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District Elections: Riviera, Mesa Have Held Largest Political Power Base in Past Votes

Focus on neighborhoods comes into play as Santa Barbara makes the switch to district elections for City Council seats

As Santa Barbara prepares for district elections for the City Council, a Noozhawk analysis shows that the Mesa and Riviera neighborhoods have enjoyed more success producing candidates than other areas.
As Santa Barbara prepares for district elections for the City Council, a Noozhawk analysis shows that the Mesa and Riviera neighborhoods have enjoyed more success producing candidates than other areas. (Maps.com / Noozhawk)

More than 40 percent of the people who ran for office in Santa Barbara over the last decade have come from the Mesa and Riviera neighborhoods, according to a Noozhawk review of public records.

The Riviera has enjoyed more success producing candidates than other areas in town; five people have won office, and four others were strong contenders.

Three council members, out of 11 candidates, including a mayor, have been elected from the Mesa area in the last 10 years.

After the Mesa and the Riviera, Santa Barbara’s Westside produced the next largest number of candidates with six, including Mayor Helene Schneider.

Schneider was elected to the council twice before winning two mayoral terms. She lives on the Westside in the new District 3, and was the top vote-getter in three of her four elections for council and mayor.

These trends will likely disappear with the transition to district elections, in which only one City Council candidate per district can win a seat in office every four years. 

Santa Barbara settled a California Voting Rights Act case with four plaintiffs and will implement the six-district council elections this November, with three seats on the ballot. 

If district elections were in place now, voters would have had to choose among councilmen Frank Hotchkiss, Dale Francisco and Harwood "Bendy" White, because they all live in the new District 4, which encompasses the Riviera, Lower Riviera and Upper East neighborhoods. In the new system, only one of them would be able to serve at the same time.

Similarly, councilmen Gregg Hart and Randy Rowse would not be able to simultaneously serve because they both live in District 2, which includes the Mesa, Alta Mesa and Bel Air neighborhoods.  

Santa Barbara is about to experience a seismic political shift when it converts this November to district elections, a dramatic change from business as usual.

Rather than voters from throughout the city electing each council member, voters will only be able to choose candidates in their respective districts. The mayor still will be elected through a citywide, at-large vote.

While each district has a similar number of residents by design, the number of registered voters in each district varies widely, according to the city's adopted map.

Registered voters range from 10,328 voters in District 4 to 4,350 in District 3, which includes the Westside and Lower Westside neighborhoods. 

At the heart of the successful legal push for district elections is the goal of putting more Latino representatives into office.

In a city that is nearly 40 percent Latino, four Latino candidates ran for office within the last 10 years and only one, Westside resident Cathy Murillo, a Mexican-American, was elected.

By law, two of the six new districts must have a majority of Hispanic voters, and those districts were drawn on the Eastside and Westside of Santa Barbara. Both of those districts will be up for election this November, along with a third district, expected to be the Mesa neighborhood so Rowse can run for re-election.

Santa Barbara's Eastside is guaranteed to hold a seat on the City Council under the district election format. One of the most densely-populated areas in the city, the Eastside neighborhood has experienced the least representation on the council.

Das Williams, who now serves in the state Assembly, is the only resident of the Eastside to win a seat on the City Council in the last decade. 

The new format attempts to place more Latino representatives in power and, in doing so, it will likely strip away some power from whites, who have dominated council races by every measure historically.

Voters in every district, including the traditionally-strong power bases of the Riviera and Mesa, will only be able to vote for one candidate every four years with the new election system.

District elections, however, might help some candidates who are popular in their neighborhoods, but not citywide.

Former Councilwoman Michael Self, for example, may have won re-election in her Oak Park neighborhood where she was popular, but lacked enough citywide appeal to win a second term.

Although San Roque has high voter turnout, it does not see a lot of people stepping up to run for office in that area. Only four people have ran for office from those neighborhoods in the last 10 years, with only one winner.

The Oak Park area has seen a greater turnout, with six people running for office, and two winning election. Santa Barbara’s Riviera has enjoyed far more proportional success at electing candidates than the Eastside or any other area of town.

Here's a breakdown of the candidates and where they lived, going back to 2005:

Riviera/Upper Eastside

» Dale Francisco (won in 2007, 2011, lost mayor's race in 2009)

» Frank Hotchkiss (won in 2009, 2013)

» Grant House (won in 2005, 2009)

» Roger Horton (won in 2005)

» Harwood "Bendy" White (won in 2009, 2013)

» Dianne Channing

» Steve Cushman

» ​Loretta Redd

» Terry Tyler

Mesa

» Marty Blum (won second mayoral term in 2005)

» Iya Falcone (won in 2005, lost in 2011)

» Randy Rowse (appointed for a year and won in 2011)

» Mike Jordan

» Jason Nelson

» Wayne Scoles

» ​Lesley Wiscomb

» Lane Anderson

» Cathie McCammon

» ​Michelle Giddens

» Carlos Quintero 

Westside

» Helene Schneider (won in 2003, 2007, won mayoral terms in 2009, 2013)

» Cathy Murillo (won in 2011)

» David Pritchett

» David Landecker

» Sharon Byrne

» Lanny Ebenstein* (temporarily moved into Santa Barbara from county to run for mayor)

Eastside

» Das Williams (won in 2003, 2007)

» Megan Diaz Alley

» Justin Tevis

» Sebastian Aldana

» Cruzito Herrera Cruz

» Jerry Matteo

» ​Bob Hansen

Oak Park

» Brian Barnwell (won in 2003, lost in 2007)

» Michael Self (won in 2007, lost in 2011)

» Deborah Schwartz

» Dan Litten

» ​Bill Hackett

» Bonnie Raisin

San Roque

» Gregg Hart (won in 2013) *has since moved to the Alta Mesa area

» Isaac Garret

» John Thyne

» ​John Gibbs

Three other unsuccessful candidates did not list their residential addresses in public election records and requested that the Santa Barbara City Clerk's Office not release their information. Those candidates are Matthew Hunter Kramer, Ken Heimbaugh and Michael Cooper.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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