WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa will ask voters to decide on district elections


Santa Rosa voters get to decide in November whether to fundamentally change the way their city council is chosen.

The council has unanimously approved a ballot measure asking voters whether they want to elect representatives from seven districts instead of the city as a whole.

The decision Tuesday came as no surprise, given that last week a majority of council members voiced conceptual support for the idea of a ballot measure, which was narrowly recommended by the 21-member Charter Review Committee.

But the vote was nevertheless hailed by district election advocates as a breakthrough 20 years in the making.

City Hall politics long have been dominated by councilmembers who live in the city’s older east side, in particular the more affluent northeast. All seven current council members live on the east side — five of them in the northeast.

“I see some change happening,” Councilwoman Susan Gorin said. “This is very exciting.”

Supporters of district elections contend that it will increase accountability and diversity in City Hall decision making, reduce the cost of elections and protect the city from lawsuits alleging “racially polarized” voting patterns.

Opponents contend that the current system works just fine and that dividing the city into seven districts will “Balkanize” city politics and erode civic unity. They worry that district elections would make council members beholden to neighborhoods at the expense of the best interests of the city as a whole.

The ballot language will merely ask voters if they want the charter to call for electing representatives from seven districts instead of the current system of seven council members from the city as a whole.

Council candidates would have to live in the district they represent, which raises a concern from some about finding enough qualified candidates to run for city council. The districts would be drawn after the election.

Some council members had previously asked whether a hybrid system could be established, such as have five members elected by districts and two from the city as a whole.

However, City Attorney Caroline Fowler said that creating seven districts was legally preferable to such a hybrid system. That’s because cities with hybrid election systems aren’t protected from lawsuits under the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, but those with pure district elections are, she said.

Roseland resident Duane DeWitt said district elections are a “totally American approach” to government that is long overdue in a city ruled by the political elite and business interests. Increasing the geographic diversity of representation is one way to help foster a more equitable government, he said.

“If you don’t see the folks on the other side of the street that often, you’re going to help the folks on your side of the street,” DeWitt said.

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

7 Responses to “Santa Rosa will ask voters to decide on district elections”

  1. ezr vinh says:

    With majority elections candidates cultivate the most affluent and educated neighborhoods. Those are the neighborhoods with the highest voter turnout. They do not cultivate relationships in poorer districts. Switching to district elections will make a counsel person responsible to a smaller group of constituents, a local group of constituents.

    The argument that this will make every council person blind to the concerns or the rest of the city is inaccurate. The council persons are blind to the concerns of the rest of the city. They cater to the Northeast and East districts. That is where almost all of them live and that is where the largest block of voters is.

    The problems faced in West Santa Rosa are much like the way that LA always gets water at Northern California’s expense. They out vote us.

    When I bought a house in Santa Rosa I was appalled to discover that 3/4 of the city is considered a bad neighborhood. I would look in the Southeast, the Southwest, or the Northwest and everyone thought I was crazy or that they would be starter houses because you wouldn’t want to raise a family there. How is it that 3/4 of the city is considered a rough neighborhood? Because the current focus is on the Northeast.

    When I first moved to Santa Rosa in 1997 the neighborhood around Jilliard park had a prostitution problem. 1 block from city hall and 5 blocks from the police headquarters and it took the residents 3 years, a neighborhood watch program, and every day calls to the police to end it. How is that possible? That neighborhood did not and does not have any one on the council to speak for it.

    District elections are good for Santa Rosa in so many ways. Please support this measure.

    Thank you,

  2. Thomas Brooks says:

    Rather than district council seats, why not go all the way and divide the city into its racial and ethnic components? One council seat reserved for the Mexicans, one for the Indians, one for Chinese, one for the Occupy group, one for the socialists and assorted fringe leftist groups, one for gays,lesbians and transgenders and one 1/2 seat for the whites and 1/2 seat for the people that don’t like body.

    Would everybody just be happy? Can’t we all just get along?

    The other option for governmental happiness in Santa Rosa would be a forum where every week all of the citizens could vote up or down on everything. Now that is true democracy as known in ancient Greece.

  3. Jim Bennett says:

    District elections: regionalism.
    OneBayArea: regionalism.

    The government orchestrated selection and empowerment of unelected ‘boards’,
    ‘neighborhood groups’, alliances and coalitions based on their like mindedness and willingness to comply with the ‘apex’ council.

