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Santa Barbara City Council Will Appoint Replacement for Cathy Murillo’s Westside District Seat

Council votes to appoint someone, not hold a special election, to serve the remaining two years of Mayor-Elect Murillo's council term

Jacqueline Inda speaks to the City Council on Tuesday in favor of a special election to fill the vacant seat. Councilwoman Cathy Murillo was elected as mayor with two years left on her term and the council decided to appoint a replacement in January. Click to view larger
Jacqueline Inda speaks to the City Council on Tuesday in favor of a special election to fill the vacant seat. Councilwoman Cathy Murillo was elected as mayor with two years left on her term and the council decided to appoint a replacement in January.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara City Council will appoint a Westside District 3 resident to fill Cathy Murillo’s seat, which she will vacate when she takes her oath of office as mayor in January.

The council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to appoint the next councilperson, rather than hold a special election.

Murillo cast the opposing vote. She was elected mayor Nov. 7 and will be sworn in Jan. 9 along with two new council members.

“I think the people in the district should pick their leader,” said Murillo, who was elected as mayor with two years left in her council term.

City Administrator Paul Casey said that a special election would cost $300,000.

Some people at Tuesday’s meeting spoke in favor of a special election to fill the vacancy.

“An appointment would be the council’s voice,” Santa Barbara resident Pete Dal Bello said. “It is not the voice of Westside. Let’s give the people of the Westside a voice.”

With the change to district elections for council seats, the replacement member must be a District 3 resident. 

“We know the majority-minority district needs to have a voice,” said resident Jacqueline Inda, who advocated for a special election. “There’s another option, which is to go into litigation.”

Inda, who was involved in the court case that led to the adoption of district elections, is working with retired judge Frank Ochoa and the city to reach a compromise that avoids litigation.

City Attorney Ariel Calonne said he “not concerned about litigation” and he believed that the city, Ochoa and Inda could reach an agreement to allow an appointment process and prevent litigation regarding the vacancy.

The settlement would likely put several “clean-up measures” on a future ballot that would answer some of the questions not addressed in the District Elections settlement in 2015.

“The settlement language doesn’t say a word to address the special election appointment process,” Calonne said.

Calonne also shot down the option of appointing Westside resident Sharon Byrne to the council as the runner-up in the 2015 District 3 election.

Calonne said that election was two years ago, and district election law states that council members must live in their district. 

“In the November 2017 General Election, there were no other council member candidates residing in District 3, so there is no candidate qualified to serve in that district,” according to a city staff report.

The District 3 seat obviously wasn't on the Nov. 7 ballot, since Murillo is two years into a four-year term. 

With the choice made to move forward with an appointment process, the city opened the application process and candidates who live in District 3 can apply through Jan. 16. 

Council members will conduct interviews on Jan. 23 and appoint a new member on Jan. 30. 

Councilman Randy Rowse was appointed to his seat in 2009, after Das Williams resigned his council seat when he was elected to the California State Assembly.

Rowse has since been elected twice to the City Council, most recently in 2015, and the city has transitioned to district elections. 

Rowse said an appointment process would actually widen the field of candidates because more people could participate without have to raise tens-of-thousands of dollars to win a council seat.

“The money raised last time was crazy,” Rowse said. “You would have a broader spectrum of people who could participate.”

In January, Murillo will be sworn in as mayor and new council members Eric Friedman and Kristen Sneddon will join the council. 

Councilman Gregg Hart won re-election and will return for another term. 

Mayor Helene Schneider will leave the council, as will councilmen Frank Hotchkiss and Bendy White, who both unsuccessfully ran for mayor. 

Scroll down or click here for the application to be appointed to the Santa Barbara City Council.

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.

Santa Barbara City Council Vacancy Appointment Application 

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