Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Time for District Elections?

The Grand Jury wants the City of Santa Barbara to have district elections and strangely wants an at-large Vice-Mayor? What does that accomplish? In any event, their "hybrid" system is discussed in more detail in their report (PDF). Lanny Ebenstein wrote a piece on the subject in The Independent in April as well saying that it created more diversity.

I've never really been supportive of district elections because it is forcing an outcome that the voters should be taking care of themselves if that is what they want. This kind of social engineering always has unintended outcomes -- which is probably why voters chose to go back to at-large elections in Santa Barbara several years ago. If we want more Latino representation -- let's do some voter registration drives, concentrate some get-out-the-vote efforts, etc. Most campaigns have given up on this angle because they aren't seeing the results. If we want younger people to run -- let's raise the pay of council! How many non-retired or not wealthy people can run today unless they are willing to make huge sacrifices?

Slightly off issue --I am told the News-Press covered the story and strangely tacked on an unrelated piece on boards and commissions at the end. It also seems that councilmembers have put heating pads on their cold shoulders -- Blum, Barnwell and House are quoted in the article. Maybe they feel they have no choice? That may be another post for another day....

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Anonymous David Pritchett said...

I also found the original Grand Jury report and read it, essentially 6 or 7 pages.

The new "Vice Mayor" position on City Council is not defined except it would be elected as at-large citywide. Term limits also are not addressed, as in would the Vice Mayor be a new limit of 2 terms that someone could attain after 2 earlier terms as a lowly Councilmember elected from 1 of the 5 districts?? Could a Vice Mayor then become the Full Mayor, possibly for a total of 24 years on City Council if that person were 2 terms of 8 years total for spots on Council, Vice Mayor, then Full Mayor??

The biggest problem with District elections is about how the District boundaries are set. The goal of electeds fitting a certain profile or persuasion only would be attained if the District encompasses that type of population of people. Also, just like how the County Board of Supervisors actually results, some Districts can elect a candidate with only half of the total votes as it takes for a candidate to get elected in another District.

A comparison of the Fifth Supervisorial District and the Second is a good example, where nearly twice the numbers of votes are needed to get elected in the Second than in the Fifth, even though the Districts supposedly have the same number of residents. Of course, the difference is number of eligible and active voters, rather than total residents.

I like a better hybrid system where the City is comprised of only 3 districts or zones, with 2 Councilmembers per District. The Mayor would have more clout and be elected citywide at-large.

5/24/2007 11:51 PM  
Anonymous sa1 said...

Al Gore and Jon Stewart...Now There's a ticket.

Big Al says the net maybe the fix for what ails democracy due to the sellout of mainstream media to the powers that in none of the major outlets wanted to cross the administration (by questioning the reason for going to war)for fear of being called "unpatriotic" and losing access. I think he's right. These types of forums can enable us to have a more real time and two way conversation about the topics of the day.

I long for the day when our local leaders will participate in the give and take. No more doublespeak crafted for 15 second soundbites or pat answers to stupid questions in one way debates. Worse yet, the sad sight of concerned citizens getting their all of three minutes to speak while the council members shuffle papers and look bored.

I do believe the next candidates for office who step up to the keyboard will win, if they converse with the people and leave the bumper stickers and yard signs to the anachronoids. Plus you don't have to be rich or sellout to special interests to get your campaign heard. This could be huge and could also include webcam video responses (of the candidate) if desired. All for the monthly cost of ISP we're paying already.

"This kind of social engineering always has unintended outcomes -- "

Take a risk, babies...

5/25/2007 12:00 AM  
Blogger John Quimby said...

I live in the county so I am represented by my district supervisor. If I've got a beef with something or somebody in my district I know who to call. I also know who to hold accountable come election time.

As far as "diversity" goes. I'm not sure Santa Barbara needs to sweat cultural diversity as much as it could use some political diversity. Setting the question of one party rule aside and ignoring the political grooming that goes on in the city for a moment, it might be worthwhile to consider diversity an issues based means test instead of some emotional/social invention.

On the other hand, watch out for the regular band of power seekers, gadflys and wannabes who will suddenly be on parade with a much lower bar to cross in order to get into the game.

