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Local News

Final Judgment Entered in Santa Barbara District Elections Case

A final judgment for the district elections lawsuit was entered in Santa Barbara Superior Court on Monday after the City of Santa Barbara settled with the plaintiffs and adopted a six-district map for future council elections.

Meeting on the day that was scheduled to be the first day of trial, Judge Donna Geck said she was pleased the matter could be solved by a settlement.

That agreement requires the city to start district elections this November, with three of the six council districts on the ballot. The mayor’s race will still be a citywide vote.

Attorney Barry Cappello, who represented the plaintiffs in this case, made a brief statement during the hearing. Referring to Councilman Dale Francisco’s recent comments, who was quoted in local media as saying this change is not democracy but a court order, Cappello said it’s the judicial branch’s job to make sure the other two branches of government follow the law.

Cappello and City Attorney Ariel Calonne both thanked Geck and her staff for their work in this case, which was filed last July.

Four of the plaintiffs signed the settlement agreement with the city, and Cappello moved to remove the fifth from the case for undisclosed reasons.

The core of the settlement is for the city to move to district elections immediately. The agreement also outlined the requirement for two of the six districts to have a majority population of Latino eligible voters, which means citizens over the age of 18.

Plaintiffs accused the city of having racially-polarized voting and diluting Latino votes by having an at-large election system, but the question is never answered in the settlement agreement.

The settlement “is not intended to be, and shall not be construed as an admission by any party of any violation of any statute or law or constitution, or any improper or wrong conduct. Defendant is entering into this settlement agreement to avoid the cost and expense of litigation,” it reads.

The plaintiffs pushed to lower the number of signatures required to get on the ballot, which was reduced to 50 from 100. Candidates have to live within the district they plan to represent on the council and have to collect signatures from 50 registered votes within that district or 100 from registered voters anywhere in the city, according to the settlement agreement.

The city paid the firm of Cappello & Noël $599,500 for attorney’s fees, including Cappello's rate of $950 per hour, and will be paying more for the firm’s time between the settlement and the final judgment being entered, which includes the mapping process.

Those costs don’t include the city’s own special counsel hired on to help with this litigation. The City Council approved a contract in January, for up to $400,000, with the firm of Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni.

Noozhawk news editor 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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