<b>POINTED WORDS:</b> Attorney A. Barry Cappello told the council he plans on challenging the city’s at-large election system in court, saying a system based on districts would make room for more minority candidates.

Paul Wellman

POINTED WORDS: Attorney A. Barry Cappello told the council he plans on challenging the city’s at-large election system in court, saying a system based on districts would make room for more minority candidates.

Is the Council Too White?

Santa Barbara Considers District Election System

Thursday, May 1, 2014
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With a discussion of district elections came two disparate messages: Don’t rush a decision, but get ready to get sued. Such was the scene at the Santa Barbara City Council meeting on Tuesday, when the councilmembers heard from a handful of public speakers and talked among themselves about examining the idea of asking voters in November to potentially change the city’s current at-large election system, meaning officials represent the entire city, to one based on districts, meaning they would only represent a designated area.

But at the same time, the council was urged to take the process slowly ​— ​councilmembers voted 7-0 to hold a public workshop in May to hear what type of change residents might want ​— ​they were warned by lawyer Barry Cappello that the pro-districts lawsuit he has been planning for months should still be expected.

In their request to have the hearing, Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilmember Bendy White suggested asking voters to implement a compromise system, under which four members would be elected based on districts, and two members and the mayor would be elected citywide. But Cappello wasn’t buying it. “Probably the only good hybrid I can think of is Prius,” he said. “To do it right, you need to have district elections.”

Cappello’s pending lawsuit ​— ​he said his team is still preparing it ​— ​would argue that Santa Barbara’s at-large system makes for underrepresentation on the council, particularly among Latinos, and consequently violates the California Voting Rights Act. If a judge found that to be true, the city’s at-large system could be forced to switch to districts. Similar scenarios have played out in cities across the state, including Palmdale, which is the first city in California to have its system undergo court-ordered change.

Spending time discussing a hybrid plan would therefore be a “waste of time,” Cappello argued, as the court would view that as akin to an at-large system. He cited what he said were residents’ unheard requests for streetlights, bridge repairs, and anti-crime measures in advocating for the switch. Cappello ​— ​who served as City Attorney during the 1970s when the city’s system flipped, as it has before, from district elections to at-large ​— ​said repeatedly that his comments were “not a threat.”

“Mr. Cappello didn’t threaten a lawsuit. He promised one,” he said.

Current City Attorney Ariel Calonne disagreed. “Mr. Cappello didn’t threaten a lawsuit. He promised one,” he said. Calonne ​— ​who recently came to the city after working for Ventura, which has put an even-year proposal on the November ballot ​— ​cautioned the council about a hybrid system. He said that if the city’s system were to be found in violation of the law, anything “less than pure district elections” could still be subject to a lawsuit. “The deck is truly stacked against at-large voting in California,” he said.

But the reaction from public speakers and councilmembers wasn’t decidedly behind districts, either. Many said more time for public input was needed at the very least — ​most balked at the idea of trying to get ballot language finalized by July, the deadline for the November ballot ​— ​and many also noted the myriad other ways to widen the candidate pool. Ideas included instituting even-year elections, playing around with different hybrid scenarios, and using cumulative voting where voters can select multiple people.

Councilmember Cathy Murillo, who attended a forum on district elections in February and is the only Latina to ever hold a council seat, called the lawsuit a “shortcut” to effective change and said that along with campaign finance reform, cultivation of candidates is key. “I worked and I walked and I got elected, and that’s what it takes in this town,” she said.

Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss took issue with the need for a change in the first place. “From the get-go, I’ve felt that the responsibility of everybody up here is to the whole city and not to one part or the other,” he said, voicing concerns about the “Balkanization” of the city. Councilmember Randy Rowse questioned the motive behind the hearing, asking, “Are we talking about doing the right thing, or are we talking about covering our rear ends collectively?”

A representative from Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) cautioned the council against moving too quickly. CAUSE helped gather more than 5,000 signatures in support of district elections in Santa Maria, but that city attorney found their petition invalid; the decision to accept the signatures will now be up to a judge.