In my opinion it could bring out the worst of the city's political players. But if you like how the county system works, go for it.

5/25/2007 8:48 AM  
Anonymous sa1 said...

I'm curious where the present council would fall in a district rep map. Where would be the district boundries be? SB is a pretty small community. I assume the boundries would be drawn to encompass approx 15K people. Are there really that diverse an interest in city "goings on" by neighborhood? There is always the consequence of gerrymandering and the possible distraction (lawsuits et al) that would cause to the council.

On the other hand, district elections would enable those without deep pockets to only concentrate their efforts on a much smaller portion of the pop. Could this cause political gridlock and a barrier to consensus on the council? How about the problem of mini pork projects pushed for the good of a single district.

Altuistically, the district system is better, especially in a diverse place like LA. In SB, I'm not so sure. In Goleta, the county district model failed which spawned the creation of a new city. I guess my feelings tend to fall towards "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". So the question is, is the city council broke?

5/25/2007 10:59 AM  
Anonymous emily said...

The diversity I'd like to see on the council is a few members who actually expect the City Staff to adhere to the laws, ordinances and requirements of this City. The recent roundabout appeal is a perfect example. The City failed to get the required number of 65% of the citizens to support the project--and went right along and implemented it anyway. And Council couldn't have cared less--and they treated the appelants like idiots, rather than the intelligent people, and presenters they are. We all deserve more ethics-centered Council Members, and if district elections can make that happen, bring 'em on!

5/25/2007 11:30 AM  
Blogger bolson said...

Proportional Representation is the way!

It can be thought of as in itself a kind of hybrid between at-large and districted positions. It's at large voting across the whole city, but regions or identities can still be represented. It's better than drawing districts because instead of having to try and guess how to represent people and draw lines around some group or another, people choose their coalitions themselves. If there are 3 seats up in an election, any group that can get together 1/3 of the vote can get a candidate elected to represent them.

It's been done for the Irish Senate since 1922 and the Cambridge, MA city council for about as long. I think it's a good idea.

5/25/2007 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds like a neocon plot to steal santa barbara for the rich. I wish we could get rid of elections or have 20 year terms with big salaries for council.

5/25/2007 4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there are positives and negatives with district elections.

On the plus side it does allow for more local representation.

On the negative side, it also seems to cause territorialism as we see with the County supervisors. They (except for Janet who hasn't been poisoned yet) always let the supervisor whose district a particular issue is in dictate the vote, because they're in fear of that supervisor voting against them on an issue in their district. That's just not good government.

Also, the creation of district boundaries would absolutely have to be created by an external independent body for it to work, not by the electeds themselves.

5/25/2007 4:47 PM  
Anonymous a city watcher said...

I can't see that district elections would make any difference, if the aim is cultural differences. If running for election cost less, well, maybe, but that high cost is partly a result of the salary increases for the council people.

I live in the lower east side, right in the middle of a heavily Latino area. I could see myself or some of the other Anglos running if there were district election --- and I'd like to think that most of the people would elect the one best, not just the same ethnicity, and that might be an Anglo, might not.

Everything would depend on the boundaries --- and as someone said, if you like how the BOSupes operate, you'd like city district elections. (Try to get Carbajal to pay attention to the part of his district that is not Montecito eastward!)

As for the boards and commissions, absolutely nothing prevents anyone from applying and I think if there were qualified applicants for any of the boards, a majority of the council people on this council, at least, would appoint a latino over an anglo.

If there were district elections, David Pritchett's suggestion of a total of 3 with 2 from each makes sense. A vice-mayor makes no sense to me, at least. The rotating system works out well now.

However, after watching that long hearing on the "calming" devices - I tend to accelerate when I see them - maybe we do indeed need another Council....G
ood for Falcone for voting No on that one!

5/25/2007 7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

District elections would produce about as much local diverse representation as term limits have for the state---which is, not that much; women especially suffer, as money needed to win the race is concentrated in one area. bad idea. so yea, the current council will probably go for it.

5/26/2007 7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about quotas?

55 Percent women, 40 Percent Hispanic, and a token white dude. That would be representative and best serve the community!

5/26/2007 1:49 PM  
Anonymous White Dude said...

