If emails and public comments were votes, district elections went down to a resounding defeat at the Goleta City Council during Wednesday evening’s meeting. But the occasion was just a sounding board from the community for the council, who took no action.
A number of people stated that daytime meetings and an annual wage of $7,020 — Santa Barbara, a city three times larger, pays about $40,000 — were barriers that deterred many Goletans, not just members of minority groups, from running for council. Countering those who believed districts would split the city, Jacqueline Inda, a member of the District Election Committee that has brought the litigation, stated that districts were a wonderful way to give neighborhoods a voice on the council.
Acting City Attorney Winnie Cai said her office was still gathering information on the merits of the case regarding disenfranchised voters. She summarized the litigation argument, saying Latino voters in Goleta’s Old Town had not been able to elect their favored candidate as their vote had been diluted by non-Latino voters citywide. She added that Latinos lived throughout Goleta, and that neither Latinos nor non-Latinos voted as a bloc. It remained to be seen whether district maps could be drawn that contained a Latino majority, she said. And should plaintiffs prevail in a legal fight — as they have throughout California — they would win attorney’s fees.
Among the speakers, proponents stressed that jurisdictions that had gone to district elections — including City College and Santa Barbara — had been pleasantly surprised to find that district voters showed greater interest and turned out in larger numbers on Election Day. Others expressed the importance of accountability to a specific community and a familiarity with neighborhoods.
Opponents worried that polarization would occur between the districts and that Goleta is too small to be split into four competing factions of roughly 7,500 residents. Some pointed to previous elections, in which no candidates had opposed incumbents. How would the city field 10 candidates among the four council seats and mayor’s position? they asked.