<b>Back for a Word:</b>  La Casa de la Raza cofounder and former Santa Barbara city councilmember Leo Martinez, who was elected in 1973, visited from New Mexico to express his support for district elections in the city. “My footprint is all over this place,” he said. “I owe something.”

Peter Vandenbelt

Back for a Word: La Casa de la Raza cofounder and former Santa Barbara city councilmember Leo Martinez, who was elected in 1973, visited from New Mexico to express his support for district elections in the city. “My footprint is all over this place,” he said. “I owe something.”

Activists Call for District Elections

Lawsuit Looms Over Current At-Large System

Thursday, February 27, 2014
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If a group of area activists have their way, the say of Santa Barbara voters could soon be divided into districts. Approximately 75 people showed up to the Louise Lowry Davis Center last Saturday afternoon, most in favor of trading in the city’s at-large election system ​— ​meaning all City Council and mayoral candidates represent the entire city and earn the votes from voters citywide ​— ​for one based on districts, with each prospective councilmember voted on from designated areas and the mayor’s seat likely remaining a citywide position.

Opponents of the current method ​— ​Santa Barbara’s election-system pendulum has swung back and forth between the two approaches over its history ​— ​claimed that it discriminates against minority voters and candidates, possibly in violation of the state’s Voting Rights Act. And because an attempt in the 1990s to get voter approval for district elections failed (albeit narrowly), opponents said that the best way for them to get the system they want is to file a lawsuit against the city.

“California is a Latino state,” said attorney Barry Cappello, whose law firm is in the early stages of readying for such a lawsuit and would handle it pro bono. That only a handful of Latinos have sat on the City Council dais over the years, Cappello said, is “a terrible indictment of what the system is.” But a system based on districts, he said, “could get a lot more done on the ground.”

If or when the lawsuit is filed ​— ​Acting City Attorney Sarah Knecht said her office has yet to receive anything ​— ​it would place Santa Barbara in the company of other Southern California cities whose recent tussles over district elections have made headlines. In December, following a lawsuit filed by several residents alleging violation of the Voting Rights Act, the City of Palmdale was ordered by a judge to replace its at-large system with district elections and to do so in even-numbered years to coincide with statewide and national elections. Palmdale is now the first city in the state to have its system undergo court-ordered change as a result of the act, implemented in 2002. Anaheim and Whittier are dealing with similar challenges.

“I will give everything I can to this effort,” said Leo Martinez, who served one term as a councilmember in the 1970s and was one of the founders of La Casa de la Raza. He said he came back to town ​— ​he currently lives in New Mexico ​— ​to help bring the issue back to the spotlight. Speaking of Cappello, whom he dealt with when Cappello served as the city’s attorney, Martinez said, “If he goes to court, we will win.”

While most of the meeting’s attendees voiced their support for change, some said district elections aren’t the only or best way to more widely represent the city’s residents. “The votes of everybody are needed to elect good people,” said activist Mickey Flacks, adding that although district elections could mean more Latinos in office, it could also mean more Republicans. Environmental consultant David Pritchett, married to Councilmember Cathy Murillo, agreed, expressing his concerns that such a system would “make a permanent minority” on the council and that district boundaries ​— ​which weren’t discussed on Saturday ​— ​could lead to gerrymandering. Pritchett added that districts would diminish residents’ representation from seven elected officials to one.

“I’m not ready to give up on empowering everybody in this city to vote and to run themselves,” said Murillo, the only minority to serve on the council since Babatunde Folayemi (who served 2002-2004) and the only Latino since Gil Garcia (1991-2001). After being put on the spot, Murillo said that increasing the number of minorities selected for the city’s various boards and committees ​— ​Knecht said the council currently selects who takes those positions from a pool of applicants ​— ​could help with representation concerns. Other suggestions included implementing even-year elections and changing local campaign finance rules.

Although a representative from the activist organization PODER didn’t speak on Saturday, the organization has said that they would support the lawsuit, and Marcos Vargas, the executive director of the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), said his group, although without a formal stance, is reviewing what is being proposed. Vargas pointed to CAUSE’s new efforts ​— ​spurred largely by the Santa Maria Planning Commission’s recent approval of a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility there, much to the ire of thousands of residents ​— ​to get a Santa Maria district-elections measure on the November ballot.

Larry Herrera, currently the city clerk for Long Beach and formerly the assistant clerk-recorder-registrar for Santa Barbara County, spoke at Saturday’s meeting in support of district voting, which Long Beach employs. He called the cities of Long Beach and Santa Barbara similar in terms of, among other things, their beauty and natural resources and questioned whether they will overlap in election systems. “Where does Santa Barbara stand?” he asked. “Which way will you go?”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Our nation's dead Founders and I commend the Indy for getting to the point about how really and sincerely to increase voter participation and elect a city council far more accountable and directly responsible for the quality of life for all the city residents. To wit:

"Other suggestions included implementing even-year elections and changing local campaign FINANCE RULES."

