Measure X is a ballot measure passed in 1998 at the urging of then-Mayor Jerry Brown. It changed Oakland from a council-manager form of government into a "strong mayor" form of government.

What it Is

Full text of Measure X here. (Link is broken as of 10-26-2014)

Full text of Measure CC (Measure X reauthorization in 2002) here.

Full text of Measure P (Second attempt at Measure X reauthorization in 2004) here.

  • City Administrator (aka city manager) reports to Mayor (Council ratifies appointment)
  • Mayor no longer member of City Council
  • Two-term term limits
  • Elected city attorney
  • City Council pay raises approved by voters
  • Change "city manager" to "city administrator" (2002)
  • Hold an annual State of the City address and four public meetings a year on the charter (2004 Measure P Change)
  • Give mayor power to hire and fire department heads (2002) not in text of ballot- committee rec only?
  • Give council authority to make Board and Commission appointments if the mayor neglects to fill them (2004 Measure P Change) 


In 1931, Oakland revised its city charter, abandoning the Commissioner model for the council-manager model. The general structure was similar to today's: direct election of the council, etc. The mayor served as the presiding officer of the Council, however, but held no veto power. The city manager was appointed (and could be fired) by the city council. The city manager prepared the budget and oversaw all of the departments.

Mayors didn't really like this. They couldn't bypass the city manager and they didn't have a controlling vote in council. When Lionel Wilson was elected mayor in 1977, he ran into problems with the city manager that led to him suggesting charter changes to strengthen the mayor's position by ballot measure in 1984. The measure failed.

Elihu Harris was elected in 1991 and was also frustrated with the system. He first thought about changing the charter in 1992 but changed his mind when council pushed back because of political pressure. Later that year a group tried to put an initiative on the ballot that would get rid of the city manager position altogether and put the mayor in charge of city government. Council didn't let the initiative get on the ballot.

In 1995, Harris and City Council appointed a 15 member committee to make charter recommendations to put on the 1996 ballot. City Council voted to put Measure F on the ballot that would allow for a form of strong mayor, though it did not include veto power. The measure was defeated, winning only 47% of votes.

In 1998, before Jerry Brown ran, he began circulating petitions for a strong mayor ballot measure. He collected signatures from over 1/4 of the registered voters in Oakland. Brown went this way because it meant the measure could go on the ballot without getting council approval. This time the strong mayor initiative passed with 75% of the vote.1

Why it Passed

The passage of Measure X in 1998 is generally attributed to Jerry Brown's popularity in 1998. He had mega-celebrity power, previously having been governor of California. When he moved back to Oakland he had a radio show, and wasn't exactly an unknown.2

Others say that people just didn't want to give that much power to Elihu Harris.

James Svara, in his statistical analysis, argues that there was a racial correlation for the near-passage of Measure F: "race and support for the incumbent mayor go far in explaining the vote on Measure F in 1996, but they do not account for the strong support of Measure X in 1998."3

Another factor may have been the perceived lack of controversy as presented by the media. Svara analyzes the ways the two measures were portrayed in the media: Measure F was discussed heatedly, as something controversial. By contrast, Measure X was taken as a given with very little debate.4

Measure F may also have failed because Harris had already been mayor for six years and wasn't particularly popular by then.

Measure F was also substantially more complicated than Measure X. Measure X was 3 pages long; Measure F was a 36 page charter amendment (and Oakland government documents are always hard to read!). Measure F added another at-large council member which opponents suggested would be expensive. Measure X gave the mayor a vote in case of a council tie. The measures also differed in what they would do with the city manager. Measure F got rid of it. If the mayor chose, they could hire a chief administrator, but the duties would be purely administrative. Opponents saw this as a chance for corruption and latched on to this argument. Measure X kept the position of city manager but changed the org chart so that the position reported to the mayor, not the council.5

Measure X also passed partially because it included a sunset clause: it was supposed to be a trial run of 6 years that ended in 2004. Voters would need to renew the measure by ballot.

