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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 8:55 am | Overcast 49º


Santa Barbara Council Makes Little Headway During Discussion on Even-Year Elections

Santa Barbara City Council members could not agree Tuesday on whether to put a move to even-year elections on November's ballot, with some saying the change was a partisan move that would favor Democratic candidates and others saying turnout would be increased.

The council could not reach a decision, and it's unclear whether the item will be considered again anytime in the future.

Proponents of the move say that including city races on presidential ballots would increase turnout, while opponents say local issues would be drowned out by a crowded ballot of state and national items.  

The issue was further complicated because several options discussed Tuesday most likely would need the consent of plaintiffs who recently won a California Voting Rights Act settlement with the city regarding district elections. Starting in November, Santa Barbara's voters will elect City Council members from within the district they live based on a six-district map of the city, not at-large. 

That consent seemed unlikely to City Attorney Ariel Calonne, who outlined the options to either extend council terms by a year or shorten them by a year to move elections from odd years to even years. To shorten terms, Calonne cautioned, the plaintiffs would have to give their consent.

There was also council discussion about synchronizing the mayoral election with the 2016 presidential election instead of the planned 2017 election. 

The earliest an even-year election could be held would be 2020 and to get there any faster, "You'd need the plaintiff's consent," Calonne told the City Council. 

Muddying the waters was an email sent to Calonne from attorney Barry Cappello's office, stating that Cappello isn't representing the plaintiffs on the even-year elections issue, leaving council members to wonder aloud whether they should risk litigation by even considering the change. Cappello represented the group of Santa Barbara voters who sued the city over district elections. 

Most of the public speakers at Tuesday's meeting supported the second option put forward by Calonne, which would have voters elect the mayor in 2016, as well as candidates for districts 4, 5 and 6.

In November 2015, Districts 1, 2, and 3 will be up for election. Districts 1 and 3 have a majority population of Latino eligible voters and are located on the Eastside and Westside neighborhoods of Santa Barbara.

Four people have already filed papers with the City Clerk's Office to pursue a seat: Sebastian Aldana, Jacqueline Inda and Andria Martinez Cohen are pursuing the Eastside seat and current Councilmember Cathy Murillo is running for re-election in the Westside district.

Both Aldana and Inda were plaintiffs in the district elections lawsuit against the city. 

Public speakers from the League of Women Voters, Santa Barbara County Democratic Party and Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy all supported the move toward even-year elections.

Aldana, a resident of the Eastside neighborhood, said he did not support the move to even years.

"If elections are moved to even years, no one will talk about local issues," he said, adding that neighborhood candidates supporting local issues won't even be heard.

"Even-year elections were voted on and denied by voters eight years ago. Give the new system a chance to work as agreed," he said. 

The City Council was divided on the issue.

Councilman Dale Francisco said that odd-year elections are superior "because it allows people to focus on the issues that affect Santa Barbara."

He said the move to even-year elections has been a goal of the Democratic Party for years because of larger student turnout in presidential years, adding that "students in their youth are largely Democratic."

Councilman Gregg Hart responded to Francisco, saying voters are presented with a myriad of issues each election.

"The idea that they can't retain the information … is preposterous," he said. "There is no credible public policy argument to be made for not having election cycles in an even year."

He said city voters should be given the option to decide whether to switch to even-year elections. 

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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