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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.

District Elections Will Be THE Big Thing This Year

By Sharon Byrne

I attended the League of Women Voters’ panel presentation on district elections January 21st.

Whatever you’re doing while reading this, drop it and go watch the video of this discussion, below. Carve 2 hours out of your schedule (yes!), and watch it. I’ve been following this issue closely, and I learned a great deal in this session.

Oddly enough, it won’t matter if you’re for or against. The issue is before a judge, and a whole lot of things hang in the balance of his decision. It is virtually certain the judge will find racially polarized voting, and the remedy imposed will be district elections. It may include a switch for city elections to move to even years. This is an election year. The immediate need now is to find a way for citizens to participate in the drawing of the district lines, and figure out a schedule of when district elections will start. They could start this year or next year. Do you cut over all at once, or phase in 3 districts with the next election, and then the rest later? What happen to the existing council members who still have terms to serve out? Should a citizens’ commission draw the lines? Can we even do that?

Speakers included Shane Stark, former counsel for Santa Barbara County; Kristi Schmidt with the City of Santa Barbara; Jacqueline Inda, plaintiff on the lawsuit against the city to impose district elections; Lucas Zucker with CAUSE (formerly PUEBLO); and Sheila Lodge, former mayor of Santa Barbara and current Planning Commissioner.

districtmapThe League took the position of favoring at-large elections during the time when the city moved to adopt them and left the old district elections system in 1968. Part of this session was for them to get enough information to decide whether to revise that position. Since 1968, Latinos have become a larger population of the city, and the California Voting Rights Act passed in 2001 to allow the imposition of district elections as a remedy to racially polarized voting. Under that act, a city cannot recover its cost from successfully defending itself from a lawsuit charging racially polarized voting, yet must pay the plaintiffs’ cost should it lose. No city has prevailed after being sued, so the deck is stacked against the city that tries to defend itself.

The speakers had very interesting viewpoints to present, and Shane Stark had the legal details down. The districts must be equal in population, but voter registration is another story. You could see where some future districts could be very voter-dense, while others have low registration.

Jacqui Inda laid out a timeline that went back quite a few years, and leveled the charge that the city’s flat-footedness in response to their call for district elections escalated the plaintiffs’ decision to file the lawsuit. The CAUSE speaker, Lucas Zucker, had very interesting statistics. 26% of registered Latinos voted in the last city council election, vs 41% of whites. In odd years, voting in both groups drops off markedly from even years. City elections cost $200,000+ to city taxpayers, while running them on the county’s ballot costs $60,000. Far more people vote for school board members in even years than they do for city council members in odd years. Both Inda and Zucker encouraged the League to push for even year elections as part of the district elections process.

Sheila Lodge had perhaps some of the most eye-opening points, and covered decades of election shifts in her commentary. She’d talked with the mayor of Modesto, and someone else there, a Latina, that was disappointed in district elections. They only got to vote for 1 councilmember every 4 years now, instead of multiple councilmembers every 2 years – a striking loss in being able to determine your city government make-up. Some plaintiffs have argued that if they had a representative on city council, they could get needed improvements in their community, like the Cacique St bridge replaced on the lower Eastside. Sheila pointed out that election does not confer automatic power to commandeer city resources. You still need 4 votes on Council to do anything. Turns out Cacique neighbors didn’t actually want their bridge replaced with a road. They like the street quiet. The people around them wanted a road bridge for easier commuting through the area.

Things will start moving very quickly on this front, starting with a presentation of a plan to Council for public input on this process in early February. Get informed and engaged right now.

Santa Barbara International Film Festival Opening Night

Tonight is the opening night of the 30th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. This is a shot from the side balcony of the Arlington during last years’ opening night film “Mission Blue”. In the same vein as Mission Blue the Film Festival will continue their support of pioneers of protecting our beautiful oceans by honoring the entire Cousteau family. -Bill Heller

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.

Want to solve the homeless problem? Get involved.

By Sharon Byrne

In January of 2011, I was in Santa Monica overnight counting their homeless population to learn how it was done. Three weeks later, I was out at 4 AM with a team in the Cacique / Milpas area, interviewing homeless individuals for the Point In Time count here. Two years later, we did the count, this time covering the beach west of State and lower Funk Zone.

Why does anyone get out of bed at 3:30 AM to go out and wake up homeless individuals in the cold and interview them?

If you want to solve a problem, you need more than anecdotal evidence of the problem. You need facts. You need data. And you need to see how you’re doing with the problem over time, to see if whatever you’re doing to solve the problem is actually working…or not.

The Point-In-Time count for 2015, which is coming up quickly, is where you can get involved. This costs about 8 hours of effort total every two years, and is totally worth it. It’s a place where you can step up and help your city work on a problem that affects us all.

Our experience on the Milpas Outreach Project, in working with the most chronically homeless, has opened my eyes to how hard this problem is to solve. I now see that we CAN make solid progress when we exit the policy clouds and work at the street level, within our neighborhoods.

Please volunteer to help us do the Point In Time Count. Most of us can probably afford to invest 8 hours every 2 years to help move this ball forward for our community.

Milpas on the Move: It’s Herb Peterson Day January 27th

By: Sharon Byrne

Bit of Milpas food history for the epi-curious:

The Egg McMuffin was invented on this street. Modeled after Peterson’s personal breakfast favorite, Eggs Benedict, he presented his breakfast product idea to McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc, and in 1972, the Egg McMuffin became the first McDonald’s breakfast item. At the time, no other quick service restaurant offered breakfast, and Peterson asked a local blacksmith to make an iron ring to keep eggs round and tidy as they were cooked for a hand-held sandwich.


On Tuesday, January 27th, McDonald’s here locally will celebrate the creation of the Egg McMuffin® with $1 sandwiches during breakfast hours. Limit 2 sandwiches per customer.

Personal note: when I was little (getting to be a long time ago, grrr), my parents loved Egg McMuffins and marveled at American ingenuity in inventing a breakfast sandwich one could take on the go. Breakfast in restaurants, up until the introduction of the McMuffin, was largely a sit-down, fairly formal affair or the purview of the local casual diner. This was a radical departure from those early days of dining out for breakfast!

Editor’s Note: Erroneously published Herb Peterson Day on January 6, as it had been the previous six years. January 27th is correct so go get you $1 Egg McMuffins.