WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa panel leaning against district elections for city


Voters shouldn’t be given the chance to decide whether members of the City Council should be elected from districts instead of the city as a whole.

That is the preliminary conclusion of the city’s Charter Review Committee, which took its first straw poll Thursday on the most controversial issue before it: district elections.

Like two previous such committees, the 21-member body appointed by the existing city council is taking a dim view of the notion that carving up the city into districts will create greater diversity and accountability in local politics.

Of the 16 members of the committee in attendance Thursday, 10 said they favored keeping the status quo, while six expressed support for districts.

“I don’t think our system is broken or dysfunctional to the point where that change would help matters,” said Doug Bosco, a lawyer and former Congressman.

Bosco said he was not swayed by claims that districts would decrease the cost of elections, better represent minority groups and ensure more equitable distribution of city services.

Political consultant Terry Price countered there was plenty of evidence district elections would do most of those things, and voters should get the chance to consider it.

“This is a democratic process” Price said. “Let’s let the voters decide if they see that district elections would better represent them in the governance of their city.”

Price said it was significant to note that nearly everyone who voted against district elections was appointed by a member of the current council majority, while all who voted in favor of them were appointed by the minority.

The only exception was Bill Carle, who was appointed by Gary Wysocky but voted against district elections.

Price said the vote shows the council majority wants to preserve the city’s political status quo.

Price is working for Julie Combs, a neighborhood activist who is running for City Council and has made district elections a platform in her campaign.

The committee wanted to take a straw poll on the issue before the public forum being held March 10. The goal was to give the public a sense of how the committee was leaning so residents could share their views.

Three other significant issues before the committee include binding arbitration of police and fire; direct election of the mayor, instead of a councilman being selected by a council majority; and the role of the Community Advisory Board.

But district elections has by far been the most divisive issue for the committee, with members having differing interpretations of even the most basic information.

For example, a map was created showing where the 20 City Council members between 2000 and 2010 have lived. The map shows 11 have lived in the city’s northeast, five in the southeast, four from the northwest, and none from the city’s southwest.

Bosco said the map showed “there’s been a pretty good spread of people all around the city.” Price, meanwhile, said it showed “exactly the opposite,” with a paucity of representation from the city’s west side.

Price also argued that district elections will lower the cost of campaigns by limiting the number of voters a candidate needs to try to reach, such as with political mailers, often the single highest cost of any campaign.

But rival campaign consultant Herb Williams, who ran the campaigns of all four members of the current council majority, called that a “specious argument.”

Special interests will still “dump whatever amount of money they want” into the individual district races, and the overall costs of elections will soar, he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.

9 Responses to “Santa Rosa panel leaning against district elections for city”

  1. Money Grubber says:

    Joseph Donagan has a warped understanding of the history of America.

    The biggest fear of our government founders was that of an out of control, oppressive, militaristic government that routinely and without guilt interfered with the lives of the people.

    They also condoned the MOB rule as a just solution to an out of control government.

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  2. Money Grubber says:

    I’ll never again vote to elect a former police officer. Never.

    As a public employee, they are part of the overall corruption and incompetence of government.

    It is impossible for them to understand that the public lives a more enjoyable life without all the garbage rules, regs, policies, and laws that they bury us under.

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  3. Bob Wheaton says:

    No wonder Mayor Ernesto Olivarez and Council members John Sawyer didn’t want to have any diversity on the Charter Review Panel. They appointed all their friends and business supporters and when this paper and other community leaders complained about the lack of geographic, age and ethnic diversity, they rammed it through anyway. This way they can keep supporting the big developers and swindlers who have put them in office and keep out everybody else. Olivarez should be ashamed, he doesn’t want to even let us vote on district elections. I will keep his and Sawyer’s reprehensible and anti-democratic actions in mind when I vote for Supervisor and City Council in the next election.

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  4. homegirl says:

    But rival campaign consultant Herb Williams, who ran the campaigns of all four members of the current council majority, called that a “specious argument.”

    Obviously Mr. Wiliams has a deep personal interest in maintaining the status quo.

    District elections would result in a major reduction in the cost of running for a seat on the city council, thus opening the opportunity to real people, not just the puppets of the revenous developers.

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  5. Reality Check says:

    District elections make sense for people who believe government is first and foremost about delivering benefits, and who want to make sure they get their full share (and maybe a little more than that). Let’s divide everything into smaller and smaller special interest groups, promising each a few more goodies.

    Once upon a time, local government was mostly about safe streets and a well-maintained infrastructure. The interests of one side of town weren’t much different from the other.

    While I don’t have the figures, I’d bet that more money is spent per person on the west side than the east, yet a council majority is from the east side. Oh no!

    “The whole purpose of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed . . . by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins . . .” – H. L. Mencken

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  6. Joseph Donegan says:

    The biggest thing our founding father feared was MOB rule, that is why we have an indirect democracy. Now if we could just get people to vote.

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  7. Elizabeth says:

    Santa Rosa has long been run by people from the east side. It is not just the city counsel or the school board; it is also appointees to all of the boards and commissions that help run the city. Remember how we found out that this Charter Review Commission did not represent the city. Is it any surprise that this same group does not want district elections which would better represent the disenfranchised people of the west and southwest? It is now clear that they plan to keep control of the city. Latinos and others from the west side will not be represented in this city until they finally get district elections.

    Personally, I don’t see why you like to quote Doug Bosco so much. He is not a spokesman; he is a crook who wants to maintain his influence with development interests and city government.

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  8. Judy says:

    The claim that District Elections will make for the neighborhood politics of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” makes no sense when our present majority on council got their backs scratched big time with hundreds of thousands of dollars by Fire, Police and Chamber of Commerce PACs, and that majority is now scratching those backs (with hundreds of thousands of dollars in wage increases, retirement benefits and job finders fees) in return.

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  9. Money Grubber says:

    Keep this in mind:

    It is much harder for the government to control you when you have district elections rather than region wide elections.

    As it currently is, the poor neighborhoods do not have their own representatives. The East side power brokers have more control over the less influential West side. The property speculators have a grip on the planning process.

    Government in Sonoma County is controlled by behind the scenes power brokers and not by the will of the people at large.

    You can change that. DEMAND elections by district.

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