Few gestures express appreciation as loudly as a $10,000-a-year raise and this week, the Santa Barbara City Council did just that for their City Attorney Ariel Calonne, celebrating his first year on the job. For Calonne, who now will earn a base salary of $238,000, the honeymoon at City Hall remains an ongoing affair. Lured away from the City of Ventura last year with the retirement of Steve Wiley — a perennial powerhouse within City Hall circles — Calonne has found himself thrown into the deep end of a litigiously rambunctious pool, dealing with such issues as the gang injunction, district elections, and the freeway widening project.
On the eve of the gang injunction, the city’s attorney’s office dismissed charges against ten of the alleged gang members named in the injunction because the case against them was weak. As gestures went, it bespoke a perspective that critics of the gang injunction insisted had been lacking. It was not enough to sway Judge Colleen Sterne, however, who tossed the injunction out of court entirely.
With the district elections lawsuit, Calonne was dealt a losing hand. It’s true the number of Latinos winning city election in the past 20 years could be counted on one thumb, but the threshold established by the California Voting Rights Act to establish disparate voting patterns was exceptionally low. Even councilmembers most adamantly opposed to district elections felt Calonne acquitted himself — and City Hall — with strategic intelligence.
Calonne, a stickler for first amendment issues, has won begrudging praise from homeless rights advocates as City Hall sought to amend ordinance language limiting intrusions on public and private spaces by street people. At times, Calonne found himself called upon to caution councilmembers that the restrictive measures they sought would not pass constitutional muster. Calonne is also regarded as a zealous defender of the Brown Act, the open government law, while also taking councilmembers to task he suspected of leaking closed session discussions to the media. Only councilmember Gregg Hart expressed qualms about the size of the raise, noting that many city employees are not experiencing anything as substantial.