June 21, 2011

San Leandro Councilmember Reed Suggests Changing Council to Five Members and Limiting to Three Terms

councilreed125.jpg At the end of the San Leandro City Council meeting on Monday, June 21, 2011, Councilmember Ursula Reed suggested that the number of councilmembers in San Leandro be reduced from six to four. Reed also suggested that term limits be changed so that members of the City Council could serve for three terms instead of the current two terms.

Here is the text of Reed's comments:

"Just because, you know, we're all now thinking outside the box, I'd like to recommend to the Rules Committee, to go to the Rules Committee, a recommendation to change the charter. And I know this could be controversial, but I believe that our city, of maybe 85,000 at this point, does not need to have six council members and one mayor. I believe that it should and could function with four council members and one mayor and have a five-count instead of a seven-count [city council]. That would mean 21,000 [residents] per district. The reason I came up with this and the thinking is… I was thinking I was reading a lot about redistricting and thinking about the proposal to decrease our salaries and pay for our own health and all of these different ways we could save money for San Leandro.
"I don't want it to affect the current seated Council. The City voted for us to represent them and so I'm not trying to affect anyone who's currently seated. But I think that in the future we should think about how this could possibly be a good change. And I would like to see - I also believe…there's two things: There's the redesign of the districts. But also…I also believe that two terms is very short for city council members. And it seems to me that when a city council member gets to their second term - the first term you're just learning how to negotiate the council and all the different committees and sit in a meeting and understand everything that's going on. And I think by the second term you get to be really good and then the council member's gone. So I would also advocate for three terms for city council members…It also would decrease the cost of having as many elections as we have."

Reed acknowledged that she misspoke about having fewer elections, but argued that reducing the number of council members would reduce the cost of funding the city council, allow the city to redistrict at the same time as the state, and "would increase the continuity and historical knowledge" of the council.

If Councilmember Reed's recommendation eventually prevails, it wouldn't be the first time that San Leandro had a city council consisting of five members. In fact, that's the way it was from the founding of San Leandro in 1872 until 1949, when a charter amendment changed the size of the city council to seven members.

San Leandro, with a 2010 population of 85,000, has the same size city council as Hayward, with a population nearly twice as large, while Pleasanton, which is slightly smaller than San Leandro, has just five members. When asked about San Leandro's six council members and Mayor, former San Leandro Mayor Shelia Young said that San Leandro needs "6+1 council members." Former Councilmember Bill Stephens said that "the current set up spreads the city into nice enough representation areas and provides for more brain power with seven minds over five." The following table shows the size of city councils in nearby cities:

CityPop. (2010)Council SizeCouncilmembers/resident
Union City 73,402518,351
Walnut Creek64,173516,043
San Leandro84,950714,158

Only three cities (Berkeley, Newark, and Dublin) have council members that represent less residents than San Leandro's council members.  Fewer council members would mean less expenses for the City of San Leandro and would make it easier on the next City Manager, since he/she would only have to deal with five, instead of seven council members.

Based on 2010 data, two less council members would result in between $40,000 and $64,000 in salary savings.

Term Limits

The limit of two terms for San Leandro council members has only been around since 1974, when a charter amendment stopped four-term Mayor Jack Maltester from serving a fifth term. Term limits have been enacted at the state and local level because incumbents are usually re-elected and are difficult to vote out of office. In 2000, for example, 98% of incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives were re-elected.

CityTerm Limits?Number of terms
Union CityYes3
San LeandroYes2

In San Leandro, only three incumbents have been defeated since 1970: Al Nahm in 1974, John Faria in 1994, and Tony Santos in 2010. Incumbents are frequently unopposed when they run for re-election or win by wide margins when there is a challenger.

Former Councilmember Stephens, who proposed eliminating term limits while he was on the City Council, said, "I have seen that experience and stability really helps in policy making and advancing long term objectives. No sooner does an individual get elected and learn a little than it is time to run again. By the second term, they have experience, knowledge and confidence. Then they leave."

The most recent change to the city charter was in 2000 when residents voted to require candidates to receive 50% plus one of the votes cast in order to win an election. Young acknowledges that changing the charter will be "a monumental task and quite expensive."

Posted by Mike Katz-Lacabe at June 21, 2011 10:47 AM | TrackBack
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