Monday, August 20 , 2018, 12:52 am | Partly Cloudy 68º


Local News

Wary of Lawsuit, Goleta Staff Recommends City Move to District-Based Council Elections

City Council to consider approving a resolution signaling intent to start transition before California Voting Rights Act threat emerges

Goleta may become the third local city to make the switch to district-based city council elections.

The City Attorney’s Office is recommending that Goleta make the transition, mostly because of the cost of fighting a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit in court.

No such lawsuit alleging racially polarized voting in the city has been filed, according to the city staff report. But in a Feb. 6 letter to the city, Lindsey Rojas and Hector Mendez alleged that Goleta’s at-large system violates the CVRA and that “polarized voting” may be occurring.

The city held a public hearing to get input on the notion of switching, after which Rojas told Noozhawk that the Old Town Goleta neighborhood needs more representation in local government.

“For me it goes above and beyond the ethnic and racial disparity — it’s the representation of having someone you know, someone who knows the area well and who can support the residents and neighbors,” she said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, City Council members will decide whether to pass a resolution announcing the city’s intent to make the transition to district elections, and its planned timeline.

“Staff makes this recommendation not because the city’s legal position is weak, but due to the extraordinary cost to successfully defend against a CVRA lawsuit and that, on balance, the public interest would best be served by transitioning to a district-based electoral system,” the staff report said.

Alternatively, the City Council can direct staff to defend against any CVRA lawsuits that are filed, or place the issue on a ballot. The city would still be vulnerable to a CVRA lawsuit in that case, however.

Under district representation, Goleta would be split into four districts, since voters decided in November that they want to directly elect a mayor starting in 2018, instead of continuing the current system of the position rotating among the five council members.

Candidates would have to live within the district they’re running to represent, and voters could only cast their ballot for candidates within the district where they live.

The city’s staff report also said district-based elections could encourage more people to run for office and make it less expensive to run campaigns.

Santa Barbara began switching to district-based elections with its last City Council race, and Santa Maria recently announced plans to follow suit, in response to a letter threatening a CVRA lawsuit. That letter was sent by Santa Barbara attorney Jason Dominguez, who is a councilman elected in 2015, the first year that Santa Barbara implemented district voting.

Santa Barbara moved to districts after a CVRA lawsuit court settlement. The plaintiffs had accused the city of having racially polarized voting and diluting Latino votes with its at-large system. The settlement didn’t address that question, but did mandate two of the six districts be drawn to have a majority population of Latino eligible voters, which means citizens over the age of 18.

Santa Barbara is also the only city in Santa Barbara County to hold odd-year council elections. For the future, only half of its council district elections will be synced up with the citywide mayoral election, since that position is a four-year term.

If Goleta moved to districts with its new two-year mayor system, every city council election would also be an at-large mayoral election.

Goleta’s last City Council race, in November, was the first contested election since 2010. The city had 17,808 registered voters at the time, city spokeswoman Valerie Kushnerov said.

County election results show that 22,347 votes were cast in the November council race won by Stuart Kasdin and Kyle Richards (voters could choose up to two candidates). 

The City Council’s Tuesday evening session meeting starts at 6 p.m. at council chambers, at 130 Cremona Drive, Suite B.

Noozhawk managing 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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