As promised, Goleta’s City Council convened on May 16 to agree to an extension of time for the demand for district elections to 2022 offered by plaintiffs to the potential lawsuit. Councilmember Michael Bennett pointed out that district, versus at large, elections had been “overwhelmingly” approved by voters in the winning cityhood vote back in 2001, while Councilmember Roger Aceves asked why they were waiting instead of trying for the 2018 election. The council also decided to form a seven-person commission to increase public participation in the political process and to pay the plaintiffs $30,000 for their costs of bringing the district election notice.
The plaintiffs had offered to hold off suing the city unless it failed to hold district elections in 2022; by statute, the lawsuit would commence if the district election process did not start within 45 days of the notice. Conversations with members of the Goodland Coalition and information from various meetings had convinced them to let the 2020 Census take place before gathering the demographic information needed to draw district boundaries. They stated, and city staffers said they had verified, that they’d spent $30,000 or more on costs for legal and demographic research, which is the amount recoverable by statute.
The extra time gives the newly created Public Engagement Commission time to form and to consider several issues: whether Goleta should become a charter city and pay its councilmembers more, hold all council meetings after 5 p.m., and elect a mayor for four years instead of the current two. One member of the commission would also be on the district-map-drawing group. Perhaps the most important function of this commission would be to get a larger participation from the public in voting in or standing for election, or even in attending city meetings. After public speaker George Relles suggested seven commission members might better enable the group to include more age, occupation, and neighborhood representation, the council considered it up, down, and sideways. Jacqueline Inda, who is advising the Goleta plaintiffs, stepped up to the mike to say she didn’t think it would be too difficult to find seven commission members. The council ultimately voted unanimously on seven people for the commission, anticipating that the plaintiffs’ group would do as it proposes: Get more Goletans to participate in local politics.