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Comments from the District Elections Forum

Sheila Lodge

Given that the provisions of the Voting Rights Act adopted by the State legislature in 2001 result in judicially imposed district elections under almost any circumstances, if a lawsuit is filed, supporting at large elections feels like speaking into the wind. However, the League needs to decide whether or not to keep to its current position. In the interest of good governance and better representation for all citizens, I urge the League to maintain that position.

In addition, if what I hear is currently being discussed in the state legislature is correct, imposition of district elections on all California cities above a certain size, the matter of a position pro or con may be moot.

When the subject of district elections came before the council earlier this year I did a bit of research. As a result of the settlement of a lawsuit, the city of Modesto shifted from at large elections to district elections in 2009. (Modesto’s population is about 204,000. White only is 49%; Latino, 36%; 19% other races.)

Five of the current councilmembers are white and two are Latino. (One is a woman.) I called the mayor’s office to ask if the council had been lily-white before the change.

As a result of explaining why I was calling, I had a chat with the mayor’s very forth-coming secretary. She said that she was a Latina and that she was “disappointed for the city” with the settlement. She believes Latinos now have less influence since they can only vote for one council candidate and cannot affect the other council races. “Why would anyone give up their right to vote for all the council seats to vote for just one?” she asked.

When I spoke with the mayor he told me that the Modesto city councils had been “male, pale and stale”. (He’s male and pale. He didn’t comment on whether he is stale or not.) He supported the change because of the cost of elections.

Santa Barbara’s history is quite different. Its council has not been all male, pale and stale.

In 1968 the voters of the City of Santa Barbara voted to end the then current district system in exchange for election at-large of all City councilmembers.

The League of Women Voters, which strongly supported the change away from the district system, commented:
1. City councilmembers elected at large rather than from separate districts while aware of local problems make their decisions based on the needs of the entire community.
2. The chances are better for well-qualified candidates — and more of them — to seek office when unhampered by artificial district boundaries.
3. Citizens represented at large have access to six members of council rather than one.
4. Under the district system a voter cast a ballot for only one councilmember every four years. A city council elected at-large gives each citizen the opportunity to vote for three members every two years.
5. District representation tends to lead to decisions made not on their merits but on the basis of “swapping support” (“You vote for what I want or I won’t vote for what you want.”)

These comments are still valid.

districtmapThe worst part of district elections was that except for the mayor there wasn’t anyone much concerned about the city as a whole. The big issues are not just related to individual parts of the city. Planning is citywide, and considers each area in relation to others. Some of the big issues that have come before the city may physically affect only part of the city, such as completion of the freeway and downtown revitalization, but these need to be considered as part of the city as a whole.

By the way, one issue often mentioned as indicating the need for councilmembers elected at large is the missing bridge on Cacique street. The implication is that if there was a councilmember for that district, the vehicle bridge long since would have been replaced. The capital improvement budget was before the Planning Commission last Thursday, and when I saw that a new pedestrian bridge was proposed to replace the existing pedestrian bridge where the vehicle bridge had been on Cacique, I said that I understood that people in the neighborhood wanted the vehicle bridge replaced. Especially given that Cacique now connects directly with Milpas under the freeway this seemed to be something that should be done.

Continue reading…

Never Forget the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill

On the afternoon of January 29, 1969, an environmental nightmare began in Santa Barbara. A Union Oil Co. platform stationed six miles off the coast of Summerland suffered a blowout. The platform ruptured because of inadequate protective casing.

For eleven days, oil workers struggled to cap the rupture. During that time, 200,000 gallons of crude oil bubbled to the surface and was spread into a 800 square mile slick by winds and swells. Incoming tides brought the thick tar to beaches from Rincon Point to Goleta, marring 35 miles of coastline.

Beaches with off-shore kelp forests were spared the worst as kelp fronds kept most of the tar from coming ashore. The slick also moved south, tarring Anacapa Island’s Frenchy’s Cove and beaches on Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands.

Animals that depended on the sea were hard hit. Incoming tides brought the corpses of dead seals and dolphins. Oil had clogged the blowholes of the dolphins, causing massive lung hemorrhages. Animals that ingested the oil were poisoned.

