Tuesday, August 14 , 2018, 9:22 pm | Fair 72º


Local News

Santa Barbara Council Yanks Jason Dominguez from SBCAG Board; Installs Cathy Murillo

Randy Rowse flipped his vote after initially backing Dominguez, saying 'it has to be the mayor'

Santa Barbara City Council members, from left, Eric Friedman, Jason Dominguez and Randy Rowse and Mayor Cathy Murillo. On a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, the council rescinded its appointment of Dominguez to the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments board and named Murillo to the panel instead. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara City Council members, from left, Eric Friedman, Jason Dominguez and Randy Rowse and Mayor Cathy Murillo. On a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, the council rescinded its appointment of Dominguez to the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments board and named Murillo to the panel instead. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

A month ago, the Santa Barbara City Council appointed Councilman Jason Dominguez to serve on an influential countywide transportation board.

On Tuesday night, inside the City Council’s chilly, air-conditioned meeting room, that same council voted to remove him.

Councilman Randy Rowse changed his vote, and instead backed Mayor Cathy Murillo for the coveted spot on the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.

What did Dominguez do to deserve getting abruptly plucked out of the spot that he won fair-and-square at the Jan. 9 meeting? Nothing.

Instead, he fell victim to tradition and a calculated second effort by his political enemies to instead hand the baton to Murillo.

If politics is a game of chess, not checkers, Tuesday night’s council meeting looked more like a game of Jenga, with council members piling on arguments from all different angles, for and against Dominguez, before it all came crashing down.

Councilman Eric Friedman led the charge to unseat Dominguez, saying the representative to SBCAG should be Murillo because the mayor is the only person in the city elected citywide.

“The office of mayor is the only one that is directly accountable to all citizens of Santa Barbara,” Friedman said.

He said that Dominguez should not serve on the panel because his district, Santa Barbara’s Eastside, only makes up about 12 percent of the city’s voters, so 88 percent of the voters would have no direct representation if Dominguez sat on SBCAG. 

SBCAG is made up of the five members of county Board of Supervisors and a representative from each city in the county.

There is no law or code that say the city’s representative should be the mayor. Friedman said because of district elections, the city’s representative should be someone elected by everybody.

Friedman, a longtime staffer for former Santa Barbara County First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, was elected on a Santa Barbara County Democratic Party slate in November alongside Murillo.

Dominguez supporters among the public commenters blistered him for his remarks suggesting that only the mayor was capable of representing the entire city.

“Is what you are saying that because we didn’t elect you, you’re not going to represent us? That’s scary,” Natasha Todorovic told Friedman, the District 6 representative.

Bonnie Donovan, stormed into the council chamber late,  saying, “I drove as fast as I could after I heard you say that,” to Friedman. “You are representing the city when you sit up there. So you don’t represent me?”

Jose Arturo Gallegos, a frequent attendee of council meetings, said reconsidering the vote “is a waste of time.”

“The decision has been made and it should stay that way,” Gallegos said. “It was a democratic process.”

Natalia Govoni agreed that it was bad form for the council members on the losing side of the vote to push for a new vote.

“Much to her dismay, she lost,” Govoni said. “The decision to appoint has been made. The mayor lost.”

Tuesday night was the latest example of some of the drama surrounding Murillo and raised the question again of whether she can be a unifying presence on the council. Just a month into office, some members of the public and council members have already questioned her ability to manage meetings, and whether she was visibly busy enough in response to the recent Montecito debris flow.

The vote was 3-2 to plug Murillo into the seat and remove Dominguez.

Murillo, who voted for herself, along with Rowse and Friedman, voted to pull Dominguez from the spot.

Council members Dominguez and Kristen Sneddon voted to keep things the same as the Jan. 9 vote. Councilman Gregg Hart recused himself from the meeting because he works for SBCAG.

Sneddon and Dominguez were openly flabbergasted by Friedman’s argument.

Dominguez used Friedman’s own logic against him, pointing out that Murillo only received 28 percent of the people’s vote in November, which means that 72 percent of voters, a plurality, wanted someone else. That doesn’t mean, however, that voters get to vote again for a new mayor, Dominguez said.

Dominguez added that when he was elected in his Eastside district in 2015, he received 51 percent of the vote in a field of 5 people.

Dominguez also challenged Friedman on the idea of tradition. Dominguez researched the history of SBCAG city representatives, and noted that Hart and former councilmen Dr. Dan Secord and Gil Garcia all served as representatives to SBCAG, and none of those individuals was mayor.

“This notion that it is a mayoral thing, that’s not true,” Dominguez said. “That’s fake news.”

He also challenged assistant city attorney Sarah Knecht, filling in for city attorney Ariel Calonne.

Dominguez said that state law prevents the council from reconsidering a vote within 90 days, and this vote took place a little less than a month after the first one.

Knecht fumbled through her explanation, saying that it was not technically a reconsideration, but a new vote, and she said that Calonne had signed off on the staff report before the meeting.

When Dominguez asked Knecht for an example of what a vote reconsideration would look like, if this wasn’t it, Knecht couldn’t give one.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to think this through,” she said.

Murillo said she appreciated Dominguez’s eagerness, but that “my goal is to foster positive relationships.

“It is the job of the mayor to have positive relationships with everyone in the county,” Murillo said.

SBCAG makes critical decisions about transportation spending throughout the county.

After the meeting, Rowse told Noozhawk that he flipped his vote because he wanted to end some of the dysfunction on the council since Murillo took over.

He said that Murillo’s opponents called him nonstop leading up to the vote urging him not to change his mind. It may have backfired.

Rowse said he did not support Murillo for mayor, but that he accepts that she won, and that the mayor should be the representative on the SBCAG board.

He initially voted for Dominguez on Jan. 9, he said, because he thought he was taking some work off of Murillo’s plate. He said he didn’t want to be part of any effort to hurt the mayor simply because he disagreed with her politically.

“When it comes down to representation, it has to be the mayor,” Rowse said. “I’m gonna own the turnaround tonight. There needs to be some leadership and accountability. I don’t want to relitigate this election. This is slash-and-burn politics.”

Sneddon said the entire evening was painful to sit through.

“I feel like pulling a member off has to have a reason,” Sneddon said, adding that she disagrees with Murillo on housing issues.

Dominguez told Noozhawk after the meeting that he was stunned by the decision.

“I'm shocked and disappointed in this violation of the code of conduct and the rules of the city of Santa Barbara,” Dominguez said.

“If the precedent of reconsideration of votes after a few days continues to stand, we will see a virtual stall of city business. Now, after every close vote, we will have a parade of special interests reintroducing their pet projects and asking for reconsideration.”

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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