Ok 1:49, I'll bite

I nominate Wendy M and Laura S and Oprah (double points). Maybe we can get Hugo Chavez and Vicente Fox to recommend some of their friends to serve, as the Hispanics have a strong grasp of democratic government. I hear Hugo knows how to handle errant newspapers too. Maybe we can convince MS13 to replace all them pasty white cops.

After all, race and gender have always been the most representative and fair way to put the best qualified in place.

5/26/2007 11:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If certain ethnics or colors are somehow lacking on the City council, then why not file for candidacy and run for election?

Why not just vote early and vote often? People can complain forever but until they actual field a candidate this is all nonsense and spin.

If a group of people is underrepresented, then vote and vote some more. Latinos are the supposed majority ethnic group in California, so they really have no excuses.

The vote is the voice, so start screaming. Until Latino people in the poor neighborhoods start voting in big numbers, they will continue to be ignored.

Council elections by districts, public finance of local elections, and even proportional representation all will help supposedly discriminated ethnic groups more easily get elected. So why, then, does not the local Latino community support these election reform options?

5/27/2007 10:56 AM  
Anonymous Das Williams said...

I do believe that though we have a pretty good mix of skills and priorities on the council right now, you can get more accountability and diversity from district elections or a district/at large hybrid system as the grand Jury recommends. I'd support putting it on the ballot.

Good people come and go, but its even better to design the system so that an incumbent's survival depends on their constituent service.

5/28/2007 4:42 PM  
Anonymous sa1 said...

Nice to see your comment. Thanks for stepping up. I trust SDLG checked it's really you cuz she's the best in town at this. I lek the telvised meeting and try to catch as much as possible. Here's what my inquiring mind would like to know:

What is your #1 priority for the council today?

Do you think that development proposals should favor the rights of the property owner or the needs of the city at large? How does the council and staff balance this?

Do you think it's possible (by ordinance) or necessary to push for affordable apt buildings with low cost move in over condos and single family homes?

Do you favor the trend toward increasing enrollments and developments at the uni's at the expense (perhaps) of worker housing?

Do you think we really need more hotel resorts (needing low cost labor) rather than multi skill higher wage businesses? Is the city proactive in recruiting business here?

That's just a few things. Maybe your cohorts on the council would like to tackle a question or two.

Thanks for your service, I'm sure it's stressful at times.

5/29/2007 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

of course, Das, "constituent service" means different things to different people,and therein lies the risk.

Districts can end up rewarding the loudest or crankiest constituents in any demographic, and certainly the richest ones.

Truly, the CURRENT system is one that can reward, or apply consequences, to incumbents based on "constituent service" in the truest sense---the City of SB

5/29/2007 6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't matter who or how council gets elected - the staff runs them around by the nose anyway.

That is where the real power it and who sets policy - the paid staff, accountable to no one and no one on the council has the guts to make them so.

Watch the city hearings in action - it is the staff who sets the agenda and the council just nods and asks ineffectual questions.

Nope, there is no diversity on the present council - there is NO one asking the hard question and demanding answers. NO one. Bob Noel and a few others like him need to run for city council.

Ticks me off - voters agreed to increased pay for city council so they would actually put in a full day's work doing the city's (and our) business.

Yet, most of them still have outside jobs and we all lose from their lack of attention to detail and follow-up.

Term limits make them unaccountable. And yes, get Das on the ineffectual BOS - less and less ground to damage and a paycheck that might help him to become a full time player.

5/29/2007 7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A mayor facilitates the city council's policy direction discussion and formalizes a consensus city policy with measurable outcomes and ensures it is carried out by working closely with the city administrator.

The council and mayor collectively demand accountability with measurable benchmarks to see city policy is carried out by city staff.

Staff does what it is told and asks questions to see if what they are doing and saying conforms with clear and directed city policy set by city council.

The city staff does not tell the city council what to do - they are told by the council what to do.

And no single councilperson micromangages any staff or department. The council always works together by majority vote when setting policy and hold department heads accountable for carrying it out, with accountable, measurable results.

Then the voters decide if that is good enough. And they vote on results, not just more promises.

Dream on.

