The Oakland City Charter is the primary document that enacts and charges the City Government of Oakland with performing duties and sustaining institutions for the public benefit.

The City was incorporated under a special act of the Legislature in 1852 and re-incorporated by special act in 1852.

The current charter went into effect January 28th, 1969, and has been amended frequently since then. The current City Charter can be seen here.

The previous charter had gone into effect December 22nd, 1932.


It was amended in 1860, 1861, 1862, 1863, 1863-4, 1873-4, 1875-1876. Territory (which?) was annexed in 1888, 1891, 1897 and 1909. The city was "incorporated under Freeholders' Charter in 1889." The charter was amended in 1895, 1907 and 1909. The city was re-incorporated under Freeholders' Charter in 1910- in effect July 1, 1911; amended 1917, 1919, 1921, 1921, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1931. (more, too...)

note: changes below may have subsequently have been changed.

Changes in 1907 (ratified at a special election on March 1, 1907)

  • Section 31, Subdivision 51 (aka Amendment 1): Establishes waste management procedures.
  • Section 88 (aka Amendment 2): Adds State of California legislature from 1889 about changing streets into the Oakland City Charter.
  • Repeals section 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99 and 100 (Amendment 3)
  • Section 147 (Amendment 4): The city assessor and the state board of equalization will assess the property in Oakland and that will be the basis of taxation.

Changes in 1909

  • Park Commissioners:
    • Section 209 establishes a board of commissioners for all "land and water parks owned or controlled by the city of Oakland and all grounds surrounding public buildings of the city of Oakland, and all parks, squares and public pleasure grounds hereafter established or acquired by the city of Oakland."
    • Section 210: The commission will consist of 3 commissioners, appointed by mayor and unpaid. The first appointments will consist of one appointed for 2 years, one for 3 and one for 4 years. After the terms expired each successive appointment would be for 4 years.
    • Section 211: Establishes the structure of the commission.
    • Section 212: The commission shall have complete control over parks, "provided, however" that public works and city council can build on the property. The commission can hire and appoint staff and has exclusive rights over the funds for the park properties. The commisserioners cannot lease the grounds except for leases for under a year for the use of the public. Leases over a year need the agreement of the council and public works. City Council and public works can also lease parks for expositions or conventions.
    • Section 213: The commission can receive money for the parks and the money will be deposited in the treasury in the park fund. The money can be withdrawn and used "for the support and improvement" of the parks.
    • Section 214: "No outdoor work of art shall become the proerty of the city unless such work of art shall be approved by the board; nor shall any work of art until so approved be erected or placed in or upon or allowed to extend over any park, square or grounds belonging to the city of Oakland. The term "work of art" as used herein shall apply to and include all statues, bas-reliefs, or other sculptures, monuments, fountains, arches or other structures of a permanent character intended for ornament or commemoration, and suitable for park adornment."
  • Changes to Section 133, Libraries
    • 133a. "There shall be maintained in the city of Oakland free public libraries and reading rooms, to be known as 'The Oakland Free Library.'"
    • 133b. Creation of the board of library trustees, consisting of 5 trustees appointed by mayor. Trustees serve for 3 years. Men and women "shall be equally eligible to such appointment."
    • 133c. Establishes structure of commission.
    • 134d. The board of trustess have power to:
      • Make and enforce rules, regulations and by-laws for administration, government and protection of the library and all library property
      • Administer any gifts/trusts to library
      • Create job duties and and determine qualifications of of library staff. "Officers and employees shall hold their offices or positions at the pleasure of said board."
      • Purchase "necessary or convenient books, journals, publications and other personal property."
      • Purchase and rent property when the City hasn't done so.
      • Get California to furnish all state publications
      • Borrow, lend and exchange books from other libraries and allow non-residents to borrow books 
      • Establish branch libraries and reading rooms as growth requires
      • Accept donations for museums and libraries and and, when appropriate, "locate, erect, and equip" museums and art galleries, then manage and control the museums and libraries.
      • Perform anything related to this section.
    • 134e. Establishes a tax "not to exceed one mill on the dollar" (equivalent to 1/1000th of a cent) to establish and maintain libraries.
    • 134f. The revenue, combined with gifts, will be put into a library fund in the treasury. Payments from the fund will be authorized in board meetings.
    • 134g. "The Oakland free library shall be forever free to the inhabitants and non-resident taxpayers of the municipality" subject to rules as made by the trustees. Violations may result in fines or exclusions from the library.
    • 134h. The board may contract with neighboring areas and Alameda County for lending to other residents with reasonable compensation.
    • 134i. "The title to all property acquired for the purposes of the Oakland free library, when not inconsistent with the terms of its acquisition, or otherwise designated, shall vest in the city of Oakland, and in the name of the municipal corporation may be sued for and defended by action at law or otherwise."
    • 134j. The board will make a yearly report on the condition of the libraries, reading rooms, museums and art galleries.
    • 134k. The council and board of public works can use any city-owned property for a library.
    • 134l. Discusses vacancies if the amedment is approved prior to March 31, 1909. 
  • ​Section 31, add Subdivision 52 (aka Amendment #5): "To provide for the construction, mantenance and use of and on the water fromt of the city of Oakland, wharves, docks, slips, wharehouses, railroads and all other necessary or desirable improvements; to grant franchises as now or hereafter provided by law, and also for the construction and use of wharves, docks, slips, warehouses, railroads and railroad terminals ont he water front; to prescribe the number and compensation of wharfingers, agents and employees necessary to carry into effect the powers concerning the water front now possessed, or conferred upon the council of the city of Oakland or the board of public works and all powers of the city of Oakland concerning the water front; to provide for and direct the maintenance or defense of all suits or actions at law or equity or otherwise on behalf or against the city of Oakland, involving said water front of the city of Oakland, or any land, water, property, or improvements therein or the control, use, regulation, possession or title thereof, or necessary to enforce powers possessed or hereby conferred on the city of Oakland; to provide for and direct the acquisition by the city of Oakland either by purchase or condemnation of lands and improvements or lands or improvements within the limits of the city of Oakland, or adjacent thereto, necessary for the development and use of water front of the city of Oakland, and may declare such lands or premises so acquired by purchase or condemnation to be a part of the water front of the city of Oakland."
  • Section 71a (aka Amendment #6): Gives the board of public works power to "regulate, control, operate and manage" the water front, wharves, docks, slips, warehouses, and railroads, to collect rents and other fees for usage of the water front, to enforce payment, to remove "obstructions, encroachments or structures that are unlawful or unauthorized," 
  • Section 31, subdivision 29 (aka Amendment #7): City Council must grant any railroad company a franchise to lay or maintain tracks or elevated lines within a certain geographic area. The council grants equal privileges "to all railroad companies or corporations to enter the city and operate and maintain railroads for the convenience of the public to and upon the water front." The council gives the companies the right to construct and maintain depots, engine houses, etc, as long as no building can have more than 1000 feet of frontage on the water. The exception, however, is that "all that certain lot, piece and parcel of land situated in the county of Alameda, State of California and bounded on the north by north side of the Oakland mole and its continuation known as Long wharf and the Oakland mole produced easterly to Pine street, as they at present exist; on the south by a line drawn to parallel to and distant 1085 feet northerly from the north line of the franchise heretofore granted by the city of Oakland to the Western Pacific Railway Company; on the west by a line passing through the western extremity of the passenger ferry slip at the end of the Oakland mole and running due north and south; on the east by the western line of Pine street, and said Pine street produced southerly."
  • Section 31, subdivision 30 (aka Amendment #8): Gives all companies equal privileges to build on the waterfront as long as it's not more than 1000 feet of frontage. On the land in subdivision 29, the city council can give mor ethan 1000 feet to any company. 


