Court of Appeal unanimously restores term limits rule, finds Alioto-Pier ineligible to run

Ruling by three-judge panel vindicates City Attorney’s 2008 opinion on applicability of ’rounding-up rule’ for Supervisors’ term limits

SAN FRANCISCO (Aug. 24, 2010) — The California Court of Appeal today unanimously reversed a trial court ruling that last month nullified a key provision of San Francisco’s voter-approved term limits law, and authorized an eleventh hour bid by incumbent Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier to seek another term. The 21-page decision by a three-judge panel strongly vindicates City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office, which advised Alioto-Pier in a February 2008 legal opinion that she was ineligible to seek another term on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors due to the City Charter’s term limits provisions. More than two years later, Alioto-Pier sued to force Elections Department officials to place her name on the ballot. A San Francisco Superior Court judge granted the supervisor’s petition on July 22, holding that voters had implicitly rendered the 20-year-old term limits rule “ineffective” with subsequent Charter amendments.

Today’s appellate court ruling restores the legal effect of the voter-approved “rounding-up rule,” which provides that if an appointed incumbent serves more than two years of a term, it counts as a full four-year term for purposes of term limits. In so doing, the decision affirms Herrera’s original conclusion that Alioto-Pier is ineligible to seek another term on the Board. The unanimous ruling, authored by Associate Justice James A. Richman and joined by Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline and Associate Justice James R. Lambden concluded: “Twenty years ago the voters of San Francisco imposed term limits on their supervisors, so that ‘no person elected or appointed’ could serve ‘more than two successive four-year terms,’ and a person appointed to complete more than two years ‘would be deemed to have served one full term,’ with his or her service rounded up. Nothing in the ensuing years changed the two-term limit. Nothing changed the rounding up provision. And nothing changed the voter imposed mandate that no appointed supervisor could serve more than 10 consecutive years. Alioto-Pier has already served two consecutive terms. She may not seek a third.”

In response to today’s decision, City Attorney Dennis Herrera offered the following statement:

“I am grateful to the Court of Appeal for recognizing the obvious intent of San Francisco voters, and for affirming the clear meaning of the law. This case has always been about the principle of upholding voters’ will, and I regret that some political pundits focused instead on personalities. I’ve consistently defended Sup. Alioto-Pier’s right to pursue this dispute in the courts, and I wish her and her family every success in their future endeavors. I know I join the vast majority of San Franciscans in expressing gratitude for her record of public service to the City we share.”

The case is Arntz v. Superior Court, California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division Two, Case No. A129173.