5/29/2007 8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The county, with fewer and fewer population areas to govern has long been reduced to be a full time employment agency, with no known purpose or direction.

Why do they get paid so much to do so little. And why such a large over-paid staff to do less and less each year?

District county elections shows no value as an alternative.

5/29/2007 8:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will voters bring back Das to the city council after Das told them he wanted to leave and move on to the county in just under two years of public service?

How about electing someone who really wants the city job and not bail out again at the next county or assembly election - is Pedro termed out just in time for Das to not fulfill his next city council term?

Das would better serve himself by getting a Masters in Public Administration and get an inside job running a public agency, not wasting his time being an ineffectual public politician. He could run then the show from the inside and actually get things done.

5/29/2007 8:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

District elections would be great because they would expose how few people actually live in the Golden Triangle, which dominates the city agenda and to whom all city council member cater compared to the far more population dense areas of Santa Barbara which they ignore.

What a wake-up call to realize the Golden Triangle gets only one rep for their skimpy population on large plots of land, compared to the far higher and crammed population dense areas of this town that have long gone effectively disenfranchised and trashed upon by the entrenched Golden Triangle political powers that be.

Would district elections mean city council candidates will actually have to go out into neighbhorhoods they only now visit on official city bus tours? What a novel idea.

5/30/2007 7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The new districts should be population based pie-shaped wedges emenating from city hall that include both the downtown areas and the outer Golden Triangle geographic areas.

It is time for all Santa Barbaran to know they belong to the entire city -both downtown core and their outer Golden perches.

And put them all together to work out this city for the good of all, not just dumping problems in areas that don't yet understand the power of their densely populated concentration of voters.

5/30/2007 8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A vice mayor is a stupid position to waste on anyone.

How about two at-large positions instead and 5 districts that are population based, not geography based because we are all in this ship together.

How about the mayor chosen from those on the city council who earns this position with leadership and managament skills, instead of annointing someone who basically goes around and cuts ribbons and attends out of town meetings but does not actually lead the city or manage the city staff.

5/30/2007 8:44 PM  
Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...

I worked with the City Staff and Santa Barbara is well served by these individuals who make the wheels turn. I can vouch for the fact that by 7:30 AM they are HARD AT WORK. They serve many masters: The Public, the Council, the Department Heads, the City Commissions, and of course, the City Administrator. They try to please them all and they never have enough time to do anything all the way down to the last detail. It is often a thankless task. The pressure is incredible. Thanks to the Council, and the present City Administrator, the review of staff is performance based. Let's point out the obvious. The entire City of Santa Barbara is very lucky to have such a talented and motivated bunch of people working their butts off to serve them. Never forget it.

In Santa Barbara, many different kinds of elections and organizational structures have been tried over the years. The ward system with its strict fealties has had a long history already. There were problems. I suggest we look at this history for some lessons before we jump into this District concept. The powers of the mayor here also have a long history and we should study the history of the ups and downs of the mayor's powers too.

One of the most tragic dimensions of this Newspress meltdown, in my opinion is largely the result of Travis Armstrong's negative and mean editorials. We have lost a Newspaper that understood the mechanics of the City, explained them to the population--without, as Tom and Charles Storke put it, fear or favor. But with this nuance, the Storke family sought to work hand-in-hand with the community as the issues of the day rolled down the pipeline and would always explain things. A good community newspaper has a positive attitude in its criticism. Travis is a poison player in the community dialogue.

Think about the question Ronald Reagan had to answer. "Look around. Are you better or worse off since Wendy rolled into town?"

5/31/2007 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One major fatality of the NewsPress editorial petty vindictiveness is no one credible wants to run for public office and risk ending up on the wrong end of a TA personal attack hit piece.

Current council finally got tough hides and/or simply no longer read him in order to survive. They learned to live in their own self-serving world of fellow yes men/women and lost touch with the broader electorate. Our loss.

Too bad because TA is hitting it right on target lately with his editorials on housing and growth.

Too bad TA poisoned the pond and all we have are incumbents to keep mismanaging this critical issue.

Too bad almost every candidate endorsed by the NewsPress loses. This is a waste of a public venue.

5/31/2007 9:18 PM  

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