White, one of the two on the dais to suggest the discussion, seemed pleased that the discussion would be continuing: “I have my antenna up and my ears open, and that’s the most important ingredient right now ​— ​to hear what the community has to say.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Cathy Murillo has it right. The way to get elected is to work very hard to get your message out and be heard, as she did, by walking and talking and, also as she did, by raising a lot of money. (And, of course, it is important to be a personable candidate who seems to care and to be willing to work for the city as a whole, not just one's special interest.)

I hope that the city is not broken into districts, fiefs of special interests. A resident of the lower east, I like being able to contact any or all of the councilmembers on issues. Few issues are limited by geography and those that are, Milpas issues, for instance, have city-wide ramifications and are dealt with by the city as a whole.

As for the Cacique Street bridge, definitely there needs repairs, but should the bridge be rebuilt for vehicles, connecting to the great, still new and in teasingly used freeway underpass? I wonder what the neighbors think of what would become a heavily trafficked corridor? More street lights? Sure and the City held a traffic and infrastructure workshop last spring. Sidewalks are being improved.

There needs to be a lot of study and discussion before changing what is working. We just voted 4 or 5 years ago to keep to odd-year elections so that we can concentrate on city issues, not have the city lumped into a much larger ballot. Sure, more will vote in even years, but that will give even greater weight to incumbents and require even greater amount of campaign money for a newcomer (of whatever ethnicity, whatever last name) to overcome incumbency.

Maybe we need to tighten term limits so there can not be the same faces after just a break, as Hart. That would give a greater chance to newcomers. Maybe there should be a different way of counting votes, as cumulative voting. But I don't think the city should become like the very much larger county and require districts and the inevitable behind-the-scenes negotiations that would ensue for one district's interests to prevail over those of others' when there is a limited pie of citywide funds. It's likely then that purely local concerns would get lost while now they have a fighting chance to be pushed by any of the councilmembers.

at_large (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 5:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

There is plenty of legal precedent during the past few years that the results of a ballot measure do not matter to resolve a voting rights lawsuit.

The California Voting Rights Act has been tested often and cities that resist lawsuits always, always lose, because this state law requires the cities and school boards to do everything possible to fix their election system, including both formation of districts and a change to even-year elections.

Here is just one recent example:

My scribes and apprentices have told me that the Great Library of The Google is replete with many accounts where both districts and election year timing to the even-numbered years having been enacted by cities by their own volunteer action or by imposition by courts of law.

The good people of Santa Barbara and their leaders should get ahead of this impending disaster before a lawsuit is filed and even more of our Public Treasure has to be paid to litigious lawyers from Montecito.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 7:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Great, I can't wait! We can have "ribbons of shame" throughout the city!

Botany (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 7:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It is curious that, throughout the city (and the country for that matter), those that identify themselves as ethnic minorities and demand equal "rights" seem to continually self-discriminate by constantly referring to themselves as "xxx-Americans" rather than just "Americans."

That attitude is the underlying rationale for this discussion about district elections so that "xxx-Americans" have the appearance of more representation for their interests that are somehow different and distinct from the interests of just plain "Americans."

And that attitude really doesn't help things in the long term.

art (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 9:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Locally voters elected Murlllo, Limon, Cordero, and Francisco - all Latin surnames for city council and the school board. All were elected across the broad spectrum of the city population. Voters also rejected Cruizto Cruz and Megan Diaz Allley, but primarily on their lack of qualification and narrow political agenda.

Does this show an endemic pattern of discrimination based upon ethnic identity? Not at all. The idea of creating a fixed-population minority district in this fluid town is reprehensible. Using the threat of a spurious CVRA lawsuit to bully this misguided district election effort is even more unsound, in face of our open acceptance of candidates from all ethnic backgrounds.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 10:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Calif Voting Rights Act was written by Democrats. District elections and even-year voting favors the Democratic union members Get Out the Vote scheme. This whole effort only increases Democrat control of our electoral system.

