<b>SETTING IT STRAIGHT:</b>  Attorney Barry Cappello (center) and plaintiffs hovered around conference table chairs as he addressed what he called “misconceptions” about his voting-discrimination lawsuit.

Paul Wellman

SETTING IT STRAIGHT: Attorney Barry Cappello (center) and plaintiffs hovered around conference table chairs as he addressed what he called “misconceptions” about his voting-discrimination lawsuit.

Attorney, Activists Defend Voting Rights Lawsuit

Say Not Premature to Legally Challenge City’s Election System

Thursday, August 7, 2014
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Arguing that legal action is the only way to implement a district election system and create a city council more representative of Santa Barbara’s population, attorney Barry Cappello invited reporters to his office last week to make his case. With the news of his voting discrimination lawsuit hot off the presses, Cappello, accompanied by four of the suit’s plaintiffs, claimed that the racial makeup of the current council violates 13-year-old California voting rights laws.

An air of frustration filled the room for the entirety of the 30-minute conversation as Cappello stood at the head of a large table and the several attendees hovered behind the conference room chairs. Defending his lawsuit, Cappello took issue with the charge that it is “premature” and explained he hired an expert to study voting patterns over time before he took legal action.

Racially polarized voting exists “without any question” in Santa Barbara, Cappello said, though the results of the study conducted by history professor Morgan Kousser ​— ​who worked on similar cases in Compton and Palmdale ​— ​are not yet public. Seven years ago, the Grand Jury recommended the city consider district elections, but nothing materialized, and councils have continuously failed to evenly spread resources to all neighborhoods, activists contend.

For instance, the Cacique Street Bridge has not been repaired for 30 years, said plaintiff Frank Bañales, and the Eastside neighborhood is in need of more lighting and other basic improvements. A lifelong resident of the Eastside, Bañales ran for city council in 1991 ​— ​then as a Republican ​— ​and lost to Marty Blum, who served two terms on the council and as mayor. Now he’s a Democrat. Bañales also ran for mayor in the late 1970s, when he was admittedly “young” and “naïve.” Plaintiffs Sebastian Aldana and Cruzito Cruz also unsuccessfully ran for council seats.

Standing in the back of the room was former councilmember Leo Martinez, who moved to New Mexico in the 1990s. Martinez, a longtime friend of Cappello, has recently been traveling back and forth to support the cause. Rumors recently circulated that he is coming back to Santa Barbara to run for city council, but Martinez flatly denied it.

Skeptics argue district elections are not the appropriate way to remedy the fact that very few Latinos have held a spot on the dais in a city where they make up 38 percent of the population. No current councilmembers have joined the movement, and they have urged activists to wait until Doug Johnson ​— ​a demographer hired by the city to conduct a voting study ​— ​finishes his research in September.

The fact that Santa Barbara is a charter city has emerged as a possible roadblock to implementing district elections because voters would have to ratify such a change. Not so, said Cappello, who likened the logic to a city in Alabama that tries to outlaw black kids from going to school. “You can’t do that,” he said. According to City Attorney Ariel Calonne, the issue of voter ratification is still an “open question” because Palmdale is petitioning the issue in the California Supreme Court.

In the past few years, a handful of other cities have made the shift from at-large to district elections. Compton is the only place where district elections have been implemented long enough to be successful, activists say. The first Latino was elected from one of the redrawn districts last year after voters passed the initiative in 2012. In Anaheim, an initiative will be placed on the November ballot after the city settled with the activists.

But in Palmdale, the court battle could cost the city more than $3 million in legal fees if the city loses. A judge recently ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and invalidated the last November election, which gave a seat on the council to Fred Thompson, the first African American to win in a city with a population that is 14 percent African American. The case is still tied up in appeals in the Supreme Court.

Several dozen community colleges ​— ​including Santa Barbara City College ​— ​have also made the move to district elections. District elections have worked just fine for the college, Trustee Marty Blum said, but she expressed some doubt for the city. She said, “It can get neighborhood against neighborhood” and lead to backdoor deals. Bañales’s response to such concerns is simply, “You don’t think that goes on now?”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Districts in the final analysis makes sense essentially because it does increase accountability of an elected official.

