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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 9:21 am | Fair 54º


Santa Barbara City Council Inches Toward Even-Year Elections

Proposal aimed at boosting turnout could be placed on the November ballot for voters to decide

Woman addressing the Santa Barbara City Council. Click to view larger
District elections supporter Jacqueline Inda urges the Santa Barbara City Council to move toward even-year elections. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday inched closer to placing a measure on the November ballot to move to even-year elections.

Santa Barbara historically has held odd-year elections for council and mayor, under the assumption that the local races wouldn’t have to compete with state or national contests, and voters could fully focus on local campaigns.

But retired judge Frank Ochoa and his contingent of district election supporters want the city to move to even-year elections to boost voter turnout.

In the case of a City Council vacancy, Ochoa also wants the council to hold an election during the closest June or November primary, and appoint someone to serve in the interim.

That person appointed, however, wouldn’t be able to use the term “incumbent” if her or she chose to run for the seat.

“It raises an interesting First Amendment question,” said City Attorney Ariel Calonne.

The council is also trying to decide whether to put changes to the district elections ordinance in one measure or two for the November ballot.

“I think putting this together as one makes sense,” Ochoa said.

Calonne plans to work on ballot language for separate ballot measures, or just one with everything together, and bring it back to the council for a vote.

"It's very confusing for voters out there to have two competing ballot measures.

The ballot measures are so-called “clean-up” language to the city’s 2015 District Elections settlement, which divided the city into six districts to increase minority representation on the City Council.

Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015 signed a bill requiring cities that hold off-year-elections to move to even-year, if odd-year elections have significantly lower voter turnout, as is the case in Santa Barbara.

However, voters must still approve the change.

The appointment vs. election issue is likely to come up soon. Councilman Gregg Hart is running uncontested for a spot on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. If elected he would be sworn in next January, opening a spot on the council.

Under the current proposal, Hart’s seat would be filled during the next regular election in November of 2019, although the council would make an appointment likely next February.

The City Council is holding a special election on June 5 to fill the District 3 Westside council seat, which was left open when Cathy Murillo was elected mayor. 

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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