District Election Map Finalized

Find Out What Precinct You're In

With a notable dearth of acrimony and a striking abundance of congratulatory goodwill, the Santa Barbara City Council put the finishing touches on the new voting districts by which city voters will now elect their councilmembers. The vote was six-to-one with Dale Francisco ​— ​resisting entreaties by fellow conservative Frank Hotchkiss to make it unanimous ​— ​casting the lone vote against.

This action all but brings to a close the lawsuit initiated last November alleging that Santa Barbara’s voting results ​— ​obtained via at-large elections ​— ​qualified as “racially polarized” under the California Voting Rights Act. In the past 45 years, only four Latinos have been elected to the City Council. City Hall was eager to settle; no government entity has yet to successfully defend itself against such allegations; the cost of protracted legal battle elsewhere has exceeded $3.2 million.

Find a high-resolution version of the map here.

The lawsuit's plaintiffs were all smiles Monday as the district boundaries were unveiled
Paul Wellman

The new map was drawn to guarantee that two of the six new districts would have what’s known in the legal lexicon as a “majority-minority population.” This does not guarantee the election of Latino candidates, but it greatly increases the odds. And based on the experience of other communities making the same switch, these districts should also see a significant increase in the number of qualified Latino candidates seeking elected office.

Politically progressive activists successfully lobbied the council into approving a voter map that would create a new downtown district dominated by renters, bus riders, and younger workers. Longtime political activist Dick Flacks proclaimed the moment “historic” and then ​— ​with tongue only somewhat in cheek ​— ​let loose with a celebratory “kumbaya!” To accommodate the creation of this high-renter district, San Roque ​— ​long considered Santa Barbara’s single most politically dominant neighborhood ​— ​had to be carved into two separate precincts. But even divided, San Roque’s die-hard voters will remain a potent force to be reckoned with.

City Administrator Paul Casey (left) and City Attorney Ariel Calonne
Paul Wellman

Downtown Santa Barbara and State Street ​— ​the economic goose that lays the South Coast’s golden eggs ​— ​will wind up represented by not one but three councilmembers. And by an unintended consequence of the map-making process, the Entrada redevelopment project now rising up on the bottom of State Street by the Funk Zone will have two.

Some councilmembers expressed disappointment and resentment that so momentous a change was foisted upon residents by lawsuit rather than popular vote. Francisco castigated the new district election scheme for being “divisive” and expressed concern that voters would be asked to elect candidates based “on race, ethnic background, income, and even whether they ride the bus to work.” Francisco ​— ​recently elected chair of the county’s Republican Central Committee ​— ​opposed the split of San Roque, but neither he nor any conservative-minded organizations put much time into competitive map-making, with the exception of the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber submitted two maps, but its main interest was in having multiple districts touch State Street, which the final map did.

All councilmembers expressed hope that future council-elects would act with the good of the city as a whole in mind, not just the districts they represented. Mayor Helene Schneider termed it, “Thinking ‘districty,’ but acting city-wide.” Activists with groups like CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) and SBCAN (S.B. County Action Network) urged the council to change elections from odd to even years as well, noting such a switch could increase voter turnout by as much as 20 percent in presidential years.

Notably silent were three of the five plaintiffs who brought the case against City Hall in the first place. Earlier that day, lead plaintiff Frank Bañales ​— ​who over the years has run for mayor and council, both unsuccessfully ​— ​expressed grim satisfaction with the outcome. District elections, Bañales said, would force City Hall to become more responsive to neighborhood-specific issues. “Now we won’t have to wait until another kid is killed on Milpas Street before they start setting up new street lights,” he said.

Judge Donna Geck is scheduled to review the final district maps on April 6. Three of the six districts will be fair game in this November’s election, but in two ​— ​the Westside and the Mesa ​— ​incumbents Cathy Murillo and Randy Rowse, respectively, will be seeking a second term, and no challengers have surfaced yet. Up for grabs will be the new Eastside district.

District Details


Eastside, Lower East, Lower State, Waterfront, East Beach

Population: 14,865

69 percent Hispanic

Registered Voters: 5,735

Voted 2012: 4,395

62 percent renters

55 percent speak Spanish at home

44 percent make $50,000 or less

7 percent make $200,000 or more


Mesa, West Beach, Bel Air

Population: 14,924

73 percent white

Registered Voters: 9,758

Voted in 2012: 8,027

56 percent homeowners

72 percent speak English at home

30 percent make $50,000 or less

11 percent make $200,000 or more


Westside, Lower West

Population: 14,324

69 percent Hispanic

Registered Voters: 4,350

Voted in 2012: 3,209

72 percent renters

54 percent speak Spanish at home

45 percent make $50,000 or less

3 percent make $200


Upper East, Riviera, Foothill, Cielito, Eucalyptus Hill, East San Roque

Population: 14,720

81 percent white

Registered Voters: 10,328

Voted in 2012: 8,840

57 percent homeowners

80 percent speak English at home

32 percent make $50,000 or less

15 percent make $200,000 or more


Hidden Valley, Samarkand, Hitchcock, Upper State, Hope, West San Roque, Campanil

Population: 14,656

69 percent white

Registered Voters: 9,125

Voted in 2012: 7,667

54 percent homeowners

78 percent speak English at home

36 percent make $50,000 or less

12 percent make $200,000 or more


Oak Park, Downtown, West Downtown, Laguna

Population: 14,921

56 percent white

Registered Voters: 7,486

Voted in 2012: 5,929

81 percent renters

64 percent speak English at home

50 percent make $50,000 or less


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