WatchSonoma Watch

Campaign begins for elections by district to Santa Rosa City Council

City voters to decide Nov. 6 whether to change way members are elected


Political activists, some of them veterans, some new to the business of winning votes, gathered Saturday in Roseland, in the small living room of a McMinn Avenue home.

Marie Weber and her husband Mike Siegel walk a Santa Rosa neighborhood in support of Measure Q Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

The campaign was on to pass a ballot measure to change how Santa Rosa’s politicians are elected and perhaps alter the balance of power in the city.

“We are going to introduce ourselves and ask, ‘Can we count on your support?’ ” said Bill Steck, a retired union leader, describing to about a dozen people the precinct walking process they were about to undertake to try and win backers for Measure Q.

The Nov. 6 measure would split Santa Rosa’s electorate into seven districts, each to elect its own City Council member.

It would be the biggest revision to city politics in decades, overturning a system that has led to councils nearly always made up entirely of representatives from the city’s east side. Measure Q advocates say that in 30 years, just four council members have come from the west side.

“I’ve lived in the neighborhood for over 30 years and it’s really under-represented and underserved,” one of those in the room, Theresa Champagne of Roseland, said Saturday.

Supporters have for years sought such a change. The City Council in June unanimously approved the ballot measure, following the recommendation of the city’s Charter Review Committee.

Opponents say district elections could splinter the city and, ultimately, harm how well voters’ interests are represented on the seven-member council.

Another precinct walk was set for later Saturday, in the Santa Rosa Junior College neighborhood. But it made sense to kick things off in Roseland, said Magdalena Ridley, a neighborhood advocate and Measure Q organizer.

“It’s definitely not a campaign just about Roseland; it’s all areas,” she said, “But I think we have a lot of people here friendly to the concept, so it’s a friendly area to start with.”

In the streets, challenges particular to campaigning in Roseland — which is fractured between areas in the city and others that are in the unincorporated county — were evident.

Mike Siegel, who lives on the east side, secured a promise of support for Q from Catherine Martin, a Dutton Avenue resident. Also, she said, “I’ve talked to my husband; I’m 85 percent sure he’ll vote yes.”

But after Siegel left, Martin realized that she lives on the side of Dutton Avenue that’s in the county and won’t be able to vote on the city ballot measure.

“Rats,” she said.

A few unanswered doorbells later, Siegel said, “Hola,” to a woman in a small ranch house. He asked for a woman named on his voters list.

“No esta ahorita,” the woman said — “She’s not here right now” — and called over a boy who said, “They went out.”

Siegel left a bilingual Measure Q flier and went on.

Down the block, Pedro Luna-Ginne answered his door. He didn’t know about the measure, he said. Siegel gave his spiel, left a flier, and moved on.

“I’m really glad they’re doing this,” Luna-Ginne said. “It’s more information about what’s going on in the neighborhood. I’m going to think about it.”

13 Responses to “Campaign begins for elections by district to Santa Rosa City Council”

  1. Kirstin says:

    @Not A Chance ~

    Just because a campaign is conducted in a smaller area (and among fewer constituents) and therefore, theoretically at least, can cost less money, does not guarantee a corresponding reduction in pressure from special interests.

    Rather, one can argue that dividing the city into seven districts provides seven more concentrated hotbeds for increased attempts by special interests to spread their influence. Just as candiddates supposedly require less to conduct their campaigns, so special interests also don’t have to come up with as much money and support to try to influence a candidate. And remember, candidates/elected officials are not only influenced by contributions but also by lobbying; if a group hammers a council person endlessly to support a given matter while those opposed are less organized and/or simply don’t hammer as hard, there is more of a chance that the council person will decide on the side being lobbied most vociferously.

    By the way, should this measure pass, the seven districts will be created afterward. Since Santa Rosa has over 50 neighborhoods, cramming them into seven districts will not be without mess and strife.

    Political representation is about each duly qualified voter being part of the ultimate authority behind all government decisions. This requires the broadest level of enfranchisement possible for each voter. In other words, voting for all of the council is fuller enfranchisement than voting for only one. Here is Santa Rosa, the voters will retain that ability when Measure Q is voted down.

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  2. Not A Chance says:


    I disagree completely. If you think about the current situation, special interests play a much larger role now than they would under the parameters of the news system; right now it cost nearly 50k to run an effective city council race, with districts the number would be closer to 15k (smaller area, smaller more focused constituency), that reduction in necessary campaign fund-raising will limit the need for as much special interest money, does that mean it will be eliminated from the system? of course not, but candidates will be able to stand up against competing interests that effect their districts in negative ways. Which I hope you would agree is a good thing.