    Often arranged through a process of ‘facilitated consensus’.

    A government controlled economy, employing socialism and/or public-private partnerships.

    These are the earmarks of a Soviet model of governence.

    Most everything ICLEI does undermines the cornerstones of Liberty.
    1) Property Rights.
    2) Free Market
    3) Limited government.
    4) Individual Unalienable, Natural Rights. Ours by our Creator. Not to be granted by or reconciled through government.

    Kinda like the ‘ol duck analogy.

    If it looks like oppression.

    Has all the characteristics of oppression.

    Takes pages from all the significant past oppressions.

    It’s oppression.

    They will spin the the facts, cloak their intentions with a blanket of being better representation to the voters.
    Utilize socio-economic polarization, which fertilizes socialism. Utilizing propaganda, as usual.
    The truth is it will provide for an even further disenfranchisement of the voters.
    That’s the whole socially engineered idea.

    There ‘ya go.

  4. Vinyl Rules says:

    This is simply incredible! Santa Rosa’s politics will be changed forever. I think this may be the first real step to Santa Rosa finally becoming what it always has had the potential to be: a major metropolitan area. And I don’t necessarily mean that in the sense of population size. I don’t want Santa Rosa turning into Los Angeles, but we can carve out a greater regional and statewide influence. The next step should be an independently-elected mayor. As it stands now we have an unelected bureacrat, the City Manager, serving as the chief executive of a town of almost 200,000 people. A mayor could become the face and the voice of Santa Rosa. We are not a small town anymore, and we truly haven’t been one for decades. It’s time to embrace the future of Santa Rosa politics, rather than desperately clinging to what seems safe. It’s time to take a chance, with the opportunity to reap huge civic rewards.

  5. Joe Public says:

    A very bad idea comes back around.

    If you carve the City up and create seven “little territories” with “area governors” looking out for their own turf, wheeling and dealing with the other area governors the City as a whole will be the big loser.

    Some info should be put out on where the tax payer’s money has been spent over the last 10-20 years. If you don’t count the downtown area as the east, which you shouldn’t I think it will be very eye opening.

    And who’s the racist that says voting City wide instead of by district is a racial thing? Again, monitor which “little territories” cares enough to get out and vote. Doesn’t our current mayor come from the eastside? What is he Irish or German?

    This City and this Country will go a long way if folks, regardless of race quit putting up with being called a racist by the real racist.

    Diversity is a big joke, all it accomplishes is dividing people up into groups. Americans should be just Americans and Santa Rosans should just be Santa Rosans. But if the idiots get their way if someone asks me where I’m from I can tell them I’m from the southwest territory of Santa Rosa.

  6. Follower says:

    The ONLY problem with our current system is the voters.

    This isn’t going to “change” that.

  7. Kirstin says:

    Not a word was said by the council last night about any other configuration of election besides the seven-district model. I went to the meeting expectant that they would at least discuss some others. There is no reason to limit consideration to a system that would convert completely to district elections and would only allow each voter to vote for ONE council member out of seven every four years (as opposed to the current system of voting for all seven over a four-year cycle).

    In this article, http://www.nlc.org/build-skills-networks/resources/cities-101/municipal-elections, first linked by Grey Whitmore here on WSC, it is clear that cities between 70,000-199,999 — and at about 167,000, Santa Rosa obviously falls into that category — still use the at-large voting system most (44%). District elections come in at 31%, but also in use is the mixed-system (25%), also called the hybrid system. Why are SR city officials unwilling to even talk about mixed-system when clearly other municipalities HAVE put this into practice?

    Are they so afraid of any possibility of being sued that they won’t even discuss — in public anyway — reasonable alternatives to the two ends of the spectrum? They spent what, an hour and a half yesterday on CAB, but they couldn’t take some time to explore with each other and the public some creative voting system ideas? Isn’t that their job? If they have the power to place district elections on the ballot, they have the responsibility to more carefully consider WHAT KIND of alternate system would be best to propose, don’t they? It was really very disappointing to see nothing of the kind last night.

    Still, I suppose the stark difference between the all-out at-large and the district systems will probably be very good for those of us who support keeping in place the system we have. I think voters will be turned off by the idea that they are being asked by district election proponents to give up (in effect, disenfranchise themselves!) 6/7 of their rights to choose council members. In these crucial times when we need more government transparency and responsiveness, would you want six of seven people sitting on the council who would have no accountability to you?