Some members of the Santa Barbara City Council are in denial regarding district elections. I have talked to several over the past four years and have found that they refuse to recognize the limitations of at-large elections. They express a version of the French aristocrat’s attitude of noblesse oblige prior to the revolution. Namely, they have a noble obligation to care for the disenfranchised voters throughout the city at large, but they have the privilege to deny support for all voters in a particular neighborhood. They claim that the city at large would not be as well represented if each distinct segment of the city had a dedicated representative to protect its interests.
This magnanimous posture, that caring for the city at large might be lost if district elections were adopted, is a bit disingenuous, for it is well known that some councilmembers could not be elected if district elections were adopted. In general, I believe the current councilmembers are very capable people, but it seems that they are not highly attuned to the needs of certain parts of the city. The Milpas Community Association is a striking example of the need for district elections. When any segment of the city is forced to form an association in order to represent its neighborhood interests, then clearly the city government is not representing them.
The city council can test the validity of the need for district elections by simply putting an initiative on the ballot to determine what the voters think. The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury 2006-2007 made a compelling case for district elections, but the city council at that time refused to support a ballot initiative to test the proposal. The council members should not assume that they know better than the voters—give equitable representation a chance.