City Council Backtracks on Limits for Commission Members

By Judith Scherr
Friday March 23, 2007

On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council rescinded an ordinance it had approved on the first reading, March 13, that would have limited the number of years a person can sit on certain commissions and would have restricted the number of commissions on which a person could sit. The vote was 8-0-1, with Councilmember Laurie Capitelli abstaining. 

Community members were set to challenge the ordinance with a petition to place a referendum on the ballot, had the council approved it on the second reading. 

The future of the measure—whether it is dead or will come back in the same or a different form—will be discussed at the April 16 Agenda Committee meeting. 

On Monday, John Selawsky, Igor Tregub, Patti Dacey, Laurie Bright and Howard Chong submitted a petition for the referendum on the ordinance to the city clerk. They would have had 30 days from approval of the law to collect 4,073 signatures.  

The measure at issue would have applied to four quasi-judicial commissions: the Housing Advisory Commission, the Landmarks Commission, the Zoning Adjustments Board and the Planning Commission and would have: 

• limited the number of years a commissioner could sit on these commissions to eight consecutive years. After a two-year break, the commissioner could be reappointed to the commission; 

• prohibited a person who serves on one of the key commissions from serving on any other board or commission, with the exception of elected boards and the Library Board of Trustees.  

Voting to oppose the ordinance on March 13 were Councilmembers Linda Maio, Kriss Worthington, Dona Spring and Max Anderson. 

Passage of the second reading of an ordinance is usually routine. Maio asked the council to delay final approval of the ordinance on second reading after the community opposition appeared, but when Councilmember Betty Olds made a motion to rescind the measure altogether, Maio supported Olds’ motion. 

Selawsky, a school board member who signed on to the referendum petition as an individual, told the Planet Wednesday that he opposes the concept of term limits.  

“I object to councilmembers telling other councilmembers what to do,” he said, noting that councilmembers who want to terminate their appointees’ terms can do so at any time. 

“It’s two-faced,” he added. “Councilmembers have no term limits or limits on the boards they serve on.” 

Mayor Tom Bates, for example, serves on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area Air Quality Management Board, and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and strongly opposed term limits when he was forced out of the assembly after 20 years.