However, in the spring following the oil spill, Earth Day was born nationwide. Many consider the publicity surrounding the oil spill a major impetus to the environmental movement… “It is sad that it was necessary that Santa Barbara should be the example that had to bring it to the attention of the American people. What is involved is the use of our resources of the sea and of the land in a more effective way and with more concern for preserving the beauty and the natural resources that are so important to any kind of society that we want for the future. The Santa Barbara incident has frankly touched the conscience of the American people,” said Richard Nixon, President of the United States at the time of the spill.

Historic Trees on Anapamu Show Signs of New Growth and Increased Health

The City Parks and Recreation Department will be completing the installment of 31 slow-watering devices (irricades) within the parkway along East Anapamu Street this week. Thanks to a Pearl Chase Society donation, 56 units have been purchased to help water the historic Italian Stone Pines. Twenty-five have been providing water to some of the majestic trees along this corridor since late November. The additional 31 will ensure that every historic tree with available space for an irricade get one.

Irricades are redesigned traffic barriers equipped with a valve and soaker hose that release 125 gallons of water to the trees over a ten to twelve hour period. First developed in Autralia, this method of watering penetrates deeper and saturates the soil more thoroughly than hand watering. Mulch covers the hose to reduce evaporation from the soil.

The Parks and Recreation Department is committed to the care of the historic Italian Stone Pines that have been stressed from drought, beetle infestation and a confined growing environment. Prior to the irricade installation, staff hand watered the trees, a very time consuming task. Thanks to the irricades, staff time has been reduced by nearly 70% and the trees are showing signs of new growth and increased health. “With each month of watering, the trees improve visually”, says Tim Downey, City Urban Forest Superintendent.

The Department is also utilizing “gator” bags to support tree watering on young trees. Gator bags are a smaller (25 gallon) slow-release system best used on young trees trying to establish in their new environment. They promote deep root growth, have no runoff and reduce time spent at the tree. The City welcomes community assistance in filling the gator bags or adopting an irricade. For more information on how to help water these trees, or any tree in front of your house, call the Parks Division at 564-5433.

Petition for Preservation

ellwoodgasstationNearly 1,500 people have signed the petition to save the old Elwood gas station. According to Tom Modugno, “Goleta is growing and changing faster than ever before, and the few reminders of our history we have left should be preserved for future generations.”

“The station should be preserved not only for it’s architectural significance, but as a monument to the historic Ellwood oil fields and the overwhelming impact of that industry on our area,” writes Tom. “Every day that passes, this beautiful structure falls further into disrepair and if our city leaders don’t act soon, it will be too far gone to save. Please ask the Goleta city council to do what they can to preserve the old Ellwood gas station.”

Click here to sign and share this petition for preservation.

Santa Barbara by Bicycle

7% of Santa Barbara residents now commute by bicycle, while accidents are up 18% year to date. A recent enforcement sting was conducted to help reduce this uptick. According to officers, the three most common infractions made by bicyclists are: riding on the sidewalks, rolling through stop signs and failing to stop at red lights.
The City has summarized the situation in the following video:

City of Santa Barbara Stationary Watering Devices for Historic Trees

Santa Barbara is experiencing one of the worst droughts in recent history. The City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department have taken a creative approach to watering the historic Italian Stone Pine trees on Anapamu by using stationary watering devices called irricades. Funding of the irricades was provided by the Pearl Chase Society.
Learn more in this short video created by City TV.

Take a Moment to Say ‘Thank You, Officer’

Letter to the Editor by Santa Barbara City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss

Letter to the Editor  by Santa Barbara City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss

Claiming police are racist idiots intent on hunting down minority miscreants just for the fun of it has unfortunately become popular among some in the United States today.

Being a cop is a dangerous, thankless and heartless job, they say, performed by people who couldn’t care less about the consequences of their actions. Beat ‘em up and lock ‘em up, particularly if they are a member of a minority.

I disagree. Police work can be dangerous, but it assuredly isn’t heartless and it most definitely isn’t thankless. In fact, it is a rewarding career aimed at helping people live their lives peacefully and happily.

One police friend once told me that being a cop is like sitting in a front-row center seat observing the drama of life. And you see it all — from the very, very good to the very, very bad.

Those of us with more mundane jobs rarely, if ever, encounter the raw substance of daily living, from violent personal conflicts to acts harming others’ person or property.

Cops see this every day. I admire their ability to remain on an even keel, and keep a smile on their face, despite a daily encounter with such people.

