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Santa Barbara Council Votes to Keep Mail-In Balloting for November Election

Also Tuesday, the Ordinance Committee moves a single-use plastic bag ban forward to the full City Council

The Santa Barbara City Council voted Tuesday to hold a vote-by-mail election again this November, but debated over having drop-off locations open on Saturday.

Every ballot has pre-paid postage, but drop-off locations are open on Election Day, and were open last year on the Saturday before as well.

Since the November 2007 election, mail-in ballots have constituted 67, 78 and 84 percent of the total turnout, and there’s a cost savings to the city as well, said Gwen Peirce, the city clerk services manager.

Her office recommended that the Saturday hours be dropped, since it had a low participation of people dropping off ballots in person, but Councilwoman Cathy Murillo vehemently objected.

She argued that the weekend drop-offs would be especially helpful for working people, and the city should keep the hours to increase participation.

“I’m personally not comfortable putting my ballot in a mailbox,” she said, adding that many other people may not be either. “So this is my plea to my colleagues today, to keep Saturday drop-off hours at least one more cycle and see if we can get people to utilize that — Election Saturday.”

Councilman Grant House agreed, and asked staff to stay consistent as much as possible with drop-off locations year-to-year.

Councilman Randy Rowse argued that paying $4,000 may not be worth getting about 200 ballots dropped off, as the city did last year, when the locations have extended hours on Election Day itself.

The council was evenly split on accepting the four drop-off locations — City Hall, the Braille Institute, Grace Lutheran Church and the Eastside Branch Library — and cutting Saturday hours, so it eventually compromised in a proposal from Councilman Bendy White.

City Hall’s drop-off location will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, and city staff will come forward with a recommendation for a Westside neighborhood location.

That area “feels like it is geographically a little bit underserved,” White said.

The fall city election will be to fill the mayor and three council member seats for Santa Barbara. Mayor Helene Schneider is running for re-election, and several residents already have filed paperwork to challenge incumbent Councilmen White and Frank Hotchkiss.

There also will be a ballot measure to adjust the lot line between MacKenzie Park and the Fremont Hall Army Reserve Center building. Pierce said it should have been done decades ago, but needs a vote of the people to go through.

The city is still interested in buying the U.S. Army property, but the lot-line adjustment is not related to those negotiations, according to Assistant City Administrator Marcelo Lopez.

In the Six-Year Capital Improvement Program for 2011-2016, the Parks & Recreation Department proposed fundraising $15 million between the Parks and Recreation Community Foundation and Police Activities League to buy the property, build a community recreation facility and gymnasium, and renovate MacKenzie Park.

Council members didn’t discuss the Punta Gorda Street Bridge Replacement Project or Union Pacific Railroad Bridge project on Tuesday’s agenda because Mayor Schneider was absent.

Earlier Tuesday, at the Ordinance Committee meeting, members voted to move a proposed single-use plastic bag ban forward to the full City Council.

BEACON has finished the environmental report for a regional bag ban.

Several jurisdictions in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties decided to go in on a joint environmental impact report, handled by the Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment, which is based on the model bag-ban ordinance written by Santa Barbara’s City Council.

Ojai and Carpinteria already have adopted their own bag-ban ordinances, but every other city and county included in the EIR will have to adopt an ordinance separately.

Councilmen Hotchkiss and House both asked city staff to move forward on the city’s own environmental review and bring the ordinance before the full City Council for a vote.

The ordinance would ban single-use plastic bags from large grocery stores and stores selling grocery items such as milk, bread and snack foods (including liquor stores and drug stores and food marts). It also would mandate a 10-cent charge on single-use paper bags and reports from stores on the number of bags given out.

Like other ordinances in the state, it’s aimed at food stores, but would exempt restaurants and prepared food carry-out bags, even within some stores that are subject to the ban.

The EIR found that a ban on all single-use bags — plastic and paper — is the environmentally superior option, although it may not be the most feasible, said Matt Fore, the city’s environmental services manager.

“The EIR assumes that 9 percent of plastic bags out in the environment now would no longer be distributed,” so they couldn’t wind up as litter on city streets, creeks or the ocean, he said.

City Attorney Steve Wiley noted that the California Second District Court of Appeal ruled that Los Angeles County’s ordinance requiring customers to pay 10 cents for a paper carryout bag was not a tax because the charge is payable and retained by the retail store, not remitted to the county.

It’s a “significant development,” since the local ordinance is similar and appears to also be “bulletproof when it comes to Proposition 218,” he said.

A few people commented, all in support, at Tuesday’s Ordinance Committee meeting.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Santa Barbara step up and be a leader in the environmental world again,” said Garrett Kababik of Channel Islands Outfitters.

Kira Redmond of Santa Barbara Channelkeeper encouraged the council to take a leadership role and said her organization would support them.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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