OpenMind (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 7:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Those five look as though they have absolutely no sense of humor and may even suffer from constipation, which would put anybody in a sour mood.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
August 8, 2014 at 2:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"Cappello, accompanied by four of the suit’s plaintiffs, claimed that the racial makeup of the current council violates 13-year-old California voting rights laws."

Since when is the color of your skin a right to representation? It disgusts me that he thinks racism is the reason for the current council makeup. I believe he'll win the lawsuit, but not for this reason. Right or wrong, the courts want regional elections for government leadership. It doesn't mean that a certain race must be more or less represented. For all our good, I hope the BEST candidate wins, no matter his/her skin color. Using race as a reason to deserve something makes you a racist.

sbdriftwood (anonymous profile)
August 8, 2014 at 9:15 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Those with Hispanic last names are not a "race" but if, indeed, Cappello wins the effect will be serious polarization of the city.

And, no, Mr. Bañales, neighborhoods are not now pitted against each other, with backdoor deals. If your (and my) east side wins and then demands more services, what makes anyone think that the other 5 or 6 (with mayor) councilmembers will want to spend the money there when their lawsuit will have cost the city Cappello's fees, likely to be millions$?

at_large (anonymous profile)
August 8, 2014 at 9:28 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Banales doesn't get the Dems always win the mayorship, not Republicans in SB. But somehow that gets turned into racism? Nobody us outlawed from running, and citizens of age are all ENCOURAGED to vote!
Pigs at the trough.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
August 8, 2014 at 9:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Having grown up in Richmond, VA in the 1930s, and so having witnessed the practices of bigotry over many years, I've been able to view the changing language bigots use to attack those who'd uphold the rights of racial, ethnic, religious and/or political minorities.

At first they called them “hippies,” “commies,” and “n-lovers.” Later it was “extremists.”

After the nation saw on TV the horrors they'd committed during the Civil Rights Movement, bigots, realizing that national opinion had turned against them, began using the phrase “politically correct,” hoping to shame as cowardly those who shared a majority view.

That - like the other ploys - not having worked too well, bigots now throw the word “racist” at (1) those who call them out for their denigration of minorities and (2) those who seek to defend and support the social, political rights and legitimate aspirations of minorities.

This time, bigots hope, they can intimidate others by calling them what they themselves are.

The instances are fully on view here.

William Smithers

bilwil (anonymous profile)
August 8, 2014 at 3:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Bilwil: Indeed bigots tend to be slicker about what they say, but also keep in mind that one uses the terms you mentioned it doesn't always make them a bigot.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
August 8, 2014 at 6:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I don't know anything about Frank Banales. But if perennial candidate Cruzito Cruz finally gets a Council seat because district elections are implemented, then the East side would have been done a great disservice.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
August 8, 2014 at 10:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Cruz is a great guy, huge heart but NOT a credible candidate. EB is correct.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
August 9, 2014 at 12:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

EB's correct about Cruz, but I'm still for the idea of district elections. It's completely true that "councils have continuously failed to evenly spread resources to all neighborhoods," and it's not just activists who contend this. The Grand Jury recommended the City do this years ago. Though no one cares, after 27 years on the Westside, I would consider running just to prove an anglo can win, so this isn't just an ethnically-based choice. The Westside has ONE park,Bohnett, which many fear to bring their children to; we have NO police substation or bicycle cops [a cheap and proven way to help vs. gangs in our congested neighborhoods]; several intersections are unsafe; after many years the SBUSD finally is fixing the asphalt playground at Harding School [not directly City Council function, but could be made related]... several other issues.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 9, 2014 at 1:08 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Does Frank Banales actually live on the Eastside? I'm not yet convinced about his (or Cappello's) claim the Eastside is relatively underserved ...

The new underpass at Cacique Street is really popular, I'm down there all the time and see residents using it. And Salinas St. plus others got re-asphalted not too many years ago as I recall. There's also the two new crosswalk warning systems on Milpas (one put in due to that tragic hit & run). And the soccer fields across from the zoo are being maintained nicely despite the heavy use. Of course the roundabout at Milpas really improved traffic and the new underpass has all that deco art work. The roundabout at "five points" is also nice and the city maintains it whenever someone drives over it.

The area near Casa de la Raza (Montecito St. & Calle Cesar Chavez) is also sprucing up nicely with that new housing project and business offices.