Removing the Sunset Clause (sunsetting)

Turns out Brown didn't wait 6 years. In 2002, Brown put strong mayor back on the ballot for permanent re-authorization as Measure CC. He did this without the League of Women Voters or Common Cause having a chance to prepare, and even the Chronicle wrote an editorial about this being the wrong time for the measure. There was lots of criticism and Brown put together a citizens' committee to discuss charter reforms. The committee ended up recommending strengthening the mayor's power even further. The mayor would hold four public meetings a year, give council authority to make committee appointments if the mayor didn't, and change the title of city manager to city administrator. It also gave the mayor the power to hire and fire department heads.(It's not clear if these suggestions made the ballot or were just recommendations.)

Why did Brown push the sunsetting issue? There were various theories. Some think it was because Don Perata was going to run in 2006 and wanted the strong mayor system to be there when he came around. Others think it was because Jerry Brown himself hated the council-manager system and wanted his system to stick so he wouldn't have to show up to council every week.7

On election night, Measure CC was believed to have passed because of name recognition for Brown and because people felt that a strong mayor was needed to get things done in Oakland.10  When the final vote tally was completed by the Registrar of Voters and transmitted to the California Secretary of State, Measure CC lost by a small margin (less than 500 votes). Under Measure X, the defeat of the 2002 Measure CC meant that the question of sunsetting would be automatically placed on the 2004 ballot at the end of the six-year trial run.11 

The 2004 Measure P was the title of the measure that would end the sunset clause of the 1998 Measure X. Almost 70% of Oaklanders voted in favor of removing the sunset clause and making additional changes to the 1998 Measure X.12

What Does a Strong Mayor Actually Do?

Well, it's not really clear. According to one article, The mayor is the"“chief elective officer.” The duties of actually running the city were transferred from the city manager to the city administrator, to whom the mayor “gives direction.” ."Other cities with strong mayor governments make the mayor the chief executive officer of the city. 

The mayor is not the chief executive of the city the way you would think if you listened to most candidates running to be mayor here. Other than preparing the initial budget for submission to council, and the  powers to nominate and fire the City Administrator and  nominate board members,  the Mayor isn't much more than what the City Charter calls "Serve as ceremonial head of the City" .

The office gives the mayor a "bully pulpit" to try to get voters to pressure City Council members to do what the mayor might want, but it's a rare Oakland mayor that has that kind of voter mandate.

The precedent was set early with Brown giving short statements on his budget and turning the work over to then-City Administrator Robert Bobb to do the bulk of the budget explaining. He also fired the police chief, Joseph Samuels and replaced him with Richard Word. Brown became responsible for public safety in the public opinion. When Ron Dellums became mayor, he left Chief Wayne Tucker in place, but was still perceived as the head of public safety in the city and took a lot of flak for Oakland's crime. He also took heat for failing to fire Deborah Edgerly during her shenanigans as city administrator.

In the News


  1. Svara, James H. More Than Mayor Or ManagerCampaigns to Change Form of Government In America's Large Cities.Georgetown University Press: 2010. (The history portion of this entry is summarized from this book. Read it, it's awesome!)

  2. DelVecchio, Rick and Debra Levi Holtz. "Measure X Victory for Jerry Brown / Strong-mayor initiative OKd by Oakland voters." San Francisco Chronicle: Nov 4, 1998.

  3. Svara.

  4. Svara.

  5. Svara.

  6. Svara.

  7. Allen-Taylor, J. Douglas. "The Rush to Renew Strong-Mayor." UrbanView Newspaper: Aug 21, 2002.
  8. Allen-Taylor, J. Douglas. "Undercurrents: Oakland’s ‘Strong Mayor’ Charter Ambiguous As to Mayor’s Duties." The Berkeley Daily Planet: Feb 11, 2010.

  9. Allen-Taylor, "Undercurrents."
  10. Burke, Garance. "Oaklanders Narrowly Favor Push For Strong Mayor." Election 2002: Nov 6, 2002.
  11. DeFao, Janine and Zamora, Jim Herron. "Down, but not out / Brown may try again for more Oakland Cops." San Francisco Chronicle: November 7, 2002.
  12. Zamora, Jim Herron. "Oakland OKs libraries, Strong Mayor." San Francisco Chronicle: March 3, 2004.