Cruzito Cruz’s last ditch efforts to derail a settlement between the City of Santa Barbara and advocates for district elections went nowhere fast in Judge Donna Geck’s courtroom Friday morning, though not without a display of theatrics. Most notably, court bailiffs seized a knife Cruz had strapped in a sheath attached to his belt. No arrest was made and it’s unclear whether any citation was issued.
Cruz — a Latino rights advocate who has run three times for city council — is one of five plaintiffs who sued the City of Santa Barbara to change its election system from at-large to district. They argued the at-large system yielded “racially polarized” election results, noting only four Latino council candidates have won election since 1970. Of the five plaintiffs, Cruz was the only one to oppose the settlement, which would require that two of the six new council districts be “majority-minority districts,” meaning more than half the voters are Latino. It remains unclear exactly why Cruz opposed it. His fellow plaintiffs claim they have no idea what his reasons are and his attorney, Barry Cappello, complained Cruz refused repeated efforts to discuss the case. This Friday, Cruz sought to stop Cappello from discharging Cruz as a client, an action Cappello initiated two weeks ago.
Cruz first demanded the proceedings be conducted in Spanish. The court stenographer objected she could not transcribe in Spanish. Cappello objected that Cruz was perfectly fluent in English. Geck ruled against Cruz. Cruz then argued that he was unaware of the proceedings held in Geck’s court two weeks ago. Geck noted that Cruz had entered her courtroom immediately after the proceedings and demanded that transcripts be provided. Cruz then moved that Geck be disqualified. Geck noted that the plaintiffs had already exhausted all pre-emptory challenges, and denied the motion. It was at this point that a bailiff noted the knife on Cruz’s belt and removed it without incident or comment.
Sideshow theatrics aside, the legal case is over. On March 10, four of the five plaintiffs signed an agreement with the city over district elections. Cappello has been paid $600,000 in attorney fees and expenses. Cruz is free to pursue whatever legal action he chooses, but given City Hall’s decision to adopt district elections, it’s unclear there’s any remedy he could seek. In the meantime, City Hall is pursuing its public outreach efforts to engage residents in drawing the boundaries for the new districts. One public forum was held last week and another will be held this coming Wednesday. The city’s consultant developed a highly interactive wesbite allowing those with minimal computer skills to evaluate three different district maps and recommend changes as they see fit. In addition, the site allows individuals to come up with district maps of their own creation. To date, six new maps have been submitted.
The first elections to be held under the new district scheme will take place this November when three seats are up for grabs. Two of those districts will have a majority of Latino voters — one on the Eastside and another on the Westside — and the third will include large portions of the Mesa. Incumbent councilmembers Cathy Murillo, a Westside resident, and Randy Rowse, who lives on the Mesa, have indicated they plan to seek re-election, leaving the new Eastside district most in play politically.