like you have never seen, and to them I am forever grateful, but frankly, I walked many of our streets myself. In fact, every house north of Highway 1 was mine alone. People up there told me they had never seen a council candidate. I was amazed.

In addition, I spent around $9,000. Most of that money came from small individual donations.

So I am not sure I agree that local elections are out of reach for a newcomer. You should ask Mark Stechbart about Jim Vreeland's first election. Jim was relatively new to town, and served only a brief time on the Planning Commission, and he won.

Just food for thought. Say hi to Robbyn.

Mary Ann

Since there is no impact from a major lobby in town (if we do, I have missed them), no corporate funding, in fact no big controlling donors (could have used them if we did), no one opinion and lots of voices, council members and philosophical dominance have changed repeatedly (note that the council of the 1990s was nothing like the Friends of Pacifica of the 1980s nor were they anything like the one today) and even the current council members do not necessarily agree with one another, it sounds as if this argument has come down to just two points: (1) dislike for the current council and (2) wanting to prevent complacency and disengagement from the community.

The latter deserves to be fought at every turn both by voters as well as elected officials. Lionel, if I begin to lose touch, I expect you to confront me. And I challenge you that if you can prove to me that term limits will actually help this issue without compromising choice and quality, then I am on board.

Even more important, no one responded to my earlier point: Dissatisfaction with the current council should not be a deciding factor.

If you will indulge me, I will repeat myself. "Roughly one-third of term limit efforts come to ballot by citizen initiative, but 100% of those are due to dissatisfaction with current elected officials. Interestingly, the implementation of term limits rarely impacts those in current office. In this case, should the measure under discussion manage to get to ballot next year and pass, all of the current council members would be eligible for two more terms, unless my current term is considered at the two-year mark. If so, I would be eligible for only one more term. Pete, who has stated he has no intention of running again, would be eligible for only one more term as well."

Mike, term limits will not impact anyone on this current council, except possibly me, and I have already stated that if I cannot make a significant different in four years, then I will not run again. But term limits will take away my voting choice. If we do find a fair, hardworking, and focused council member who stays in touch and does a great job, then he or she is out in two terms no matter what, even if willing to still serve. I am not sure I like having my choices limited in such a manner.

Plus, I am finding that building relationships with people on state commissions and boards that serve our community is not done overnight. We need a much stronger connection to the agencies and communities around us than we have. Those relationships take time to build.

Hope you do not mind that I am joining this discussion. I actually love deliberative democracy as long as we are not making up things like "death panels," which seems to be where the national democratic conversation has devolved. :))

Best to you all,
Mary Ann

So this measure, if passed, would not hurt the current Council at all, except for perhaps Mary Ann, whom everyone likes.

Excellent idea!

I am also stunned at the disrespect that supporters of term limits have for their fellow Pacificans, as if they were stupid sheep. The implication is that if the voters were smart, they'd vote for somebody else (who, exactly? Tod Schlesinger?), but they're just idiots, so we'll have to help the poor blockheads.

I'm sure the people of Pacifica will be smart enough to reject such an elitist suggestion.


Tell us how you really feel? LOL. It seems the main argument against term limits is that it takes time to "learn the ropes," but I've seen Mary Ann Nihart emerge as the most insightful, competent, and least compromised member of City Council. Too bad she is only one vote. Mary Ann ran a great campaign and I am grateful we got to know each other on a personal level, an opportunity I would have never had if I hadn't run for office.

But I think Mary Ann (and any honest candidate) will acknowledge that campaigns these days, even in small cities of 38,000 like Pacifica, take a lot of time, energy, and money. And MONEY. Let me say it once again, MONEY. There are only 2 ways to get your message out: beat your feet with any army of volunteers, and pay for mailers and TV ad time. Which both take a lot of time, energy, and MONEY.

That money comes from private donations and endorsements. Endorsements bring in a lot of money, and "free" solicitations for a vote. I think the Democrat endorsement is worth a couple thousand votes alone in Pacifica.

I give a lot of credit to Mary Ann for the endorsements she was able to garner, but she is the exception rather than the rule. She did work for the Measure N campaign, and she was actively involved in the Democratic Party, so she had access to a lot of the people who give out endorsements. Kudos to her, but it really marginalizes a newcomer, especially when you already have incumbents who have also already established relationships with the groups giving out the endorsements.

Might surprise some people that I was in the real estate industry and did not get the SAMCAR endorsement. Truth be told, it was because every group giving out an endorsement sends a questionnaire to each registered candidate. Some people know what to say to get the endorsement. Apparently my support of socially liberal ideas like rent stabilization and inclusionary housing ordinances (because I favor some elements of affordable housing for city staff and city workers--good for the community and good for the environment) killed my chances for an endorsement.

