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Plaintiffs in Santa Barbara District Election Settlement Call Again for Special Election

Two plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to district elections in Santa Barbara want the City Council to reverse course and agree to hold a special election to fill the seat being vacated by Mayor-elect Cathy Murillo.

Attorney and retired judge Frank Ochoa sent a letter making that request to city leaders on behalf of Jacqueline Inda and Sebastian Aldana.

Ochoa is employed by the law firm of Sanger Swysen & Dunkle, but he noted in his letter that that he, not the firm, represents the Inda and Aldana.

The City Council on Dec. 5 voted to appoint a replacement for Murillo. The plan is for the council to hold interviews on Jan. 23 and then make an appointment on Jan. 30.

But Aldana and Inda, through Ochoa, want the new council to disregard that plan, and instead hold a special election on June 5 in conjunction with the statewide primary election.

The first meeting that will include the new council members is scheduled for Jan. 9.

“Plaintiffs are requesting that the action taken on Dec. 5 be abandoned, and that council enact an ordinance establishing a special election to fill said vacancy,” Ochoa wrote in a 12-page letter to the council.

Ochoa said that the 2015 district election settlement states that "City Council members are required to be residents of their respective electoral districts and to be nominated and elected by the residents of their respective electoral districts."

Ochoa said there is no provision in the terms of the final judgment that allows for, authorizes, or countenances any form of appointment process for any vacancy on council.

“Filling this important vacancy by council appointment rather than a special election is inconsistent with the terms of the judgment . . .” Ochoa wrote.

The letter also states that city staff gave the council inaccurate information about the cost of the election, asserting that the real cost would be $30,000 if it is combined with the June 5 statewide primary rather than $300,000 estimated by city officials for stand-alone balloting.

Not holding a special election, Ochoa wrote, could expose the city to the possibility of litigation. 

Kristen Sneddon and Eric Friedman will join the council on Jan. 9. At the same time, Murillo will take over as mayor, midway through her 4-year term.

Current mayor Helene Schneider must step down because of term limits.  

When the council decided to fill Murillo’s seat with an appointment, the vote was 6-1. Only Murillo suppported filling the seat via special election.

Schneider said it’s up to the future council if it chooses to re-open the issue.

“The current City Council voted to establish a process to fill the upcoming vacancy via an appointment process,” Schneider said. “Of course, if a majority of the new City Council wishes to change direction and call for a special election, they have every right to do so.”

Sneddon said a special election is the way to go. 

“I am in favor of the new council revisiting the issue, and have been supportive of a special election,” Sneddon told Noozhawk. “Cost and timing are questions still to be answered for council. District representatives get to know the issues that matter to their own districts through the election process, and voters are far more able to make choices that represent themselves.”

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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