Things could be better, but I wouldn't say the Eastside is being neglected.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
August 9, 2014 at 4:47 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Oh yeah, and what about all those new linings that got put into some Eastside sewers a few years back? That's got to count for something.

And what about the new sidewalks that just got put in on Carrillo between Nopal and Milpas? Coming off the tail end of a recession no less.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
August 9, 2014 at 4:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You haven't got anything to put up about improvements to the Westside, however, EB. The San Andres corridor is a nightmare; despite some sprucing up of Bohnett it still frightens potential users after dusk; the filth and hobos along the railroad line is disgusting [check it out]; no improvement of the Dutton Ave/Micheltorena St. pseudo-intersection despite many pleas; when they talk of cancelling City shuttle service it's always the Westside shuttle that's threatened, never the State St. one; ... there is more.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 9, 2014 at 6:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The City used to have district elections. It was harder then to create bad projects because if that neighborhoods councilmember said "No." the other councilmembers tended to follow that representitives lead. Today the westside and lower eastside get the brunt of high density projects and the City Council gets away with it because there is no direct representation in those areas.

Funny how the once activist-friendly "Independent" has now become the mainstream paper that tends to support the establishment.

Georgy (anonymous profile)
August 10, 2014 at 9:17 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@DrDan, I was doing a sanity check on Banales' claims. Since his reported comments have all been about the Eastside, I stuck to that topic. Besides, unlike the Westside, I know the Eastside pretty well. I defer to you on the situation west of State.

I do enjoy eating at Super Cucas and used to have a regular game at the gym every Sunday @Westside Boys & Girls Club. But that's not the same as living in the area.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
August 10, 2014 at 1:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Today the westside and lower eastside get the brunt of high density projects ..."
-- Georgy

Projects with relatively higher density are more within the financial reach of the economic demographic that lives in those areas than low density housing. How do you know the majority of community members wouldn't have supported it? In fact, with district elections, the chances of having higher density housing might actually be better than with at-large Council members!

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
August 10, 2014 at 1:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

How has the change to district elections been just fine for SBCC, according to Ms Blum? In the last seven SBCC elections there has been only one contested seat.

And no Latinos contested any of those seven new SBCC openings even though the seven new SBCC districts are now smaller and allegedely more accessible.The Democrat machine still runs this town and now it will be even easier to retain control.

Ms Blum needs to expalin what she means by saying district elections are working at SBCC.. So far it only means that she now get to run for her second term unopposed while at the same time asking taxpayers to hand her $300 million dollars to spend on the SBCC Measure S (is a mess) bond issue. Is she the most credible person to be weighing in on this issue.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 10, 2014 at 5:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

In case you have not noticed, no neighborhood gets positive improvement projects funded because the city's discretionary revenue now is needed to fill the holes past city councils created to pay employee pension promises, increasing city personnel costs and infrastructure backlogs that barely get even routine maintenance done.

There is no money left for improvements for anyone. It all goes to city staff instead. The court just ruled there is no gang problem in this town so why should the Westside get its own police substation? Why shouldn't every neighborhood have their own substation, safe sidewalks and good lighting, let alone underground utilities. This is not happening anywhere.

The only thing that makes neighbohroods look different in this town is the varying degrees of the property ownners own pride of ownership which is higher in some parts of town than others.

That is 100% in the hands of the residents themselves and not the city. If your neighbors trash up their yards it only acts as a magnet for other unsavory activity because is says this part of town does not care. Send a different message because they city is not listening to those who actually live here.

The city is in no fiscal position to favor anyone other than their own employees. Eastside and Westside already probably get far more city budget attention in social programs, housing projects and federal grant funding than any other part of town. How will district elections change that?

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 10, 2014 at 5:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What if nobody in a district decides to run? Doubtful but you never know.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
August 10, 2014 at 6:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If no one runs, there is typically an appointment process by those that were duely elected, or a special election is held later. The Democrat machine will not let an elected position go bye, so don't worry. Public office gets to dispense public taxpayer-funded goodies. Democrats will never miss this opportunity.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 12:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Now wait a minute here..... somebody check the job postings on the City site. MUST be bilingual for a great portion of the positions. So... who is who seeking to defend and support the social, political rights and legitimate aspirations of non-minorities who simply would like to work? It seems a decent job, open to all (not just bilingual folks) is more important than pot-holes, bridges and the like... 'ya think?

nurse_denise (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 12:47 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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