Would Measure BBB give the mayor and city council three more terms in office?

That’s what opponents are contending for the controversial ballot measure to be decided by voters on Tuesday.

Measure BBB would do away with write-in terms for the City Council and mayor and instead would allow leaders to run for three terms instead of two.

Proponents say it eliminates a confusing “loophole” that allows elected officials to run indefinitely, while opponents say it’s a self-serving power grab to extend terms for the current mayor and city council.

Now, Measure BBB has sparked a legal debate over how California’s term limit laws would apply in Long Beach.

In a statement released this week, the grassroots Long Beach Reform Coalition, which has lead the opposition to Measure BBB, says the measure would actually give the mayor and City Council three more terms in office since California law prevents new term limits from being applied retroactively.

The group provided an analysis by Gautam Dutta, a California election law lawyer, who cited a 2000 case called Woo v. Superior Court, in which Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo won his case to run for two additional terms since he was in office before voters approved a two-term limit.

Dutta said the case would apply to incumbents in Long Beach, and would essentially reset their terms limits.

“Because new term limits cannot be applied retroactively, an incumbent like Mayor Robert Garcia (who was re-elected in last April’s primary election) could serve an additional three terms as Mayor,” Dutta wrote.

The city adamantly disagrees.

Long Beach Deputy City Attorney Amy Webber said the facts in the Woo case don’t apply to Long Beach since the city has had established term limits in its charter since 1992. Los Angeles didn’t have term limits when Woo serve his first two terms.

Cal. Gov. Code section 36502(b) prohibits term limits from being applied retroactively.

Measure BBB, Webber said, takes this state law into account and also reflects the city’s term limit that has been in effect since 1992.

“Measure BBB would limit incumbent council members to a total of three terms and the mayor to a total of three terms,” she said, in an email. “This means, for example, that if Mayor (Robert) Garcia has served two full terms, he may serve one additional term—a total of three terms. If a council member has served one full term, he or she may serve two additional terms—a total of three terms.”

The measure, however, would allow for former council members who have served two terms since 1992 to come back and run for a third term, she said.

“The City Attorney has been clear from day one that Measure BBB will limit the mayor and councilmembers to three terms and that this limit applies to current office holders,” campaign spokesman Mark Taylor said in a statement. “The opposition to these measures has consistently tried to mislead voters and this just the latest example.”