Lawmakers, again, eye term-limits exemption

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-San Bernardino, would exempt AQMD chairman William Burke from the two-term cutoff currently in effect.
Burke’s term as chairman 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 originally was 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 158 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 rewritten dramatically. The changes included adding a 13th member to the AQMD–a fractious issue in Southern California–and removing the term-limits restrictions on the chairpersons 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 chairpersons. The AQMD chairpersons 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, who also heads the Los Angeles marathon, 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, were hijacked and heavily amended, and both were rejected after news reports surfaced about the attempts to remove the term limits.

Negrete McLeod’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.

Contact John Howard at

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