Oakland City Council members will soon decide whether to give voters the opportunity to limit their terms in office and end ranked-choice voting for at least two top citywide posts.

Council members Jane Brunner and Ignacio De La Fuente next week plan to ask the council to put an initiative on the November ballot limiting council members and the city attorney to three consecutive four-year terms in office.

De La Fuente, officials say, also plans to ask council members to approve a ballot initiative that would partially repeal Oakland's ranked-choice voting system at least for mayoral and city attorney elections.

The system, which avoids the need for separate and sometimes expensive runoff elections, was overwhelmingly approved by Oakland voters in 2006. However, it has faced criticism since its debut in 2010, when Jean Quan narrowly defeated former state Sen. Don Perata in the mayor's race despite Perata being the top choice of more voters.

Both proposals have ties to Perata's former campaign manager, Larry Tramutola, a point seized on by opponents of the measures.

Tramutola was part of a group that last year struggled to gather enough signatures to put a nearly identical term-limit measure on the ballot. And his employee, Melquis Naveo, who graduated from Tramutola's leadership academy, has been leading an effort to gather signatures to get a measure on the November ballot that would do away with ranked-choice voting entirely.


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But with little chance to collect the nearly 30,000 signatures within the 10 weeks needed to guarantee that the initiative could go before voters in November, Naveo instead has been working with council members on a compromise measure.

He said the proposal that would maintain ranked-choice voting for council races with the possible exception of the at-large seat would be sponsored by De La Fuente, who had tried to block ranked-choice voting from being implemented in 2010. De La Fuente did not return calls Friday.

It takes a simple five-member council majority to place an initiative on the ballot -- a far quicker and less costly approach than collecting voter signatures.

Term limits

Brunner, who is leaving the council after 16 years to run for city attorney, said she became a recent convert to term limits while observing the candidates vying to replace her.

"I think it's a really good thing to bring new energy and ideas to the city," she said.

Oakland already limits the mayor to two terms in office, but has no limits in place for council members, the city attorney or the city auditor. The term-limits law would not apply retroactively to sitting council members, four of whom are already on their fourth of fifth terms in office.

With incumbents especially tough to beat in Oakland, Brunner said three terms (12 years) would provide council members enough time to implement their goals, while allowing for new blood in City Hall.

With De La Fuente on board, and Councilwomen Libby Schaaf and Pat Kernighan longtime term-limit supporters, it would appear that only one more vote would be necessary to bring the term-limit proposal to voters.

That vote won't be coming from Councilman Larry Reid, who said he needed nearly every one of his 16 years in office to help open a fitness center in his East Oakland district.

"It takes you a while to change communities like the communities I work in," he said.

Ranked-choice voting

Naveo's proposal would return Oakland to its former election system for mayor and city attorney: a general election early in the year, followed by a runoff election in November if the top vote-getter earlier failed to clear the 50 percent threshold.

"It's really important that whoever becomes the mayor truly wins the majority of the vote," he said.

Two of the staunchest defenders of ranked choice voting happen to be Perata's top rivals from the 2010 mayor's race.

"Ranked-choice voting was an overwhelming success," said Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, noting that holding the general election in November led to thousands more voters casting ballots for mayor.

Quan said the old system with a second, runoff election favored candidates with deep-pocketed supporters such as Perata.

"I couldn't have afforded to have run twice," she said.

Opponents of the proposal said it would benefit Tramutola and other consultants because, as Kaplan said, "If you have to run twice, then you are going to have to pay more money to campaign consultants."

Tramutola said consultants make little money on city elections and that he wasn't putting any time or money into the push to repeal ranked-choice voting. "This has nothing to do with Jean Quan," he said. "This is about the public having clear choices about who they elect."

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435