"...the City of Palmdale was ordered by a judge to replace its at-large system with district elections and to do so IN EVEN-NUMBERED YEARS to coincide with statewide and national elections."

We need unity and patriotism in our nation and city, not racial conflict and animosity that only fans the vestigial flames of our dwindling differences. The advocates of city elections to a ward system of fiefdoms only set the stage for a permanent gerrymandered bias in favor of the Whigs, who would dominate the whole city council and consistently outvote the dreams and clamors of the people in the dense urban neighborhoods of workers and immigrants.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
February 27, 2014 at 7:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The downtown/motel organizations see Santa Barbara as "Veblen goods."
With city wide representation, they stand to lose a lot of their political control.
If district elections succeed, our city officials might turn away from pandering to big money and start working with the entire city in mind. This will be a win-win for everybody!
Thank you all for your efforts!

touristunfriendly (anonymous profile)
February 27, 2014 at 8:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The downtown/motel organizations (and public sector unions) see Santa Barbara as "Veblen goods."

touristunfriendly (anonymous profile)
February 27, 2014 at 8:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

JA has a point. The district based system could give us "ribbons of shame" throughout the city.

Botany (anonymous profile)
February 27, 2014 at 9:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes! Of course this makes perfect sense because everyone knows that unless your skin color shading is within 10% of your constituents, then you are unable to listen to them, react to them, do anything for them.

For example, Latino politicians are unable to fix street lights in the upper East side because there is a 20% difference in skin color.

Makes perfect sense!

realitycheck88 (anonymous profile)
February 27, 2014 at 12:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

" “California is a Latino state,” said attorney Barry Cappello"
Can you imagine the well justified uproar if anyone said this or any other state was a "white state"? California is an American state with many people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, deal with it. The sooner these leftover from the seventies activists with their wedge issues fade away the better.

goaty (anonymous profile)
February 27, 2014 at 7:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

First of all two thoughts: One, Leo Martinez, I had forgotten all about him so seeing his name is definetely a "blast from the past". Second: I like how Cappello is kissing up to the "Latino" population. Got news for ol' B.C., drop the Balkenizing tactics, and grasp the concept that we're all in this together and that it isn't about "Latino" (can't say "Mexican"?) White, Black, or Asian, and it should a state for ALL people. OK, now onto the the main point.

As much as I see this issue being politicized along racial lines, and probably will fail because of such, it does seem to make sense to have district representation because the one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work when you have not only different economic demographics, but different geography as well. Chicago has an alderman system, and the more autonomy a given area has, the better, so as much as I can't stand Barry Capello, and the whole divisive "Latino" politicizing, I have to put aside my other differences and say that I support this measure.

To B.C.: My parents say "hi".

billclausen (anonymous profile)
February 27, 2014 at 8:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Our nation's dead Founders and I "

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
February 27, 2014 at 7:36 a.m.

Are U not 1 of the Founders? Your our second president. Without you, our nation would be foundering.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
February 28, 2014 at 3:17 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Why does it matter if your parents or your grandparents or even your great grandparents came from Argentina, Mexico, and points in between including Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic (but not Haiti sharing the same island), or Spain, Portugal (but not Russia, which had a foothold in part of California for a while)? Why should so much attention be given to those whose surnames end in a vowel as opposed to those whose names end in a consonant?

Residents now choose where they live in good part on the basis of economics. If you delineate poor areas, then by definition the other sections will be affluent and there will be 4-3 or 5-2 votes regularly for those areas, since they will represent their areas, not the city as a whole, as now.

If people want representation, let them run and vote. What is really needed is campaign finance reform, which, thanks to the Supremes, has to be voluntary. As for odd year or even year, didn't we just decide we wanted odd year elections because more attention would be paid to city elections when they are not full of state and national issues?

It may make sense in Long Beach (I don't think SB is at all like Long Beach except for being on the ocean) and it may have made some sense back in 70's, 80's, but it does not now.

at_large (anonymous profile)
February 28, 2014 at 5:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

La Raza = The Race
That's why it matters.

These do-gooders are racists, full stop.

It's just that because they have made horrible choices in their home-country forms of government (socialism, authoritarianism, communism, etc.) they live there in abject poverty or worse - and run here for relief via hard work and being exploited by businesses (and middle-class/wealthy families) that hire them for slave-wages.

realitycheck88 (anonymous profile)
March 3, 2014 at 9:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

...and these hierarchical forms of government that cause the problems in their home countries are sold to them as being helpful to them even when it's the underlying cause of "la cadena perpetua"/"The endless cycle" (of poverty and crime. All the while, the people with the sales pitch make lots of $$$.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 3, 2014 at 2:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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