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Lawmakers again eye term-limits exemption for AQMD Chairman William Burke

Twice before, lawmakers considered giving the chairman of the South Coast Air Quality Management District a free pass on term limits. And twice before, lawmakers rejected the idea.

Maybe the third time’s the charm.

A bill authored by Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, would exempt AQMD chairman William Burke from the two-term cutoff currently in effect. Burke’s term as chair will expire at the end of this year, absent legislative action.

Burke, the husband of Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Burke, has served on the 12-member board since 1993 as member, vice-chairman and chairman. He was originally appointed to the board by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. Burke has served nine years as chairman of the powerful AQMD, which enforces air-pollution laws in scores of cities in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Negrete McLeod’s tersely worded bill, SB 886, awaits action in the Assembly. It was introduced in February to make “technical, nonsubstantive changes” to the state’s clean air laws. But in April, the bill started to be dramatically rewritten. The changes included adding a 13th member to the AQMD–a fractious issue in Southern California–and removing the term-limits restrictions on the chairs of three air pollution agencies–the AQMD, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District and the Mojave District Air Quality Management District.

The latter two agencies have regular rotation of their chairs. The AQMD chairs can serve longer, although they are limited to two consecutive, two-year terms and can return to the chairmanship following a break in tenure. Burke’s nine-year chairmanship was interrupted, briefly, in 2002.

Burke was appointed to the board by a succession of Assembly speakers, beginning in 1993, when he was named to fill the unexpired term of an earlier member. He was reappointed in December 1993, then reappointed in December 1997 and in March 2001. His current term on the board, which is separate from the board chairmanship, ends in 2010.

Two earlier bills, one by Assemblyman Simon Salinas, D-Salinas, and another by former Assemblyman Joe Baca Jr., D-San Bernardino. Both involved bills that were hijacked and heavily amended, and both were rejected after news reports surfaced about the attempts to remove the term limits.

Negrete McLeoad’s bill has developed similarly. It was rewritten and shunted between numerous committees. On the Senate side it was heard twice by Rules and Local Government before emerging from the Senate May 24 in a 22-13 vote. All the opponents were Republicans. In the Assembly, the bill has been heard by the committees on Rules, Local Government and Natural Resources. It is poised to be heard by the Appropriations Committee.

The AQMD is the sponsor of the bill and supporters include the cities of El Segundo and Manhattan Beach, and the Mojave and Sacramento air pollution control districts. Opponents include the Clean Air Coalition, an environmental group, and Orange County, which opposed adding a 13th-member to the district board.


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