A ballot measure that would have transformed the election process for Santa Rosa City Council members failed Tuesday night. With all 64 precincts reporting, the vote was 60 percent opposed to Measure Q, while 40 percent supported it. Measure Q would have ended the current system of citywide council elections. Instead, Santa Rosa’s seven council members would have been chosen through district elections, similar to the system used for the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
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. 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. The Nov. 6 measure would split Santa Rosa’s electorate into seven districts, each to elect its own City Council member.
Looking back now, we can see that the fight over district elections was inevitable. For 20 years, Santa Rosa city officials talked about reaching out to neighborhoods beyond the upscale precincts of the northeast. But nothing changed. Whether City Hall insiders were unable or unwilling to share power, each new city government looked pretty much like the last city government. Think older, whiter and living in a handful of privileged neighborhoods. And so the debate over Measure Q begins.
The most sweeping change in years to the way Santa Rosa city councilmembers are selected heads to voters this fall, and rival campaigns already have begun marshalling their forces for and against the idea of electing City Council members by districts. Both sides have formed committees to raise money for the coming fight, recruited former mayors to support their positions, and are benefitting from the talent of some of the city’s top political consultants.
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.
‘To be successful, cities need to share the tasks of citizenship and the pride of being part of one community. For Santa Rosa, nothing is more important right now than figuring out how to make that happen. Will district elections make it all better? Not without other good-faith efforts. But it’s time to shake City Hall from its long slumber.’
Santa Rosa voters may get to decide in November whether they want to elect their City Council representatives by districts rather than citywide. City Council members expressed support Tuesday for the recommendations of the 21-member Charter Review Committee, including putting district elections before voters in the fall.
District elections got a surprise boost Thursday when the committee that tentatively voted against it two weeks ago reversed course and agreed the issue should be put before voters. Several members of the 21-member Charter Review Committee cited the large, impassioned turnout of residents at the public forum on the issue last Saturday as influencing their thinking.
A parade of speakers on Saturday called for district elections in Santa Rosa, saying the concept is more democratic and would bridge the city’s economic and ethnic divide. About 130 people attended the three-hour meeting to consider possible changes to the city charter, including a switch from citywide voting for all seven council members to separate voting in seven districts.