<b>POPPING THE QUESTION: </b> District elections are no longer the subject of academic debate as Barry Cappello (center) sued City Hall, charging the current at-large system of elections is racially polarized. Parties to that suit include Sebastian Aldana (left), Frank Bañales (bottom right), and Cruzito Cruz (right), all of whom have run unsuccessfully for City Council.

Paul Wellman (file)

POPPING THE QUESTION: District elections are no longer the subject of academic debate as Barry Cappello (center) sued City Hall, charging the current at-large system of elections is racially polarized. Parties to that suit include Sebastian Aldana (left), Frank Bañales (bottom right), and Cruzito Cruz (right), all of whom have run unsuccessfully for City Council.

Voting Discrimination Lawsuit Filed

Attorney Argues City Council Doesn’t Adequately Represent Latinos

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
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Whether construed as a promise or threat, prominent Santa Barbara attorney Barry Cappello was good on his word: He filed a lawsuit against the City of Santa Barbara this week charging that the city’s method of electing councilmembers at large — as opposed to by specific districts — has effectively disenfranchised Latino voters by diluting the Latino voting block, thus violating the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.

Although Latinos make up 38 percent of the city’s population, Cappello noted that only one — Cathy Murillo — has been elected since 2001. Since 1968, not one Latino has been elected mayor. While the cause of such statistical lopsidedness has been much debated by Santa Barbara’s warring political factions over the years, state law is fairly simple; if there’s a significant difference between how Latino voters cast their ballots from how their Anglo counterparts do, that constitutes “racially polarized voting.”

Cappello’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of five individuals, three of whom — Frank Banales, Cruzito Cruz, and Sebastian Aldana — have run unsuccessfully for City Council over the years. “Racially polarized voting consists both of voter cohesion on the part of Latino voters and of bloc voting by the non-Latino electorate against the choices of Latino voters,” Cappello declared in his lawsuit. The only remedy, he said, was the elimination of the at-large voting system and its replacement by district elections.

Among current councilmembers, there’s no strong support for district elections and considerable opposition. In recent weeks, an ad hoc committee of councilmembers has met with district election supporters in hopes of working out an alternative to litigation. The supporters made it clear from the outset they intended to sue. Thus far, no city sued for violating the Voting Rights Act has managed to prevail; many have agreed to switch election schemes as part of a negotiated settlement.

Cappello took the case, in part, as a favor to a longtime friend and former councilmember Leo Martinez, who led the charge for district elections. Should he prevail, he’ll be eligible to collect attorney’s fees from City Hall. Mayor Helene Schneider, a skeptic where district elections are concerned, expressed “disappointment” at what she termed a “premature lawsuit.”

Schneider noted last week that the council voted to authorize demographer Douglas Johnson to conduct a voting study to determine the extent to which — if any — Santa Barbara’s voting patterns are “racially polarized.” In previous conversations, she noted that minority candidates like Murillo or Das Williams successfully garnered votes from all over, while Latino candidates like Cruz — who has never sought to raise the funds necessary to wage a credible campaign — performed poorly throughout the city.

Because Santa Barbara is a charter city, it falls to voters to ratify any change in the voting system. For the matter to be placed before city voters this November — an off-year election for City Hall — the council would have to authorize the vote and refer it to the County Board of Supervisors for inclusion on the ballot no later than August 8. To date, no such effort has taken place, and at City Hall, there’s been considerable resistance to being stampeded into action.

Instead, several councilmembers have expressed interest in voting to place the matter before city voters next November, while engaging the community in the traditional avalanche of public meetings and workshops that attend most, though not all, important policy considerations. The coalition for district elections represents an intriguing cross-section of alienated activists from all political stripes unified by an abiding sense that lower-income neighborhood interests and concerns have been poorly represented by the current system.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Let's address the proverbial "elephant in the living room" by asking "*why*" Hispanics are underrepresented in local politics.

Let's also apply the same question to Blacks; Gays; Asians; and so forth.

I'm all for a completely transparent discussion on this matter.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 12:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Photo caption: "You...yeah YOU over there, get over here, now, I wanna talk to you!"

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 5:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I'd be in favor of district elections, although I don't see it happening, but fail to see the connection to under-representation of Latinos in the election process. If 38 percent of the population were to register and then vote as a bloc (for whatever reason), I suspect that the supported candidate would win. I don't think there are financial barriers in pulling papers, becoming a candidate etc. Becoming a _viable_ candidate with an agenda that voters will take seriously may be a different matter.

zappa (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 6:13 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Latinos make up 38% of the city's population, but do the make up 38% of the city's eligible voters?

