Six Santa Barbaras?

Voting Districts, in Theory

<b>DRAWING LINES: </b> This map shows city voting wards in 1964.

SPLITSVILLE: If the city is to be divided into six city council voting districts ​— ​one for each seat ​— ​where do you draw the lines?

Well, since so far no one’s come up with a plan for the half-dozen neighborhoods that will be able to pick “their” council members, I have.

Attorney Barry Cappello, who sued the city last week, contending that it’s violating the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), says he hasn’t proposed the six Santa Barbara district boundaries, nor have his plaintiffs.

Barney Brantingham

That, he says, depends on what his experts come up with and what the judge okays when he or she slaps the Good Housekeeping Stamp of Approval on the switch from at-large to district elections.

Premature expectations, I guess. Which is exactly what Mayor Helene Schneider said of Cappello’s lawsuit. The City Council isn’t buying this district election switch, at least until it hears from its own expert. It, in the time-honored words of Ann Landers, isn’t ready to wake up and smell the coffee.

What are Barney’s six districts? Actually, they’re pretty logical, if you look at the city map.

For starters, the Mesa seems like one geographical area of mutual interests, including what the city calls Upper Mesa and Bel Air.

Then there’s the Hope-San Roque-Foothill area of the Northside. Mostly homeowners. That’s two. The Riviera, lower Riviera, and Eucalyptus Hill seem to have mutual concerns. That’s three.

Which brings us to the Eastside, a mostly Latino neighborhood and one of the reasons for district elections. It seems reasonable to add East Beach, downtown, and lower State, which are contiguous. Then there’s the Latino Westside and nearby areas, like East Beach. That’s five.

Which leaves the upscale Upper East, with its high-income political activism and home of Representative Lois Capps. To make its size comparable to other districts, you could add the Laguna neighborhood and Oak Park.

Do some tinkering to add or subtract fringe areas where logical. And I’m sure the judge will require equal populations in the six.

Attorney Cappello, a hard guy to beat, says his experts have done their studies and conclusively proved that Latino voters have been getting the short end of the election stick due to at-large voting that dilutes Latino balloting.

Some California cities hit by similar suits have surrendered. Others, like Palmdale, the High Desert poster child for digging in its cowboy heels, lost in court, appealed, lost again, and reportedly has racked up a $3 million legal bill. And that bill’s still growing, now that the city has taken its “never” stance to the state Supreme Court, which, no doubt, will refuse to hear it. To my knowledge, no California city has ever successfully defended one of these CVRA cases.

The Santa Barbara City Council, of course, could punt, tossing the hot potato to the voters, who according to those who take the public’s political temperature, seem sure to reject district elections.

Why go from being able to vote on six councilmembers to just voting for one, plus the mayor, who would still be elected at-large?

One reason, other than the California Voting Rights Act, is better neighborhood representation. You’d have “your” councilmember rather than phone numbers at City Hall. “A representative who’d go to bat for the district,” Eastsider plaintiff Frank Bañales said at last week’s Cappello press conference. “So that we can be part of the process.”

The Eastside needs street lighting, and there’s a bridge that’s been out for 30 years, Bañales said.

But Leo Martinez, once one of Santa Barbara’s rare Latino city councilmembers and now living in New Mexico, said, “The Santa Barbara power structure doesn’t want district elections. The Democrats should be helping us.” So should the ACLU, he said.

ENCHANTED APRIL: It’s the Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre’s next-to-last play of the season — and its final season up at the ranch. Four English women leave dreary London behind and find new beginnings in Italy. Now playing.


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