    But on to your benign point, as it stands now city council members can ignore the please of those in more disenfranchised and historically ignored sectors of the city because if they continue to improve downtown, fountain-grove, and north east SR, they will continue to get the votes they need and the big money that is necessary to compete in the current system. Politics shouldn’t be about the best path to get reelected, it should be about every area and every person getting an equitable result of their local tax dollars.

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  3. Kirstin says:

    LBR — it would not be a good thing. Right now, you have the right to contact and hold accountable ALL of the city council. Under district elections you would only be able to deal with one of seven and that drastically reduces your power as a voter.

    Representative government is a necessity in span situations because it is not practical for a large country or state to be governed by direct democracy. Switzerland, a small country, continues its centuries-old direct democracy canton system quite effectively. But we can’t duplicate it here. When it comes to counties or cities, there is a question of how large is too large to have at-large elections. Personally, I am not even sure that Sonoma County NEEDS to have districts for the BOS. And in the case of the Santa Rosa, it is still within population parameters that make direct elections feasible and preferable (I refer to to this valuable article: http://www.nlc.org/build-skills-and-networks/resources/cities-101/city-officials/municipal-elections).

    There is no proof whatsoever that district elections would do away with any kinds of divides. I would argue that in fact district elections can and probably would magnify existing divides and create new ones.

    Not A Chance — we all want accountability. But it makes more sense to want accountability from all the council than to just want it from one council member. The entire council works for each of us now. But district elections would narrow council members’ responsibilities to just one part of the city. We don’t need that kind of balkenization. It could increae the influence and pressure of special interests even more, and we hardly need that.

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  4. Kirstin says:

    PD: why has this disappeared off the WSC Top Picks feed?

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  5. Not A Chance says:

    “This proposed change would be a giant step backwards in political accountability”


    Are you kidding? Typical conservative grass is blue and the sky is green thinking. This whole thing is about providing actual representation for the constituents and regions of the city. Representative democracy makes sense, 7 people living in the same neighborhood representing a city the size of SR is wrong and out dated. I want real accountability, and when my council-member votes against something I am in favor of, I’d like the opportunity to voice my opinion and vote against them directly if necessary.

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  6. Skippy says:

    This proposed change would be a giant step backwards in political accountability.
    If it passes, voters would only be ignored by one councilperson rather than by all of them.

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  7. Lets be Reasonable says:

    So Kirstin, should we also do the same at the state level, being able to vote for all of the representatives? Don’t you believe in representative government?
    District elections would probably do away with the so-called business / environmentalist divide that we currently have, and I think that would be a good thing…

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  8. Phaedra Glidden says:

    As someone who attends City Council frequently, I see this as a “Divide and Conquer” manuever by our local politicians. Instead of the whole council being accountable to me, I would only have 1/7 of the influence I now enjoy. This is not good for the Citizens of Santa Rosa. Don’t let them fool you – Vote “NO” on Measure Q!

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  9. Concerned says:

    Ask your self, why are the public unions so active and in favor of district elections? It isn’t civic pride. It is all about more union control over city government. Divide and conquer.

    More union funds can be spent in district elections to put in office more ardent union supporters which will mean even more union control over our local government.

    Vote no on union control of the Santa Rosa City Council. A big NO on Measure Q!

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  10. Steveguy says:

    Who draws the lines ? This seems to me like the Balkanization of the city.

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  11. Kirstin says:

    Perhaps if the S.R. City Council had proposed a hybrid combination, the voters might have had something worth considering.

    But this straight district proposal is a LOSER for every voter. Instead of the current ability to vote in (and out) every single member of the council (that is, all seven), the district system of Measure Q would only allow voting for ONE member of the council. How dumb do the proponents of this plan think the voters are?? Any voter when giving this idea even half a moment’s thought will realize how disadvantageous it is. It would disenfranchide each and every one of us voters of 6/7ths of our current voting power!

    So, folks, it’s a no-brainer. Vote NO on Measure Q.

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  12. J.R. Wirth says:

    Old trotskyite agitators. You can taste the okra just reading this story.

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  13. Skippy says:

    Great idea!
    Let’s divide our house against itself.
    Surely it will stand forever.
    Er…excuse me Mr. Lincoln?
    Could you repeat that?


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