Save Santa Barbara from this unhealthy intrusion of partisan, self-serving politics into our local scene. Keep Santa Barbara independent, before it is too late.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 10:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Since the districts will be apportioned by overall population and not US citizens, the district plan will give more political power to Mexicans, just like the political power Mexicans currently have in Sacramento.

Goodbye USA, hello Meximerica.

USAmerican (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 11:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

At large elections make it easier for the city council to discriminate against poorer neighborhoods. Just look at where almost all the high-density development goes. Those poorer neighborhoods are becoming more and more crowded and polluted.

Georgy (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 11:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

So, at_large and foo are complaining here that more people voting somehow would be a bad thing.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 11:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

That is not at all what I wrote, J_A. I do not think district elections in Santa Barbara are a good answer, although much would depend on how (and by whom) the districts were drawn. Grand jury, maybe? Certainly not by elected officials. And as for even/odd years, I like an election where the focus is only on city issues, city candidates.

at_large (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 11:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Foo is stating keeping local elections local and independent is a good thing. Save your breath Adams, and don't put words in other people's mouths.

Decreasing voter turn-out is disturbing since the switch to the new city elections process. Turn it back to the county and do it traditionally - one election day and voters go to their neighborhood polls.

Just one more example where city revenues now going to city staff pensions and benefits would be better spent on the residents themselves - bring back neighborhood polling places.

Question deeply when the city says "they can't afford something". Ask why not, where is the money going instead of present beneficial public services.

Clue; city money is now going to fund the $200 million unfunded city employee pension liabilities run up by prior city councils. That is why we have no money today for present services.

You see, it all fits together after all. Follow the money, or lack of it, as they say.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 12:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

we very much need district elections. Foo only rants about "city money is now going to fund the $200 million unfunded city employee pension liabilities run up by prior city councils. "-- this is in almost all his or her posts.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 2:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

it all connects, DD. It all connects. City money is finite. If it goes there, it does not go here.

City money comes from retail sales tax, bed taxes, property taxes and fees.

City spends most of it on city personnel: past and present.

Grants come with strings attached, and are not discretionary revenues for ongoing city operations.

That is how it works, DD. Except it is no longer working. City over promised and over-spent. Little is left from which to squeeze more revenues. You can do the math as well as anyone. ( I would hope).

Learning to love cruise ships and oil would be a good place to start if you don't like hearing the cold, hard facts.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 3:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

We've already voted on district elections (no), and on moving to even-yeared elections (also no); what's changed?

More to the point, who's Cappello's client? He doesn't work cheap.

GregMohr (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 3:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

completely agree, Georgy, and since I live on the Westside I KNOW what you mean when writing that "Those poorer neighborhoods are becoming more and more crowded and polluted." District elections would also have Council members spread out, e.g. the Westside would get representation whether by a minority member or not. Actually, on our Westside the Anglos are in the minority.
No, foo, your recurring attempt to hijack this onto your pet peeve of pensions is paltry and penurious and basically foo-lish.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 6:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Why do some state that district elections will increase the number of voters? Increasing voters is a good goal but there is no reason why those same voters that don't vote now will vote in the future.

art (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 7:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

One reasons more eligible voters might go ahead and actually cast their ballot in a district election is ... this candidate lives where they live and likely may share a lot of common voters would feel more committed to getting their gal/guy on the Council. E.g., even though Cathy Murillo lives on our Westside, a genuine Westside District representative would have fought much harder for bike cops over on Westside and/or the police sub-station next to corner of Micheltorena and San Andres. Better: place the police sub-station right there at Bohnett Park Rec Room. All our Council members are at present "at large" so they simulataneously represent ALL and specifically NO specific region of fair SB City. I don't hold this vs. Murillo since she represents the whole City, although the Eastside gets the substation and over here we do not.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 8:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The Westside is currently over-represented: two city councils members live in this one district. Get rid of one of them.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 1, 2014 at 11:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DrDan makes a good point. the East side that district proponents say needs its own representation and has none gets a police community station, The West side that she's two councilmembers does not have such a substation.

It is important to note that we on the Eastside have the Milpas Community Association that is very active. Perhaps westsiders should do similarly, form their own group and point out the needs?

