After months of debate, a divided Dublin City Council this month decided to send a measure to expand municipal term limits to city voters on next year's general election ballot.
The city leaders in a 3-2 vote approved adding a measure to the Nov. 5, 2024 ballot to propose a new limit of 12 years combined for mayor and council service, up from the current maximum of eight consecutive years.The expanded term limits would not be retained by the current mayor or council members.
"It is something that needs to be done, in my opinion. Because you do have people who take at least a couple years to get started in their seat, and to bring that institutional knowledge to our city of Dublin," Mayor Melissa Hernandez said at the Nov. 7 meeting in support of increasing the current limits. "I do feel that we should go forward with extending our term limits."
Hernandez, who based on existing city law is due to term out at the end of next year, said that she would support the measure if the term expansions were applicable to current council members or not. "What we are trying to do here is bring our term limits up to the norm of Alameda County and our nearby cities," she added.
The current Dublin policy, approved by voters in 1996, limits individuals to serving a total of eight years in any combination of City Council positions.
With many city leaders now viewing that limit as too restrictive and multiple council debates on the issue this year, the dais was presented with six options, as well as additional research and verbiage choices, from city staff for an expanded policy to propose to voters next year.
City staff has made it clear that adding any measures to the primary election in March would bring on additional expenses to taxpayers, as it's not a regular municipal election date for the city of Dublin. Such a special ballot has been estimated to cost between $244,328 and over $300,000. There would be an additional $5,000 cost in related printing materials, based on data from Alameda County election officials.
However, because the city is already participating in the November 2024 general election, the cost incurred by adding a ballot measure alongside the normal mayoral and council elections would be much less.
Councilmember Sherry Hu drew attention to the additional cost. "If we put a measure in the March election, the cost is about $250,000," she said. "But, if we put it in November we will already have a ballot so the incremental cost will only be around $5,000."
City staff also shared rough estimates of voter turnout based on numbers provided by the county for the November 2022 election. They found that a March special election would bring around 30% of voter turnout, while a November general election would yield 50%.
Councilmember Kashef Qaadri emphasized the data, saying that while he strongly supports expanding term limits he did not agree with placing the measure on a spring ballot.
"Based on these numbers that we're hearing, we would increase the engagement of the community (if placed on a November ballot). For that reason I'm opposed to a March ballot," Qaadri said.
Following the initial presentation, members of the community were given the chance to express their thoughts during the public comment portion.
"According to the agenda packet, the cost to expand term limits in the March election is estimated to potentially exceed $300,000. That's a lot of taxpayer money to spend on something that will only serve five elected officials," Dublin resident Shirley Lewandowski said, alluding to the fact a March election could allow a new term limit to take effect for November 2024. "This amount of money is better spent on the needs of Dublin residents, for example, there are traffic signals needed at many busy intersections near schools."
"There are hundreds of other city needs and projects that are much more important than extending term limits," added Lewandowski. "Eight years is more than enough to provide public service."
"As a resident of the city of Dublin, I don't agree on spending $300,000 for a ballot measure in the March 2024 election," said Suzan Chan. "The city can still do it in November 2024 for a lesser cost and have more time to prepare. We can use this money to better serve our community."
Vice Mayor Michael McCorriston made a motion to adopt Option 3B to "impose a combined term limit of 12 years for the mayor and/or city councilmembers, while not retaining existing term limits for the current mayor and city councilmembers."
The motion passed 3-2, with Hu and Councilmember Jean Josey in dissent and instead expressing their support for other options given to the council.
"I would like to say I prefer option 2B," Hu said. Josey did not comment after the motion was approved.
The city of Dublin staff is expected to release more information and wording on the approved option in the coming months. To find more updates on the Dublin community, visit dublin.ca.gov.