Amends the City Charter to create term limits for city councilmembers, closes the mayoral tie-breaker loophole, adds to the duties of the city auditor and creates City Council meeting requirements before measures are placed on the ballot.
What the Measure Would Do
Measure X would makes a series of changes to the Oakland City Charter:
- City Council term limits
Oakland has seven district councilmembers and one “at-large” councilmember who is elected by the entire city. Currently, there are no term limits for councilmembers. The measure would limit councilmembers to no more than three consecutive four-year terms in one council position. The measure would also allow a termed-out district councilmember to run for the at-large council seat immediately after their previous term.
- Closing the mayoral tie-breaker loophole
Currently, the mayor can serve as a tiebreaker vote if the City Council is split 4-4 on an item, but this power is rarely exercised. Under the City Charter, the City Council can only pass a resolution or an ordinance by an affirmative vote of five or more members. This means that a measure fails if just one councilmember abstains, since the measure would not have received five affirmative votes. By having one councilmember abstain, opponents eliminate the mayor’s opportunity to vote and possibly cast a fifth vote in favor of passage.
This charter amendment would automatically make abstentions and absences count as a “No” vote and allow the mayor to break the tie. Legally required recusals would not count as a “No” vote.
- Updated mayoral succession
The measure would name the City Council president as “acting mayor” should the mayor be unable to serve. The council president pro tem would serve as acting council president until an election can be called to fill the mayoral vacancy.
- Ballot measure meeting requirements
This measure would require charter amendments, bonds and parcel tax measures to be considered at two council meetings before being sent to voters in an effort to increase the transparency and assessment of such measures.
- Setting salaries for councilmembers, auditor and attorney
The current salaries of councilmembers are lower than commensurate roles in the region. Under this measure, the Public Ethics Commission would review the salaries of city councilmembers biannually and adjust them based on a set of parameters, as well as set the salaries of the auditor and city attorney, which are currently set by the City Council.
- Campaign restrictions for city auditor and city attorney
The measure would prevent the city auditor and the city attorney from endorsing, donating to or otherwise participating in campaigns for ballot measures or people running for city office.
- City Auditor’s Office minimum staffing
The measure would provide the City Auditor’s Office with a minimum of 14 staff positions, not including the city auditor. The number of staff could only be lowered if the council finds that the city is experiencing extreme fiscal straits.
- Additional requirements for who may run for city auditor
The measure would add a requirement that candidates for city auditor have three years of public sector experience in auditing, policy analysis, performance evaluation, investigative oversight, and/or accountancy, or equivalent private sector experience. Additionally, the city auditor would be required to resign if they run for another city office.
- Clarifies the scope of city auditor duties
The measure would more clearly describe the types of audits that the city auditor can perform. Currently, the city auditor reviews the performance of various government agencies and makes recommendations for improvements. This measure would allow these audits to be conducted at the city administrator's request. It would also allow them to review city departments, commissions and programs, as well as investigate allegations of waste, fraud and abuse. The auditor would have the authority to review any city records or property and would need to publish an annual report that summarizes recent audits and recommendations.
- Council-appointed vacancies on boards and commissions:
The measure would create a formal process for the City Council to nominate candidates to city boards and commissions when vacancies occur. For boards and commissions that allow the City Council to nominate members, the process would be as follows:
- The council would provide a list of nominees to the mayor within 45 days of the vacancy.
- The mayor would have 90 days to review the candidates and submit nominees to council for final approval.
- If the mayor does not put forward any of the council nominated candidates for boards and commissions, the mayor could put forward their own nominee.
- If the council declines to approve the mayor’s nominee, the process would start all over again.
Oakland has amended its City Charter numerous times. The last significant charter overhaul occurred in 1998, with the passage of a measure that created a hybrid system of government that is neither a council-manager system, where the city council hires and fires a city manager and the mayor has limited power, nor a strong-mayor system, where the mayor has the authority to manage the city, hire and fire a city manager and, in some cases, veto legislation. Oakland’s system has created challenges as the city has grown. Specifically, while the mayor is elected to run the city, the role lacks the formal powers needed to successfully manage city operations. At the same time, the need to make other changes to Oakland’s government structure has become more apparent.
In 2021, SPUR published Making Government Work: 10 Ways City Governance Can Adapt to Meet the Needs of Oaklanders. The report describes the challenges of Oakland’s current form of government and makes recommendations to improve Oakland’s government structure. Councilmember Dan Kalb, who authored this measure, cites SPUR’s report as an impetus for it.
This measure was placed on the ballot by the City Council and requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
This measure could indirectly improve outcomes for Oakland residents of color. A majority of the city’s residents are people of color, yet there are less favorable outcomes for communities of color relative to white communities in nearly all areas of civic life, including economics, public safety, education and housing. Making the legislative process more efficient and transparent, enhancing departmental and programmatic oversight, and improving the operations of city leadership provides benefits to all Oaklanders, particularly those most connected to city-run services and programs. Oakland residents of color will likely benefit from these improvements, but it is impossible to predict the extent and specific areas of impact.
- This measure would make many positive changes to Oakland’s form of government to increase clarity, fairness, transparency and accountability – attributes that SPUR believes are pillars of good governance.
- City Council term limits have the potential to encourage new people to run for office, increase competition in elections and limit the power of incumbency to dictate who wins council seats.
- Eliminating the mayoral tie-breaker loophole would provide the mayor with some say over important and controversial legislation. It would also restore the original intent of including a tie-breaker provision for legislation.
- Requiring a minimum number of public hearings before measures are placed on the ballot would increase transparency and enable the public to engage with and comment on these items prior to their placement on the ballot.
- Campaign restrictions for city attorney and auditor strengthen the integrity of those offices.
- This measure does not address many of the broader challenges of Oakland’s form of government. The measure does not include many of SPUR’s recommendations for reform, such as creating a new Controller’s Office to independently manage Oakland’s finances and granting veto power over legislation for the mayor. Voters could incorrectly assume that this measure may address more of Oakland’s challenges than it actually will.
SPUR’s report, Making Oakland Work, lays out the numerous challenges that the city faces due to its government structure. While this measure does not address all of those challenges, it does include several important changes to help improve Oakland’s government, many of which SPUR has called for, including term limits and the ability to increase salaries for councilmembers, as well as minimum staffing for the auditor. This measure includes many steps in the right direction and is worthy of support.
 Sarah Karlinsky and TaShon Thomas, Making Government Work, SPUR, June 2021, page 24 https://www.spur.org/sites/default/files/2021-11/SPUR_Making_Government_Work.pdf
 See note 1, pages 25–26.
 See note 1.
 U.S. Census Bureau, “QuickFacts: Oakland City, California,” July 1, 2021, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/oaklandcitycalifornia.
 City of Oakland, Oakland Equity Indicators: Measuring Change Toward Greater Equity in Oakland, executive summary, 2018, https://cao-94612.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/2018-Equity-Indicators-Exe….