Sure, I could have just asked some of the Realtors in SAMCAR what I needed to say, but I had that naive idea that being supportive of every new housing development in Pacifica, and supporting Measure L, and supporting the real estate industry in general, was kind of enough to garner their support. Oops.

"If the challengers can't win now, then they weren't good candidates." Or they didn't have enough time and money to fully invest in an effective campaign. I've seen a lot of good candidates with bright ideas and solid backgrounds get wasted in elections that should have been closer. Heck, I still have an unopened box of campaign lawn signs in my garage because as much and as hard as people worked, it still would have taken more time and more money to mount an effective campaign.

So as someone who ran for office (and I didn't see Ken Restivo or Todd Bray or Dan Underhill lining up to commend me for literally putting my money where my mouth was to run for office), I will say this:

The process is biased toward incumbents and insiders. No big revelation. It takes an inordinate amount of inertia (and time and energy and money) to change the existing structure. I actually commend the candidates and their supporters for effecting the change in 2002 that they did. I don't agree with much of what those elected officials now stand for, and I've experienced firsthand the backlash of questioning their decisions, but they did it and deserve it until someone else knocks them off that hill.

But term limits do level the playing field and take away a lot of those advantages an incumbent has just for being an incumbent (hey, you even get to put INCUMBENT on your candidate statement!). There is a reason someone created the term "lame duck" and it's mostly true for any candidate entering the end of his or her second term. Term limits offer fairness to the voters and the process that promotes new candidates, new ideas, candidates who are more timely and topical and in touch with today's issues, and more participation from the voting public.

"I don't think these council members are all that similar to one another."

If you look at the voting records for the past 12 years, it has been overwhelmingly 4-1. Seven council members, an elected mayor, and term limits would much more evenly distribute representation and give more people of different stripes a voice. You're never going to please everybody, but right now this town is very deeply split. It's hurting everyone and happy talk ain't gonna fix it.

It was never my intent to treat anyone shabbily, and I suspect that it is circumstances rather than secret alliances that cause you to feel disenfranchised. As for clubs, I find myself agreeing with Lionel Emde on a great many subjects. He seems to agree with you on this one, but I don't. Nancy Hall vehemently opposed the gun store, while I am too enthralled with the habitat-saving abilities of the Ducks Unlimited group to want to ever inconvenience any hunter, even though I choose not to hunt anymore myself. I think I am not unique in all this. We are all gnawing on all the issues and doing our best. I don't think these council members are really all that similar one to the other, and I doubt that any of them would agree with me on every subject, but they seem to be serious enough about it and they seem to work well enough together.

1. a system of government in which power is held by a small group.
2. a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.

This is the style of government that I and many others experience in Pacifica. Marginalizing us and calling us melodramatic is not surprising.

If you're in the club, you get an approval for a biodiesel refinery in record time. You are granted appeals even if you don't show up. You get accolades for preventing development and spotting phantom frogs and snakes.

If you are not in the club, you get appealed and harassed until you run out of money. If you disagree with council, you are called Rovian council haters and asked to find residence elsewhere. You are lied to and about. You have your career destroyed with nary a peep from the people responsible to prevent such abuses.

I want to serve Pacifica. I have no desire to step down in protest. What would that achieve? I served on WSPAC, serve on PBR, and have attempted 3 times to serve on Planning, but I'm not an environmental lawyer or a club member from Vallemar, so I get bumped.

It would be easy for many of us to just give up and go away, but it's our town, too. It's supported by our taxes and we want our kids to have a nice place to live.

Have you looked at the streets, neighborhoods, and business centers lately? Pacifica does not have to be a broken-down hovel by the sea, but the oligarchy likes it that way. It keeps the outsiders away and protects the spoils of the "I got mine's."

Many of us don't consider it a problem now, which is, of course, why we voted the way we did.

Mary Ann Nihart was elected with (correct me if I'm wrong) more votes than any single candidate for city council in Pacifica's history.
Cal Hinton had run repeatedly before being elected, and re-elected, etc.
I think inertia is worth upsetting--you might get worse, but then again, you might get better.
It was a problem early in the city's history, i.e., the same folks kept getting elected, and it's a problem now.
Inertia is a common mechanism for elections.
It's a rotten recipe for democracy and the change we may need.
The most important argument is that people would (or wouldn't) realize that upon their election, they have 4 - 8 years to do something, or not.

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