GregMohr, I think Capello's clients include Frank Banales and former councilmember Leo Martinez; he's probably doing it free for now, but counting on getting substantial attorneys fees plus fees for researchers.

at_large (anonymous profile)
May 2, 2014 at 6:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Photo caption: "OK, I have had ENOUGH! YOU...get out!"

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
May 2, 2014 at 7:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Good caption!

I still would like to know, what's changed since the last votes on district elections and even-year council elections? I can be persuaded and, in fact, voted in favor of even-year elections; it'd save a pile of money, and maybe boost turnout. I also lived on the Westside for 16 years (1981-97) and have a pretty good feel for "its" issues. However, at base, they're not that different from most of the rest of the city: the homeless; graffiti & other property crimes; traffic & parking; noise; development out of scale & character with existing neighborhoods; inadequate public places for people, esp. kids, to be and constructive things for them to do. Oh, and skunks--lots and lots of skunks.

GregMohr (anonymous profile)
May 2, 2014 at 8:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

When I first read that switching to even year elections would solve the problem, I didn't quite understand. Do more Latinos live in SB in even numbered years?
Then I had my first cup of coffee and realized that national elections happen in even numbered years.
Bottom line, if you can't bother to vote, don't come and complain that the elected officials are not representing you.
One thing we should do: switch all elections to Sundays instead of workdays, that way parents could go vote with their children in tow and instill in them the importance of voting.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
May 2, 2014 at 8:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

1. Those in favor of non-district elections need to think this through: Should the Supervisors be elected countywide by all voters? Should the state legislature be elected statewide by all voters? Should the US Senate be elected nationwide by all voters? Come on, district elections bring us close to our representatives and allow us to hold them accountable. Small government is best. Big districts allow the politicians and lobbyists to go away and hide behind ads and propaganda.
2. We fought the battle for "even year elections" before. The advocates lost. There is no savings to be had as we are now doing vote by mail at really low cost. Off year elections have the same advantage noted above. They keep the focus on local politicians and local issues and avoid having them smothered by statewide and nationwide campaigns and ads. Keep the local elections local and independent.

RHS (anonymous profile)
May 2, 2014 at 11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes way too white concerning the amount of racism in Santa Barbara there should be balance in our city council as well as police and fire departments.

Byrd (anonymous profile)
May 2, 2014 at 11:14 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Small government can quickly become small-minded petty dictatorships. And more easily taken over by narrow special interests.

First make your case for the change:

1. CVRA lawsuit avoidance - bogus
2. Increase voter participation - bogus
3. Create more diversity to reflect population demographics - bogus
4. Foster better governance -bogus
5. Break-up union dominance and soft corruption of elected officials - bogus

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 2, 2014 at 2:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Latinos I know in this town want better schools and safer neighborhoods. Same agenda I support. We are in this together.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 2, 2014 at 5:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

bizarre. Truly bizarre. There is nothing stopping any individual regardless of their race or ethnicity from getting on the ballot or being elected. If the "latino" population feels its underrepresented then have a few people run and get the community to actually engage in the process.

I am sick of people self segregating and demanding equal representation. You cannot have a community that prides itself on not being included complain about not being included.

iamsomeguyinsb (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 9:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

While this issue is often and appropriately focused on the disenfranchisement of groups of voters by gerrymandering them into districts where they are diluted and ignored, the same happens in city wide elections (the opposite so to speak) because the interests of these groups are submerged into the interests of larger or more powerful groups such as the downtown merchants who want $$$$ and police to support and protect their money making schemes. This is money taken from neighborhoods without sidewalks, safe intersections, water drainage infra structure, good lighting and so forth. So the objection to the present system is at least as much about the lack of attentiveness to the out of downtown districts as it is to ethnic issues. Let's not submerge the discourse in such emotionalism.

RHS (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 10:17 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Not voting is what dilutes representation.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 10:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

iamsomeguyinsb, people will often "self-segregate" if they don't feel welcome.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 10:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Others self-segregate by choice. What nanny-state regulations would you like to see put in place that prohibit "self-segregation"?

