Voters may get to choose next November if they want to set term limits on City Council members.
The proposal, which would change the City Charter, would limit council members to three terms of four years each, allowing each council member a 12-year run at the longest. The idea is being pushed by two community groups: Make Oakland Better Now, or MOBN, and The Leadership and Organizing Academy, or TOLA. The ballot measure would need two-thirds vote to pass.
"This is not directed at any individual council member," said Bruce Nye, a member of MOBN. "It's directed at what we've seen in any institution, particularly those in the government where, after time, it becomes too easy to settle into the same way of doing things and thinking about things. You have a loss of new ideas and fresh perspectives. That's something we think will be aided significantly by a not-too-frequent but regular turnover on the City Council."
The charter amendment would not be retroactive -- sitting council members would not be penalized for having served terms already. But if those term limits had been in effect, half of the current council would have been termed out already.
A few council members are supporters of term limits, including Pat Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) and freshman council member Libby Schaaf (Montclair-Laurel).
"If you can't get it done in 12 years, it's time to move on," Kernighan said. "And I think 12 years gives a person the opportunity to really develop the expertise, the know-how, and then carry through a project. It's enough time to get something done, but also provides for new vision and new energy."
Schaaf will be speaking Oct. 29 at a kickoff event for the campaign to get 40,000 signatures for the proposal. She said she thinks "it's important to stress that this is very different from how it's done (at the state level), where it's every six years."
Council member Jane Brunner (North Oakland) has not taken a position yet because she wants to know more about how term limits have worked in similar cities. She said she thinks Sacramento's term limits have made it so lobbyists now control Sacramento more than legislators.
Council member Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland) said she's no fan of the idea.
"I believe people get voted out of office if they're not doing their job," she said, adding that she doesn't agree with the suggestion "that those of us on the council a long time don't have new ideas."
Further, she said, "the issue with term limits is often the bureaucracy that gets run by staff rather than elected people, because they are the ones with institutional memory."
Mayor Jean Quan also opposes the idea.
"I think elections are term limits. That's just universal for me," Quan said.
Nye said he expects collecting the signatures won't be a problem.
"Again, it's not an attack on the existing council or any particular members," he said. "But everywhere we talk about it, it seems to have resonance."
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.