Measure A asks Santa Barbara city voters whether they’d like to switch from the current system of holding city elections in odd number, off years to even number years that coincide with state and national elections. We say Measure A qualifies as close, but no cigar. To be fair, Measure A was born out of a very real concern: The County of Santa Barbara has taken to gouging Santa Barbara City Hall for the cost of overseeing city elections, counting the ballots, and rendering an accurate vote tally. Races that used to cost City Hall $35,000 now command staggering six-figure price tags ranging between $550,000 and $650,000. Because the City of Santa Barbara has emerged as the only jurisdiction within county limits to hold off-year elections, county vote counters and bean counters contend they can stick City Hall with every administrative and ancillary cost associated with running an election. By switching to even-year elections, proponents of Measure A argue City Hall can save a bundle of cash. In addition, they claim, Measure A will nearly double voter turnout within city limits, citing statistics showing substantially higher voter participation in years when national and state races are held.
While the promise of such benefits is tempting, we remain unpersuaded. Santa Barbara’s a special community and it has a special way of electing its leaders. It would be foolhardy to give that up. Call us parochial, but we’re convinced there’s something profoundly desirable in having the people casting their ballots in Santa Barbara city races focused solely on matters of local concern. The partisan influences of Sacramento and Washington, D.C., have already intruded too much; we see no value in ceding further ground. There’s no reason to believe Santa Barbara’s ongoing debates about growth, development, density, affordability, and traffic congestion, for example, will be better served by hitching their outcome to state and national campaigns, which are driven by such Pavlovian hot button issues as abortion, gay rights, capital punishment, or the Iraq War.
Measure A is a fiscal quick fix masquerading as political reform. While the fix is real, the reform it promises is more gimmick than substance. We believe the need for political reform remains urgent. But we’re keenly disappointed that nothing of substance managed to emerge from the deliberations on political reform that City Hall sponsored earlier this year. Where are the limits on campaign spending or campaign funding? Nowhere. Where is the matching funding? Nowhere. And where is the call for district elections or, ideally, some hybridized mix of district and at-large elections? Again, the answer is nowhere. In the absence of real reform, we’re willing to deal with the unique influences that have always dominated politics in Santa Barbara. While they’re hardly perfect, at least they’re our special interests.
We recognize that if Measure A goes down to defeat, City Hall will confront the unhappy choice of either paying more for elections or hiring a private consultant to administer our elections. While private consultants will prove much cheaper, they are in the employ of City Hall, and thus more vulnerable to accusations of bias and corruption. Those problems will have to be sorted out down the road. In the meantime, vote no on Measure A.
And for City Council
Please keep in mind, The Independent has endorsed Brian Barnwell, Helene Schneider, and Das Williams for City Council. For a more complete explanation, click here.