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 11:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm voluntarily segregate myself from Foo.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 11:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Phew, common sense yet again saves the day.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 12:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

agree RHS when you thoughtfully state "the objection to the present system is at least as much about the lack of attentiveness to the out of downtown districts" -- e.g., no police substation on the Westside.
Many in this town, obviously "self-segregate" and buy into upscale neighborhoods like San Roque, Mission Cyn, Upper East side, and I say more power to them. Yet they have the money and power, and all politicians [including those from Westside:Murillo/the mayor] need both so do not imagine these two actually "represent" the needs of the Westside. We need district elections, and if we don't get them the courts will mandate them like they have in Palmdale.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 1:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

No lawsuit threat, because this is not Palmdale. There is no pattern of discriminatory voting in Santa Barbara. We recently elected Cordero, Limon, Murillo and Francisco, across the board

Carbajal has withstood the broad based voter demographic test multiple times and even Das Williams ran as a "man of color" and only lost once, but won all the other times by wide margins.

The only tainted money on the table comes from the employee unions and no where else.

Don't accuse this town of harboring racial grievances when there is no proof of this in its voting patterns.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 1:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What is sad is that once again, the issue being raised misses the point. This isn't about race, it's about district elections. I am of the opinion that district elections are a good idea in and of themselves and the fact that having them would almost certainly result in people of Mexican heritage being elected to council seats would be a secondary benefit.

And as always, to Cappello, Marge and Marty say "hi". (It's a little "inside" thing Cappello knows about)

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 3:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

One does not miss the point at all BC, when a lawsuit is threatened under the CVRA, which is 100% race based. Except if you are Asian, then you don't get any CVRA protections, Or Anglo for that matter.

Build your case without the threat of a CVRA lawsuit , and then show how dividing up the city into artificial districts will change specific outcomes that can be easily measured for expected outcomes.

What are your criteria when you create a "district"?

Please tell us more. Thank you.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 3:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What criteria will be used to divide the city into separate but equal districts?

1. Geography
2. Political party registration
3. Residential zoning criteria
4. Age demographics
5. Distance from city hall
6. Gender demographics
7. Income demographics
8. Number of K-12 children
9. Number of retired persons
10. Number of Housing Authority residents
11. Number or dogs, cats, birds and turtles in the household
12. Amount of water usage
13. Number of bike owners
14. Number of garage doors
15. Random allocations by registered voters only
16. Random allocation by numbers of residents, voters or not
17. Equal allocations of renters vs owners
18 Number of parks close in proximity
19. Distance to grocery stores and gas stations
20. Air particulate matter count

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 3:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Most of the neighborhoods in SB are pretty well delineated by mountains, freeways and major streets as well as industrial and retail buffers; medical and educational instititutions, and public spaces.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 4:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

but when Das ran as a man of color, and won, what does that tell us about the average voter's reading and intelligence and democracy?

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 4:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Districts created by "geography".

Ergo: mountains, freeways and major streets, industrial and retail and medical and educational institutions, and public spaces

And this means exactly what in terms of measurable electoral outcomes that are found missing today? Do these boundaries create a voting community that is now currently under-represented?

So should separate but equal districts be created by space utilization?

Draw us a map that equally distributes voters around these characteristic and definable space utilization areas, and demonstrate what issues they will protect that are not currently being protected by at-large voting.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 5:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Districts created by "geography".

"Ergo: mountains, freeways and major streets, industrial and retail and medical and educational institutions, and public spaces"

Ergo my ego. Yes, geography. You who live on land dump all your toxic waste into the sea and poison us who live there.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 6:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

By the way, when i see that Goodwin and Thyne ad, the shell in the beach sand looks like a nipple. Is this some sort of subliminal Rorschachian advertising?

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 6:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

FYI: Williams was recognized by some Latino group as one of the 50 most influential Latinos locally a few years ago. The only problem is, he's not Hispanic. He's Indonesian and White.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 6:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

But hey, according to that logic, "they all look alike"--even to those that they supposedly are.

What a world.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 6:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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