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Oakland City Council member Pat Kernighan speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the reconstruction of the 12th Street dam at the south end of Lake Merritt on Thursday, May 6, 2010 in Oakland, Calif. The project will replace a busy 12-lane expressway with a six-lane landscaped boulevard and new four-acre park. (Lane Hartwell/Staff)

OAKLAND -- City Council President Pat Kernighan will not seek re-election next year, setting the stage for Oakland to seat one of the most inexperienced councils in recent memory.

Kernighan, 64, said Monday that she was ready to retire and has not identified a preferred successor for her district, which includes Chinatown, the relatively affluent Grand Lake and Trestle Glen neighborhoods and the working class San Antonio district.

Kernighan's upcoming retirement comes at a time of rapid change on the council.

Three veteran members gave up their seats last year, and Councilwoman Libby Schaaf recently announced that she will run for mayor rather than seek re-election to her council seat.

After next year's election, at least five of Oakland's eight council members will be in their first terms.

"New faces bring new ideas and new energy," said five-term Councilman Larry Reid, the council's longest-serving member.

Reid praised Kernighan's work on the council, noting that they sometimes had their differences. "Whoever replaces her has to be on a fast learning curve if they want to represent constituents as well as Pat represented them," he said.

Mayor Jean Quan said of Kernighan: "She's been a very strong, stable and reasonable voice on the council, and I will miss her."

Kernighan is an attorney; she worked at City Hall for former City Attorney John Russo and her predecessor on the council, Danny Wan. When she won a special election in 2005 to succeed Wan, critics said she would be loyal to powerful council President Ignacio De La Fuente, but Kernighan established herself an independent.

Her peers on the council voted unanimously this year to make her council president.

The only declared candidate for Kernighan's seat is Sokhom Mao, a member of Oakland's Citizens' Police Review Board and a former foster youth who worked on a state law that extended foster car services up to age 21.

Kernighan, who is considered a moderate by Oakland standards, said she has tried to recruit candidates to run for her seat and would evaluate the field that emerges before possibly making an endorsement.

Kernighan had been telling colleagues this year that she likely wouldn't seek re-election. She said Monday that she wanted more time to spend with her granddaughter in Seattle, care for her elderly parents and take part in civic life without being tied to her council job.

"Now is the time to enjoy the fun things in Oakland," she said.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.