Botany (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 6:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Dale Francisco and Cathy Murillo sit on city council today. 2 out of 7 with hispanic last names which is the only way this is determined. Cramming a Megan Diaz Alley or a Cruzito Cruz on city council by fiat because of their last names or self-identified ethnicity is a fool's errand. That is taking voters rights away.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 6:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The Latino population is incredibly diverse. Mexicans are the largest group. Most are first generation. Is this the Latino group that is underrepresented? While the Voting Rights laws are on the books, are they still relevant? Racial characteristics are yesterday's news as a form of equality. Civic representation should be a genuine intellectual conversation centered upon whether sufficient economic status groups are represented on any democratically elected public body. The new millennium is about economic civil rights. Let's all turn the page and catch up with the times and find relevant timely solutions.

OpenMind (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 7:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Don't only about 8,000 registered voters even vote for Silly Council?

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 7:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Botany: according to the Census, approximately 19% of the potential voters are Latino.

Who are the other two plaintiffs? Only Banales, Cruz, and Aldana are listed.

(at_large before at-large became the term de jour)

at_large (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 8:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

why would anyone oppose elections by district? Anglos will be begging for districts when Latinos become the majority in SB and occupy ALL the Council seats...

Pagurus (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 8:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

We should have district elections for the simple reason that small is better when it comes to democracy. Districts allow voters much greater input and knowledge and direction for their interests. Larger districts allow the elected officials to ignore, dismiss ordinary folks and to pander to the large contributors and those who have machines which "get out the vote" for a special interest. Probably district elections would result in more diversity on the council as well.

RHS (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 8:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

No matter who sits on city council the first task is to generate city revenues to fund the city employee pension fund. How will district electon council members fulfill this obligation? The primary obligation of anyone sitting on city council now is to raise money, not spend it. I hope this is fully understood.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 9:04 a.m. (Suggest removal)

JarvisJarvis--I don't think you get to set priorities alone. Democracy will do this. You can have your one vote.

RHS (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 9:48 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Democracy has lead to many a failed municipality where the bankruptcy court then gets to set the city's priorities. Spending money you don't have and cannot generate only increases municipal debt to the breaking point. How will district elected candidates solve this fundamental fiscal imbalance? Fair question.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 9:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

This is such bogus nonsense.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 10:28 a.m. (Suggest removal)

No, it is real nonsense I think.

RHS (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 10:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

RHS wrote, "Districts allow voters much greater input and knowledge and direction for their interests." -- districts will allow each voter one vote, one choice every four years instead of the now three every two years. This will be much less input!

Santa Barbara is small enough that there are not different interests depending on where one lives. There may need to be a sidewalk here or there, but most of us travel throughout the city and care for all of it, not just our immediate.

I hope there will be a discussion of how being Latino/a or/and Hispanic is a "race", as in African-American or Asian-American. A discussion about what is "race" as in "racially-polarized" would be very interesting.

at_large (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 10:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

SBCC converted to district elections in 2010. In 2012, one out of three new district election seats was contested. There was no interest in two of the new districts so the sole candidate did not appear on the ballot and was atutomatically elected Four SBCC trustee seats are now open for 2014, unknown at this time whether these four new SBCC districts will be contested or or what the isolated SBCC district issues would be for these four new districts.

The SBCC district election experiment to generate "greater input, knowledge and direction for district interests" remains unconfirmed.

SBCC created a minority-interest district in downtown Santa Barbara emcompassing portions of the East and Westsides. This was one of the uncontested 2012 SBCC districts. Only one candidate applied and was therefore automatically elected without declaring any specific SBCC district positions.

There is little comfort in the history of district elections in this town.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 11:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Having three votes does not give one more input if everyone else has three votes! This is a foolish argument. Having one vote in a small electorate is much more effective. And the biggest lie that has been bandied about for the last couple of decades is the claim that all people in SB have the same interests! This has allowed the tourist zone property owners and businesses to dominate the expenditure of tax money and public action to the detriment of neighborhoods on the north, east and west sides that can't get a sidewalk installed or even one repaired while bulbouts and traffic calming devices are dumped into the downtown.

RHS (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 1:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

How much you guys and gals want to bet that Barry Cappello is going to make a run for SB Silly Council?

blahblahmoreblah (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 3:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)


1. Who generates income for the city to spend?
2. What is the biggest city expense?
3. How will the city pay off its current $400 million of unfunded liabillities?
4. What is the size of the current city budget?
5. What strings come with federal grant money?
6. How will district elections change the answers?

