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Brave New World of Santa Barbara

Citizens Drawing Boundaries to Create Six Districts


FAST MOVE: In a few weeks, a district election map will be pasted over Santa Barbara, a blindingly fast move into a brave new world of democracy for some, but way too fast for others.

In fact, it’s drawing the curtain on a shameful chapter of blatant discrimination that few have bothered or had the courage to challenge, including a self-satisfied City Council. It took a feisty attorney who grew up in New York, Barry Cappello, to have the guts to file suit, along with the outraged passion for justice of a former councilmember now living in New Mexico, Leo Martinez, and a handful of activist plaintiffs.

Barney Brantingham

When speakers at Saturday’s workshop protested that the November election under the new plan was looming without proper time to prepare, Cappello got up to insist, “It’s not being rushed. A large number of people have been disenfranchised” for too long. Cappello, a former city attorney, took the bold step to sue the city, claiming that Latino neighborhoods have had their votes illegally diluted by majority voters under the current at-large system. Cappello’s not working free. The city agreed to pay him $599,500 as part of the settlement, relatively cheap when you consider it would have cost several million if the case had gone to trial in April.

Incumbent Cathy Murillo sat watching Saturday in the Faulkner Gallery as a consultant flashed proposed maps on the screen that would carve out six council districts, including the Westside neighborhood where she lives. She’s the first Latino to be elected to the Council since 2000 and plans to seek reelection.

Under the maps shown Saturday by city consultant National Demographics Corporation, the districts will include two Latino neighborhoods (Westside and Eastside), along with the Mesa, the Riviera-Upper East-Downtown, Northside-San Roque and Oak Park.

Some are sprawling, some small, but by federal law all must have about the same population. But except for the mandated Eastside and Westside districts, boundaries shown on Saturday’s maps could be very different by the time community comments are in, officials said, which are due by March 13. There’ll be another workshop on March 18 at 6 p.m. at City Hall about the public input. Results will be sent to the council in time for its March 24 hearing, followed by a council decision on March 30. On the November ballot will be the Eastside and Westside district candidates and the Mesa, where incumbent Randy Rouse lives.

Meanwhile, the public is being invited to play what I call the Elections Game, an interactive sandbox via computer (santabarbaraca.gov) where anyone can use graphic tools to fashion alternative boundaries and submit them to the demographics consultant for consideration.

With only months to go until next fall’s election, there’s already been a healthy, much-needed sense of ballot-box excitement and scrambling among possible candidates. Neighborhoods are awakening — or should be.

TY AND HIS BABIES: As part-time Santa Barbaran Ty Warner awaits a court decision that could send him to prison, a new book delves into how he manipulated the Beanie Baby craze into billions.

Ty’s worth an estimated $2.4 billion but a three-judge federal panel is considering (at length) an appeal by prosecutors objecting to Ty getting off with probation, despite pleading guilty to tax evasion. The fact that the decision is taking months is surprising to court watchers because it seemed like two of the judges were opting for upholding the no-jail sentence. Court watchers also predict that it’s extremely unlikely that Ty will have to spend time behind bars.

Not that Ty would be getting off scot-free. The owner of the Four Seasons Biltmore, San Ysidro Ranch, and other elite properties was sentenced by a sympathetic Chicago federal judge to 500 hours of community service, repaying $16 million in back taxes, and a $53 million penalty.

The new book The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette calls Ty a “mastermind” with a “remarkable talent for manipulating supply and demand” of the plush toy, according to Slate magazine writer Mark Joseph Stern. Ty’s marketing magic created a frenzy that led millions of people to believe that a $5 Beanie Baby could eventually be worth thousands, Stern said.

Today, the millions of Babies sleep at the back of the closets of deluded “investors,” worth only pennies. The book, by the way, includes titillating gossip about Ty, a college dropout who never married but apparently had his share of girlfriends.



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