<b>ELECTION VETO WOES:</b>  Ernie Salomon worries that Santa Barbara’s lack of ward elections might cause it to go the way of Palmdale.

Courtesy Photo

ELECTION VETO WOES: Ernie Salomon worries that Santa Barbara’s lack of ward elections might cause it to go the way of Palmdale.

When Voting Is Illegal

City of Palmdale’s November Election Cancelled; S.B. Next?

Thursday, October 10, 2013
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WHAT’S THIS? Ernie Salomon was in a rage, as usual. Whenever he sniffs the ugly scent of rank injustice, he lets loose on his Santa Barbara TV talk show.

“This will happen here!” Ernie warned after an L.A. Superior Court judge cancelled Palmdale’s November 5 election.

Judge Mark V. Mooney slammed the windblown high-desert town, calling its at-large system of voting unconstitutional because it makes it virtually impossible for minority City Council candidates to get elected. He nixed the November election and banned another until the city installs district-by-district votes.

Barney Brantingham

Palmdale, its population 69 percent Latino or black, has elected exactly one Latino and no blacks since it became a city in 1962. Odd, huh? Forty percent of its people of voting age are Latino, and 17 percent are black. But why should Santa Barbara, so proud of its Hispanic heritage ​— ​Old Spanish Days and all that ​— ​also be cruisin’ for a bruisin’ in court?

After all, the Fiesta City, with an estimated Latino population of at least 35 percent, does elect Spanish-surname City Council candidates ​— ​about once a decade. Let’s see, Gil Garcia joined the City Council in 1991 and served 10 years, and Cathy Murillo won a seat in 2011.

In July, the judge ruled the Palmdale system unconstitutional, but the city chose to ignore the decision and went right ahead with at-large election plans. Modesto and other cities have heeded the court and switched to district elections, but not Palmdale.

Why anyone would want to live in that godforsaken redneck town is beyond me, except to escape the urban horrors of L.A., but you’d think the City Council would at least make a stab at democracy. But no, it would rather fight than switch and is appealing the ruling. Its city attorney calls the ruling “wildly unprecedented and radical.” So was the U.S. Constitution.

The city of Whittier, also being sued under the 2002 California Voting Rights Act, has scheduled an election next June asking voters whether they want to switch. Interestingly, its April election will be by district.

You might be surprised to learn that Santa Barbara used to vote under the ward system. But that ended with a major charter revision in the 1960s. The feeling, as I recall, was that splitting the town up into wards just created little fiefdoms ruled by fuddy-duddy councilmembers more concerned with potholes than city problems as a whole. One was even caught lying about being a star major league outfielder many years earlier.

Salomon says the city has other things on its agenda than voting rights, like kissing up to the downtown business establishment, while residential neighborhoods are shortchanged in services. “Bars, visitors, and tourists are more important than our local residents.”

Mayor Helene Schneider tells me that Santa Barbara has no plans to go to a district system. And she pointed out that an election would be required to revise the charter and return to some form of the ward system.

That might be a problem. People are used to voting on all candidates they hear about, not just those running in their district. One option is a hybrid district system with the mayor running at large and all voters getting a shot.

As fair as this might seem, I don’t see it happening anytime soon — ​unless some out-of-town judge bangs his or her gavel. And so far, I don’t know of anyone running to the Courthouse to file suit.

The California Voting Rights Act bans at-large elections aimed at watering down voting power of minorities. About 20 cities, school districts, and other agencies have been sued, and most ended up abolishing the at-large route, according to the L.A. Times. If Ernie is right, could Santa Barbara be the next one in court?

NOT CITY OWNED: There seems to be some confusion in the minds of some about who will own the hilltop Clark property, Bellosguardo, now that the late Huguette Clark’s $300 million estate has been settled by negotiation. The City of Santa Barbara will not own it, although the mayor gets to nominate seven people for the board of directors. It will be owned by a New York nonprofit run by a board of 10 members. The other three will be nominated by the following: one by Clark’s longtime Santa Barbara attorney, James Hurley; one by Clark’s distant relatives; and one by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The New York attorney general will have to approve the directors.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Of course, Barney, gerrymandered ward boundaries never, ever would be enacted in Santa Bararbara so a minority of white, old, retired, property owners would be perpetually elected in safe districts configured to hold a majority of the city council seats, with a couple of ghettoized Latino renter districts on the convoluted maps.

Show us the districts first. Then discuss or debate the merits of district elections.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
October 10, 2013 at 7:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Lancaster/Palmdale is a mismanaged suburban slum. It's not exactly the example we want to follow.

Botany (anonymous profile)
October 10, 2013 at 8:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Wouldn't the rather obvious solution be for Latino candidates to do what's necessary to file papers and run for office and for Latino voters to then vote for them? This is assuming that anyone feels the need to vote according to one's ethnic background, something that should not really be a factor in the present day. I of course realize that's not the case in politics in many places and at many levels.

zappa (anonymous profile)
October 10, 2013 at 9 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Good point Zappa. Does the ethnic background of the elected officials necessarily need to match that of the electorate? We have a black president and I don't hear much conspiracy talk that whites were prevented from voting in the last two presidential elections. Is it terrible to think that the majority of the residents will vote for the best candidate and not vote soley based on the color of one's skin? That should be true for all races hopefully.

Botany (anonymous profile)
October 10, 2013 at 9:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

To get Latino districts (and why wouldn't that be unconstitutional) there'd have to be serious gerrymandering. Maybe a better form of district elections, not based on presumed ethnicity as determined by the last name, would be economic gerrymandering. The lower east and the lower west, for instance, are distinguished primarily by lower incomes than are so in the hillside area inhabited by Mr Salomon.

Economics is what determines where one lives, but I doubt that economic gerrymandering would be acceptable.

at_large (anonymous profile)
October 10, 2013 at 11:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

You claimed the "god forsaken red-neck" town was 69 percent minority...
Surprising enough we never give credit where credit is due!

touristunfriendly (anonymous profile)
October 11, 2013 at 11:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Barney: Maybe you need to look in your own back yard before you pontificate about racial justice.

33 names are on The Independent Staff link, and not one is a Spanish surname. Unless about half the people on your staff are Hispanic, (which would reflect closely Santa Barbara's demographics) then it behooves you not to be judgemental.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
October 11, 2013 at 7:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Could it be that there is a connection between the lack of Hispanics elected to public office and the lack of Hispanics on your editorial staff? Can you answer that one?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
October 11, 2013 at 7:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It isn't just racial inconsistancy. Dolphins are probably the most intelligent people outside of humans yet The Independent hires a poodle to write it's columns but not one dolphin, no pinnapeds, not even a chimpanzee. Why is the POODLE angry? What about US???

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
October 11, 2013 at 7:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

no, it's marine mammal inconsistency.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
October 12, 2013 at 6:16 a.m. (Suggest removal)


1. When did the color of your skin have to do with who you vote for? Only in the minds of racists lib-dems and racists voters.

2. If Palmdale is 69% Hispanic or Black then why are Hispanic and Black people voting for Hispanic and Black politicians? Is it because:
(A) there are none
(B) there are some but they are not as qualified as the other candidate(s)
(C) most of these Hispanics are illegal aliens and in eligible to vote

willy88 (anonymous profile)
October 14, 2013 at 8:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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