Wednesday, April 25 , 2018, 8:05 am | Overcast 52º

 
 
 

Harris Sherline: Santa Barbara County’s Redistricting Process Is Flawed

Conflict of interest among Board of Supervisors guides political ploy in approving new map

Is it time for a ballot initiative to redistrict Santa Barbara County? The process has been left in the hands of the Board of Supervisors and a coalition of three members — Salud Carbajal (1st District), Janet Wolf (2nd District) and Doreen Farr (3rd District) — who had clearly prejudged the issue to arrive at a conclusion that continues to divide communities and leaves the 3rd District under the control of the students at UCSB.

This has been a major issue since I moved to Santa Barbara almost 34 years ago. The oft-quoted adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” is apt.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Board of Supervisors’ redistricting hearings is the fact that they weren’t really hearings at all, because the three supervisors who voted to approve it had a clear conflict of interest that they failed to disclose.

The redistricting map that three of the supervisors voted to accept was submitted by a “campaign consultant” to those same supervisors. In addition, the map that was selected was circulated to the members of the Board of Supervisors in advance of the hearing. Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he had been informed weeks before the hearing which redistricting map would be chosen.

The Isla Vista/UCSB community remains in the 3rd District, over the strenuous objections of Santa Ynez Valley residents, who continue to complain that the students, who do not live in the valley, dominate the vote on important issues, notwithstanding the fact that the valley has no community of interest with IV/UCSB.

This continues to be a sore point for many valley residents, who object to having the student vote dominate the politics of an area in which the students do not live and with which they have divergent interests. This includes the same UCSB district that had more than 100 percent of its registered voters cast ballots in the last election.

The following are a few additional disclosures that seem to have been kept under the radar of voters:

» Wolf’s executive assistant, Mary O’Gorman, was formerly executive director of SB CAN, the organization that prepared the approved plan.

» Carbajal, Wolf and Farr are all members of SB CAN.

» The Board of Supervisors held only one meeting to discuss and debate the redistricting maps before making a decision to select a plan.

“This commission became the Citizens Smoke-Filled Room, where average citizen commissioners engage in dinner-table deals and partisan gerrymandering — the very problems that this commission was supposed to prevent,” Commissioner Mike Ward said in an interview with CalWatchDog.com.

Numerous map proposals were submitted that would have moved Isla Vista from the 3rd District to the 2nd District because it has more of a community of interest with Goleta and Santa Barbara than with Lompoc or Santa Ynez, but South Coast liberals want to keep Isla Vista in the 3rd District to maintain their swing vote on the Board of Supervisors, and it’s quite obvious that Farr would have never been able to win the 3rd District without Isla Vista. Thus, it was essential that the liberal majority keep the status quo map to retain their power.

Lompoc resident and Republican central committee member Robert Jeffers, who was interviewed by the Santa Maria Times, said: “His (George Relles’) map was designed to solidify the incumbents in the lower regions,” referring to the South Coast.

The bottom line is that the redistricting process in Santa Barbara County was seriously flawed and produced inequities in the community that will remain in place until the next census and redistricting process takes place in 10 years.

We’re stuck with the result, but we don’t have to like it.

For my money, the valley’s voters should support a ballot initiative to redistrict the county in a more appropriate way.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.

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