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Mystery Surrounds Open Westside Seat on Santa Barbara City Council

Just eight days before the deadline, no one has applied for the open District 3 Westside seat on the Santa Barbara City Council.

Sources at City Hall said that potential applicants are waiting until the final day to apply because “no one wants to go first.”

Cathy Murillo was elected mayor with two years left in her City Council term, and the council voted in December to appoint her successor for the remaining two years.

Right now, plans call for the city to accept applications through Jan. 16, conduct interviews on Jan. 23, and appoint a new member on Jan. 30.

But what would otherwise be a routine appointment process has turned into a political battle over what’s best for the district: an appointment or a special election.

Retired Judge Frank Ochoa and Eastside resident Jacqueline Inda are pressuring the city to hold a special election in June so that voters on the Westside can directly elect their representative.

Mayor-elect Murillo told Noozhawk on Monday that she is fine with an election or an appointment.

“I have faith that a good person will be in the Westside seat using either method,” Murillo said. “I do believe we are going to have good people apply.”

The issue is tangled over interpretation of the city charter and the fallout over the city’s move to district elections in 2015.

City Attorney Ariel Calonne has stated that the city’s charter requires the council to make an appointment within 30 days of the vacancy, which technically begins today.

Inda and Ochoa assert that the city charter doesn’t apply in this circumstance because it doesn’t specifically address district elections.

The district elections settlement, however, states that council members should be elected directly by representatives of their district.

The settlement is silent, however, on a process for replacing district representatives mid-term, leaving Calonne with the conclusion that an appointment is the legal path to take.

Murillo in December cast the sole vote in opposition to an appointment, saying she felt that the district’s residents should elect their representatives. Murillo also said it wasn’t an issue she was going to fight the city over.

“What gives me pause about an election is that our city charter says the appointment is the way to go,” Murillo said.

She added that she believes the district election committee is pushing for an election for the right reasons.

To get appointed, candidates must fill out an application, which includes an essay, and go through a public interview process.

“Eventually there would be an election,” Murillo said.

Inda and Ochoa and some Westside residents are expected to ask the new City Council at Tuesday’s meeting to reconsider the decision to appoint the new member and instead hold a special election.

The vote in December was 6-1, with Murillo in opposition.

Two new members will join the council, Kristen Sneddon and Eric Friedman.

Frank Hotchkiss and Harwood White are leaving the council because of term limits. 

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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