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Santa Barbara City Council Ballots Being Mailed to Voters Next Week

This will be first election since format switched to six council districts as the result of a Voting Rights Act lawsuit settlement to increase Latino representation

Campaign signs for Santa Barbara City Council candidates Sharon Byrne and Cathy Murillo are scattered throughout the Westside neighborhood, in District 1.
Campaign signs for Santa Barbara City Council candidates Sharon Byrne and Cathy Murillo are scattered throughout the Westside neighborhood, in District 1.  (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

For the first time since the late 1960s, Santa Barbara voters will soon elect their City Council members by district, rather than citywide.

It’s a dramatic change that will result in guaranteed council members living on the Eastside and Westside, where voter turnout typically has been lower and representation followed accordingly.

It also means that it’s likely to see more Latino residents on the seven-member City Council, which was one of the factors driving the Voting Rights Act lawsuit that forced the city to quickly move to district elections.

The mayor will still be elected at large.

When voters submit their ballots, they will only be able to vote for candidates who live within their district.

Three districts are up for grabs every two years, with the citywide mayor's position on the ballot every four years. 

District elections have paved the way for potentially an infusion of new blood to the council.

Historically, candidates emerged from the city’s boards and commissions, including the Planning Commission, or as a result of neighborhood activism.

A yard sign on the Westside in Santa Barbara touts the candidacy of Cristina Cardoso. Click to view larger
A yard sign on the Westside in Santa Barbara touts the candidacy of Cristina Cardoso. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo )

Now, anyone who wants to represent the district can run for office, and potentially win a seat with fewer than 1,000 votes.

The new format also raises questions about whether the city will get the same level of representation as in the past.

Will candidates elected from a particular district care about what happens outside of it? Will council members trade political favors so that their pet projects win support? 

Could district elections strengthen civic participation, or water it down and weaken it?

All of that remains to be seen.

In District 1, five candidates are battling for a seat for the Eastside neighborhood. It will be the first time since 2003 that the Eastside has a representative.

The last council member from the Eastside was Das Williams, now a state assemblyman, who shared an address with his father at the time. Perhaps the Eastside’s most popular representative was the late Babatunde Folayemi, who lived on the lower Riviera.

The Eastside is made up predominantly of Hispanic voters. A representative from that area could dramatically shift the tone and culture on the council.

The Eastside and Milpas Street has always thrived as a business area, somewhat of a State Street for Eastside residents. In recent years, however, fueled by the advocacy of the Milpas Community Association, Milpas Street has become Ground Zero for debates about homelessness, business prosperity and gentrification.

Many of the longtime business owners and residents fear that Milpas could lose its mom-and-pop shop feel in favor of new businesses. The MCA last year pushed the idea of a business improvement district to fund the area, but the concept was met with resistance from some business owners and activists.

These types of issues may have gone unnoticed in years, but the MCA, led by activist Sharon Byrne, who is running for council in another district across town, have pushed the issues to the forefront, giving candidates a platform for debate and discussion.

Residents, meanwhile, have long called for solutions to the lack of street lighting, and improvements to traffic and public safety in the neighborhoods. Residents also have strong feelings about affordable and high-density housing projects.

The hope is that a new Eastside council member will give attention and voice to residents and business owners in the area. Candidates include: Cruzito Herrera Cruz, Jacqueline Inda, Andria Martinez Cohen, Michael Merenda and Jason Dominguez.

On the other side of town is District 3, which covers the Westside and parts of downtown.

Ironically, the council already has a Latina on the council from the Westside, Cathy Murillo, who was elected four years ago.

Although the purpose of district elections was to increase Latino representation on the council, this election could result in the ousting of a Latina.

Murillo faces Byrne, the executive director of the MCA. Byrne ran and lost a race for council in 2011, but is hoping to gain traction on the Westside where she lives.

The Westside has faced fewer representation issues than the Eastside historically.

In addition to Murillo, Mayor Helene Schneider lives on the Westside. Schneider was twice-elected to the City Council before twice getting elected to the mayor’s post.

Westside resident Cristina Cardoso is also on the ballot.

On the Westside, some of the issues are public safety, graffiti, neighborhood traffic, bicycle safety and bus routes. The battle between Byrne and Murillo, however, has consumed the District 3 contest.

The two candidates do not like each other, largely over Murillo’s opposition to the MCA’s business improvement district.

Byrne has accused Murillo’s supporters of engaging in “thug-like” tactics, including a disputed allegation that a Murillo supporter assaulted a Byrne supporter over an alleged sign theft. The Police Department investigated and made no arrests.

As the incumbent, Murillo is less publicly critical of Byrne.

District 2 features Councilman Randy Rowse seeking re-election. If anyone could fit the description of “a Santa Barbara guy,” it would be Rowse, who is a moderate, with strong business ties with both liberals and conservatives.

The owner of The Paradise Café, Rowse brings a business-minded sensibility. He will be tough to catch.

Rowse is seeking a second-term in office after finishing out the term of Williams, who was elected to the state Assembly.

Also on the ballot are Missy McSweeney-Zeitsoff, Luis Esparza and Robert Burke.

The issues on the Mesa are similar to on the Eastside and Westside. Residents are concerned about traffic, bicycle and pedestrian safety and housing.

Many council members have represented the Westside in years’ past. Former Mayor Marty Blum, like Schneider, was twice elected to the council and mayor’s seat. Iya Falcone also lived on the Mesa, as did Dr. Dan Secord.


» Ballots for Districts 1, 2 and 3 will be mailed on Monday, Oct. 5.

» Oct. 19  is the deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 3 election.

» Nov. 3 is Election Day. Ballots must be postmarked by that date.

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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