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Saturday, December 15 , 2018, 6:01 am | Fair 41º


Santa Barbara City Officials Wrestle With How to Fill Gregg Hart’s Pending Vacant Council Seat

A battle is brewing over whether to fill Councilman Gregg Hart’s pending vacancy via appointment or special election.

Judge Frank Ochoa and members of the District Elections Committee want a special election so that the voters of Hart’s District 6 choose the next representative.

Ochoa wants the council to appoint a person in the interim to serve as a “caretaker,” but that person should not be allowed to run for the seat.

“You are creating a new landscape,” Ochoa said at Tuesday’s Ordinance Committee meeting. “You are creating a future landscape. The old vacancy process really needs to be done away with. The power of creating incumbency should rest with voters in that district.”

Hart is running unopposed for Santa Barbara County supervisor. Barring something extraordinary, Hart will take his seat on the board in January.

Ochoa and his cohorts were successful at persuading the City Council to hold a special election to fill the vacant District 3 City Council seat, but Mayor Cathy Murillo and Randy Rowse seemed to tire of Ochoa’s request on Tuesday, choosing to go in a different direction.

Murillo said she would like to “respectfully end discussion with the committee.”

“We are elected to make difficult decisions up here,” Murillo said. “I think we need to move it forward.”

The council bowed to Ochoa’s pressure for a special election in Westside District 3, but said that in doing so “we lost all the women.”

Ken Rivas, Oscar Gutierrez and Michael Vidal are running for Santa Barbara City Council in the open district.

Elizabeth Hunter, a City College student, is also on the ballot, but Murillo said “I don’t see her as a viable candidate” because she so far has not been running a noticeable campaign.

Murillo also noted that when the council appointed Rowse in 2010 that there were 45 diverse candidates, and that the council made a good decision among a wide pool.

“When we are looking at diversity of candidates, the special appointment process lends itself to that,” Murillo said.

Murillo and Rowse also said that it would be unfair to appoint someone to the position and then tell that person that he or she couldn’t run for election.

“I don’t want to artificially disqualify someone,” Rowse said.

Santa Barbara also plans to put on this November’s ballot a measure to move to even-year elections.

In addition to talking about whether to make an appointment or hold a special election, Murillo, Rowse and Kristen Sneddon discussed the nitty gritty details of the proposal.

The current plan calls for those elected in Districts 1, 2 and 3 in 2019 to serve 5-year terms, with even-year-elections for them beginning in 2024.

For those elected in Districts 4, 5 and 6 in 2021, they would serve 5-year terms, with even-year-elections for them beginning in 2026.

The mayor would also follow in that cycle, running for re-election in 2021 serving a 5-year term to 2026.

If the voters reject even-year elections, the City Council does not have the power to vote them in itself; the only way to create them from that point would be through a lawsuit.

Santa Barbara has traditionally held its elections during odd years, with the idea that local contests would not get lost down ballot during statewide or presidential elections. But advocates say that voter turnout is far lower during odd years, which suppresses minority votes.

The full Santa Barbara City Council must still tackle the issue.

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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