Is it thankless? There are times when a cop defuses a domestic situation, solves a problem that might lead to a fight, or steers a young person on a positive track instead of a journey to prison or worse. That must be very rewarding. And they have that opportunity, those decisions to make, over and over again, every day on the job.

But when people who don’t know them reflexively decry their efforts if an untoward incident occurs, then the job must seem thankless. That must make it very hard to continue in the spirit of community service, much less put their lives on the line when the situation demands.

“Politics is to blame, and I did turn my back (to the mayor of New York) out of disgust on how the country feels about cops,” said an NYPD lieutenant with 18 years on the force. (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 5, 2015).

Acknowledging that police are not perfect — who among us is? — but do their best to do it right, I would like to say to each and every one of them, “Thank you, officer.”

Forum Today on District Elections in Santa Barbara

Today at 2 pm, at the Louise Lowry Davis Center, 1232 De La Vina St., a special forum will be held to discuss the move towards district elections in Santa Barbara. The free two-hour event, titled “Will the City of Santa Barbara Return to District Elections?” is hosted by the The Santa Barbara chapter of the League of Women Voters.

Former Santa Barbara Mayor Sheila Lodge will be one of the speakers along with Jacqueline Inda, a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Santa Barbara’s at-large voting system. This November, voters will get the chance to weigh in on the proposal to elect six City Councilmembers from local districts while choosing a Mayor via the current at-large process.

A map of the districts circa 1940 on the wall of the Cajun Kitchen at De la Vina and Mission.

Open Letter to Council Member Cathy Murillo

Open Letter to Council Member Cathy Murillo

bidEveryone benefits from a vibrant and healthy business environment. We are a group of independent business owners on the Eastside seeking to organize a business improvement district (the “BID”). We’ve worked hard over the past few years and it has paid off: everyone agrees that conditions in the Milpas area have dramatically improved. Through the BID, Eastside businesses will provide for a cleaner, safer business district, and sponsor promotion and special events to bring more patrons to our area. All this can be accomplished for less than $1 per day per business in most cases.

You decided to oppose the BID before we even had a chance to present it to you. You have been walking our neighborhood recruiting business owners to oppose something that will bring them more business, create jobs, and increase sales tax revenues to the City… no cost to taxpayers. We have met with you twice to provide you with the facts about the BID. Although you know the truth, you have been deliberately spreading false information to Eastside businesses and community members.

You’ve said that the BID is a “new tax.” The BID does not result in any new taxes. It provides a mechanism for businesses in the BID to pay for enhanced services which benefit them directly and that they control directly. The businesses decide what services the BID provides (e.g. graffiti cleanup) and what community events to support (e.g. the Milpas Holiday Parade and Lights).

You’ve told business tenants that the BID will assess their landlords, who will then pass the assessment directly to tenants…..that their “rents will increase.” But you know that the BID proposal excludes property owners from assessments, so there is nothing for landlords to pass through to tenants. You‘ve also told people that there will be BID assessments on residences—again not true.

You claim that the ultimate goal of the BID is “gentrification” which will “drive out local businesses.” We’re proposing to pick up litter, wipe off graffiti, clean the sidewalks, do some promotion, and create some great cultural events. These things are good for businesses…..the existing businesses on the Eastside.

You’ve misrepresented your personal opinion about the BID as though it were the official position of the City of Santa Barbara. Naturally business owners are fearful of supporting something they’ve been led to believe the City opposes.

Finally, what’s wrong with events like the Trick or Treat on Milpas St and Milpas Christmas Parade? These events are for our area families and children, and they help promote the Milpas Corridor. This year, you organized people to use the Christmas Parade as a venue to protest the BID! The same Christmas Parade that you walked in as an elected City official……

You are the only City official opposing independent business owners trying to improve their Eastside neighborhood. Yet you didn’t have any objection to renewing the Downtown BIDs.

So why are you working so hard to sabotage our neighborhood’s effort to improve itself?


Gene Bantilan
Alan Bleecker
Chris Cowan
Rick Feldman
Jason Ferria
Bruce Giffin
Paul Gifford
Natalia Govoni
Santos Guzman
Jed Hendrikson
Ernie Lopez
Bea Molina
Dave Peterson
Julianna Reichard
Bob Shoppe
Natasha Todorovic
Chris Wood