Answer those questions first, then we can talk about how the city spends what is left over.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 5:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@RHS "We should have district elections for the simple reason that small is better when it comes to democracy." Well said, Sir.

chriss2760 (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Photo caption: Sebastian Aldana and A.B. (Anthony Barrister) Cappello perform perfect 90-degree Feng Shui for the benefit of audience member Gerald Kite.

At Chriss2760, how do you know RHS might not be a woman?

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 8 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Will he be donating his legal fees to charity?

@dolphinpod14, dewdly has peeked into everybody's shorts, ask her.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 8:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

YES on District elections: bring 'em on and let's avoid this lawsuit. And you're quite right, KV, crudely dewdly loves peeking in everyone else's shorts, I've asked her why before, no answer.

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 8:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

To Ken, DavyBrown, and CrudeDood, per the issue of peeking into my shorts, I submit this

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 9:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I thought Judge Sterne ruled against the East Side/West Side gang injunction.

Now the guy sues because he wants the gang territories represented at City Council? Is that what he wants?

When will the "my back yard" bigotry end?

54% white; 38 % hispanic; 3% asian; 1% black.

District elections polarize a community. Horse race elections (most votes, second most, third most, etc.) pick the real favorites.

If all 38% of the latino voters selected one or two people to focus on, that selected person would win the election. But that's not what happens, whites don't always vote for the white guy. And by the same token, latinos don't always vote for the hispanic.

This City should get the seven best people they can find, from any geographic location.

How funny would that be if all seven members of the council lived on the very same block along De La Vina Street, Miramonte Drive, or Spring Street. Ha Ha Ha lol.

LOOKINGFORAGOODREAD (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 10:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Amusing to see Wendy McCaw's erstwhile mouthpiece railing against the entrenched white power structure.

henryjk (anonymous profile)
July 31, 2014 at 9:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Capello no longer has MacCaw or the NewsPress as clients. Blood was spilled between them a while back according to news stories.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
July 31, 2014 at 9:25 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The Westside is currently over-represented on council. (Murillo and Schneider). Which one should get tossed under the bus in the name of fairness to the rest of the city? Schneider was there first so Murillo should get tossed.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
July 31, 2014 at 9:28 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Yeah, Cappello had to sue McCaw for unpaid bills. I still think it is amusing to see how the prevailing wind blows various attorneys to bend this way and that.

henryjk (anonymous profile)
July 31, 2014 at 9:43 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Those that supported the destruction of the News-Press are guilty of the intellectual destruction of our community. But, if you need a hired gun to fight for wrong, this is a good candidate.

SBwalker (anonymous profile)
July 31, 2014 at 10:15 a.m. (Suggest removal)

As a non-Anglo, non-Latino person in SB, I would just love it if you (Indy) would stop using that stupid pseudo-scientific term that means nothing. If what you mean is "white," go ahead and say it. There isn't a better word. And then you might want to mention that there are black and Asian residents of SB, too. --Nitz's wife

Nitz (anonymous profile)
July 31, 2014 at 12:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Another photo caption: Aldana asks Cappello "C' mon Barry, will you, are WONT you come over this Thursday night", to which Cappello replies "look, IM real busy, I just dont have time, ok!?"

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
July 31, 2014 at 3:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ha ha ha, Barry has the last laugh! It's the 1% fleecing the other 99% to finance their 1%er lifestyle. And he isn't even a Santa Barbara resident. Double win!

Look, I grew up here. The people that live in Santa Barbara are my neighbors-not this race or that race (whatever that is in this day and age). But then again, how would a non resident like Barry know that?

sbkid (anonymous profile)
August 1, 2014 at 11:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

sounds like a whiny BS lawsuit to me. Boohoo my guy didn't get elected, let's sue.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
August 4, 2014 at 9:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

District Elections have been supported in numerous court cases up and down the state with no jurisdiction.....I repeat NO JURISDICTION successfully challenging the lawsuits against at large elections. SB better get on board. Next should be term limits for the BOS. Now before people start yelling "we can always vote them out". These folks make a living raising money to keep there seat, thereby eliminating all but the wealthy for launching a successful challenge. Maybe someone will take up this cause as well soon. LA County just passed a term limits law as well.

BeachFan (anonymous profile)
August 4, 2014 at 11:16 a.m. (Suggest removal)

BeachFan just nailed it. What we need to do is work on getting the MONEY out of the political process. The only people most of Sh*tty Council care about are the "stakeholders".

Inspired805 (anonymous profile)
August 5, 2014 at 4:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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