DON’T BE STUPID … JUST VOTE: Early Tuesday evening, I narrowly missed a flash mob of about 25 cultural guerillas who invaded the Farmers Market to sing a wonderfully contorted campaign jingle extolling the virtues of City Council candidate David Landecker. It was sung to the tune of Woody Guthrie’s greatest hit, “This Land Is Your Land,” and by any standard, the event qualified as a first in the annals of local politics. Though many of the singers were endowed with serious pipes, some aggressive panhandlers sitting within earshot filed an official complaint, demanding City Hall pass an injunction against future lyrics in which “sustainability” is made to rhyme with “Santa B.” (To watch a video of the flash mob, go here.) On Wednesday night, the Young Republicans took over the Westside watering hole Bo Henry’s so that council candidate Jason Nelson could lead off a karaoke fundraiser in his honor, impersonating the Man in Black on “Ring of Fire” and “Folsom Prison Blues.” For those of us who remember when Bo Henry’s was still the gloriously named San Andres Fault — where college dudes knew better than deign to descend — it’s a case of “There goes the neighborhood.” Now, there’s a freaking Picasso painting hanging behind the bar — and it’s not even a nude. I’m betting it’s an “authentic” original. Only in Santa Barbara does this qualify as “progress.”
We now find ourselves in the last week — not to be confused with the “penultimate” — of this year’s City Council election, on which nothing really rides except the future existence of the planet. Election Day is this Tuesday. Many voters have no doubt tossed out the vote-by-mail ballots sent to their domiciles by City Hall, mistaking it for yet another announcement from The Prize Patrol that they might be stopping by with a billboard-sized check with at least eight zeros to the left of the decimal point. Maybe that’s why City Hall reports that mail-in ballots are trickling in much more slowly this year than they have in the previous two all-mail elections. At last count, we’re about 1,000 votes behind the previous two elections, indicating turnout may be just barely ankle-high. With this in mind, Landecker and Nelson deserve style points for trying something different.
This year’s election started off as a conversation in search of a subject, but sort of evolved into a side-of-the-mouth, back-of-the-hand debate about the proposed gang injunction. Better late than never, I say, despite much of the gratuitous hyperventilation involved. (I would suggest the cops will garner far more community goodwill and discourage gang recruiting more effectively by opening, as they just did last week, brand new offices at the Franklin Neighborhood Center, strategically located across the street from the Pennywise Market, a k a Ground Zero for Eastside gang activity. I get the motivation behind the injunction — when three noncombatants get killed by gang violence, you have to do something — the cops’ money would have been better spent opening other such neighborhood offices than pissing it away in a three-year legal battle that’s far from over. But that’s just me.) This year’s election also became a de facto referendum — however subliminally — on Caltrans’s plans to widen the freeway and build a carpool lane. I was struck at a candidates’ forum held by five Milpas-area business organizations that only candidate Gregg Hart actually supports the Caltrans plan. All the others — from all sides of the proverbial aisle — expressed serious reservations. Given that Hart works for a government agency (SBCAG) charged with getting the Caltrans plans approved, I’d say if he wins a seat on the council, as he likely will, he will find he won the battle but lost the war. Hart has sought to downplay opposition to the $500-million project as a political conspiracy hatched by Mayor Helene Schneider to curry favor with self-absorbed Montecito gazillionaires so she has lots of rich friends when she decides to run for Congress or county supervisor a few years hence. Even if Hart is absolutely correct about Schneider, his theory fails to account for the antipathy for the Caltrans plan expressed by the city’s planning commission — unanimously — and by his fellow candidates — also unanimously.
Creeping into the debate was talk, a whisper really, of challenging the way city councilmembers are elected. There was a forum held two weeks ago on the virtues of district elections, which I was quick to dismiss as the exasperation expressed by the usual band of dreamers, naysayers, and malcontents who can’t work their will under the city’s current at-large system. Personally, I prefer a mix of the two systems, but I’m not sure if I’ve really thought it out or am just bored. We do know, however, that 38 percent of the city’s population is of Latino origin. And in the last 20 years, there’ve been just two Latino councilmembers. Stretch that to 40, and we’ve had three. That’s even worse than the silver screen, where only 4.2 percent of the 20,000 speaking roles in the top grossing 500 movies over the past five years went to Latino actors. The big news here is that attorney A. Barry Cappello (Mr. ABC) has agreed to sue City Hall on behalf of his old pal Leo Martinez — elected to the council way back in the ’70s, if Leo asks him to. As a rule, Mr. ABC does not take loser cases. He knows where the throat is, and he goes for it. Almost always, he walks away with lots of money. In other words, he’s a serious threat. Martinez, who qualifies as a contrarian’s contrarian, came within a hair’s breadth of victory at the ballot box when he took the matter to the voters 23 years ago, and he ran a crappy campaign. This time, he might go straight to court, and changes in California civil rights law could make the city’s at-large elections easy pickings.
In the meantime, if you don’t know where your mail-in ballot got to, show up at City Hall in De la Guerra Plaza and ask for a replacement or provisional ballot (or call 564-5309). If you don’t know where City Hall is, you should.You own it. And don’t be stupid. Vote.