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Local News

Carpinteria City Council Will Consider Switch to District Elections After Threat of Litigation

Two Carpinteria residents have accused the city of disenfranchising Latino voters with its at-large voting system, an allegation that could lead to changes in how City Council members are elected.

Santa Barbara-based attorney Robert Goodman sent a letter to the city on June 30 threatening litigation if the city declines to adopt district-based elections.

Goodman’s letter said the city’s at-large election system has resulted in “racially polarized voting and abridgment of Latino voting rights” that may violate the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.

He represents Jatzibe Sandoval and Frank Gonzalez, both Carpinteria registered voters.

The City Council is scheduled to hear a report on the claim on Monday night, and to receive public input about changing the city’s current at-large voting process to district elections.

The special meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, at 5775 Carpinteria Ave. 

Carpinteria is the fourth, and smallest, city in Santa Barbara County to be accused of violating the Voting Rights Act and asked to switch to district-based elections for its City Council races. 

Goodman wrote in his letter that his clients are “open on such issues when district elections would commerce (in 2018, 2020, or 2022, but no later than 2022), whether Carpinteria would also implement an at-large elected mayor with four districts or retain a council-selected mayor with five districts,” and forming a city commission to examine ways to increase local government participation. 

Goodman notes that Sandoval and Gonzalez require there would be at least four districts in Carpinteria of the current five seats on its council.

“There is much evidence of the extent to which members of a protected class bear the effects of past discrimination and of a history of discrimination in Carpinteria,” Goodman wrote to the city.

“We believe that if litigation is pursued in this matter, the city of Carpinteria would not likely prevail and also be responsible for extensive legal and expert fees and costs.”

Since 1994, 12.1 percent of all city council candidates have been Latino, and Latinos made up 6.7 percent of successful candidates since 1994, he wrote.

The allegation of racially-polarized voting implies a protected class' preferred candidate is consistently defeated by the preferred candidate of other votes who are not in the protected class. 

Goodman also claimed there is evidence of racially-polarized voting in electing representatives to Carpinteria special districts.

There were 7,203 registered voters in Carpinteria for the November 2016 general election, according to the Santa Barbara County Elections Office.

County elections staff do not track voters’ ethnicity, said Joe Holland, the Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor and Registrar of Voters. 

Legal challenges have forced three other cities in the county to transition to district-based voting for City Council elections. 

The city of Santa Maria — which had 33,040 registered voters in 2016 — plans to implement a district election system for the City Council members in 2018.

Citywide district elections in the city of Goleta will start in November 2022 after the city reached a settlement with residents who threatened a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit.

In 2016, voter registration in Goleta was 17,808.

Santa Barbara reportedly paid $800,000 in legal fees before settling its lawsuit and transitioning to district elections in 2015.

Santa Barbara had more than 50,000 registered voters in 2016.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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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