  • Article V, Elective Officers (only certain sections included)
    • ​Section 8 : Elective officers are mayor, auditor (ex officio assesor), 4 commissioners and 6 school directors. The council consists of the mayor and the 4 commissioners. Each has the right to vote. The board of education consists of the 6 school directors and the department of revenue and finance commissioner.
    • Section 9: All positions are "at large."
    • Section 12:
      • 1. Vacancies of mayor, auditor or commissioners will be filled by the council. 
      • 2. Vacancies in the school board will be appointed by the school board.
    • Section 13: Vacancies exist when a person doesn't qualify 10 days after election, dies, resigns, is recalled, moves out of Oakland, is absent for more than 30 days without permission, is convicted of a felony, determined to be incompetent, forfeits office under the charter or is removed by judicial proceeding.
    • Section 14: Mayors and auditors have a term of four years.
    • Section 15: Commissioners have terms of four years. Each election will elect two commissioners.
    • Section 16: School directors have terms of four years.
  • Article VI: The Mayor
  • Section 21: The mayor is the chief executive officer "and shall see that all the ordinances, resolutions and laws thereof are duly enforced. He shall be charged with the general oversight of the several departments of the municipal government. He shall see that all contracts made with the city are faithfully performed. The mayor shall, with the aid of the commissioner of public health and safety, take all proper measures ofr hte preservation of public order and the suppression of riots, insurrections or tumults, for which latter purpose he is authorized and empowered to use and command the police force of the city."
  • Section 22: Mayor pro tempore
  • Section 23: Mayor's reports
  • Section 24: Mayor to have city's books examined
  • Section25: Supervision of public utility companies
  • Section 26: Powers and duties prescribed by ordinance: "The mayor shall exercise such other powers and perform such other duties as may be prescribe by law and ordinance."


Changes in 1931

1931 org chart with voter at the top. no mayor listed. photo of chart in the book of the 1931 charter, available at the Oakland History Room