Proponents of Measure A, a proposition that would move Santa Barbara’s city council elections from odd- to even-numbered years, kicked off their campaign Tuesday. Those against the measure, meanwhile, continued to voice their belief that the measure would be bad for Santa Barbara.
The city is the only municipality in the county to run its elections in odd-numbered years, while two special districts-the Goleta Sanitary and the Goleta West Sanitary districts-also run odd-year elections. This year, because the county wanted to charge between $500,000 and $650,000 to run the city’s elections, the latter has budgeted $300,000 to run the election on its own. If the city consolidated with the general election schedule, the cost would be an estimated $30,000 to $60,000 each election year.
According to advocates of the measure-including activist power couple David Pritchett and Cathy Murillo-switching election schedules could increase voter turnout in addition to saving money. According to a July 25 email from county Elections Division Manager Billie Alvarez to City Clerk Cyndi Rodriguez, Alvarez concluded that moving elections to even-numbered years could double voter turnout. Voter turnout in even-year elections since 1995 is about 66.8 percent, while the odd-year average is 37.8 percent. “Democracy doesn’t work unless people participate,” said longtime city councilmember and onetime mayor Hal Conklin at a pro-Measure A press conference Tuesday.
But the anti-Measure A crowd says that it is a guise for current councilmembers to extend their tenure by a year while masquerading as a measure to save money. Should the measure pass, it will extend by one year the terms of Mayor Marty Blum and councilmembers Iya Falcone, Grant House, and Roger Horton. The passage of the measure would also mean whoever claims the three seats up for grabs this fall-incumbents Brian Barnwell, Helene Schneider, and Das Williams are facing five challengers-would be slipping into a council seat for five years. “The existing members would like to have an additional year in office and found this to accomplish their goal,” said Lanny Ebenstein, who ran for mayor against Blum in 2005. “This is a slick attempt by city councilmembers to grab another year in office,” echoed community activist John McKinney.
Both McKinney and Ebenstein have signed the ballot argument against Measure A. When they voted to place the measure on the ballot on July 3, councilmembers also decided that none of them would file an argument for or against the charter amendment. “They have to be careful not to make it look like they want an extra year,” said Murillo, who was formerly a reporter for The Independent and is currently the KCSB radio news director. Despite that, the seven councilmembers did vote unanimously to take the matter to the voters, the culmination of a process that opponents have also criticized.
Opponents of the measure aren’t protesting just the content of the measure, but also the process by which the matter was placed on the ballot. The City Council voted to place the issue on the ballot without having citizens come forward with thousands of signatures or a great deal of community discussion, they argue. “If we’re going to have electoral reform in Santa Barbara, then we should talk about it,” Ebenstein said. Jim Kahan, another signatory against Measure A, said the council was trying to sneak the issue through under the radar. But Pritchett, who is sympathetic to many of the councilmembers, called the sentiments against Measure A a conspiracy.
Ebenstein said that while city officials should have gone above and beyond to ensure the process was open, they had failed to do so by refusing to allow him to make a rebuttal argument on the subject of Measure A. Pritchett too said he wished he could have made a rebuttal but acknowledged that the process didn’t leave enough time for such arguments to be added.