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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 1:09 am | Fair 46º


Santa Barbara OKs District Election Ballot Measure for November Election

Santa Barbara voters will decide in November whether the city should move to even-year elections.

Voters will also choose whether to formally accept the court-ordered district elections settlement, reached by the city in 2015. 

The City Council approved the ballot measures at Tuesday's council meeting. 

The first ballot measure, A, will state: "Shall the City Charter be amended to require City general elections to be held in even-numbered years instead of odd-numbered years?"

The second ballot measure, B, will state: "Shall the City Charter be amended to reflect the City’s court-ordered switch to district elections, with six Council districts and the Mayor elected citywide, and including new special election requirements for Council and Mayoral vacancies?"

Even though the city has already held several district-based council elections, since Santa Barbara is a charter city, voters must still approve the change. Much of the council's debate was over whether the ballot measures should be separate measure or combined into one.  

If the district elections measure fails, it could expose the city to litigation from the activists who forced the city to move to district elections in 2015.

Councilman Gregg Hart opposed the separate ballot measures, raising concerns about one passing and one failing. 

"I think we are asking for trouble having two separate ballot measures," Hart said. 

Councilman Jason Dominguez abstained from the vote.

"I am feeling butterflies in my stomach," Dominguez said. "I am not sure we have ironed out all the wrinkles."

Dominguez suggested that city staff study a "ranked choice" system that allows voters to rank their council candidates. 

"We should spend several months and get the community involved," Dominguez said. "I would be more comfortable if we had time to iron out these wrinkles."

The charter amendment also outlines a process for a special election in the event of a vacancy; Under the proposed charter amendment, the council will hold a special election in the case of a vacancy, unless the vacancy occurs one year or less before the next special election. 

Retired judge Frank Ochoa, who has represented the District Elections Committee at City Hall, said he is pleased with where things ended up. He noted that District 3 voters just elected their council member (Oscar Gutierrez), proof that district elections is working. 

"It's a great outcome," Ochoa said. "The special election was a success. People in the district picked their representative. Now we are building on that. It's new day."

Ken Oplinger, president and CEO of the Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region, opposes even-year elections and urged the council to keep the ballot measures separate.

"The thing that is important to us is that we keep these separate," Oplinger said. "There is solid legal ground to maintain odd-year elections. In the city of Santa Barbara, we pride ourselves on having discussions on things that are local."

Advocates for even-year elections say that voter turnout will increase if city elections are held in even years. 

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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