District 3 Should Be Decided by an Election
By William Smithers
On January 9, Santa Barbara's city council will convene for the first time in 2018.
It's newly-elected members – Mayor Cathy Murillo, District 4 Representative Kristin Sneddon, District 6 Representative Eric Friedman - will join re-elected District 2 Representative Randy Rouse, re-elected Greg Hart (now representing District 5), and previously-elected District 1 Representative Jason Dominguez.
Since Ms. Murillo's District 3 seat will be vacant due to her election as Mayor, the current (soon to be previous) council voted to replace the District 3 seat via appointment by its members rather than by special election. Only council member Murillo opposed this decision, stating that an election is the only fair way for her constituents to replace her.
Mayor-elect Murillo's position on this issue has since been reinforced by the advocacy of District 4 Representative-elect Sneddon, former judge Frank Ochoa and Santa Barbaran Jaqueline Inda, who are among those asking the council to reverse course on this decision.
It appears that the current council's majority was alarmed at the prospect of what they were told would be the $300,000 cost of a special election. It also appears that they relied on aspects of current law that specify appointed replacement of council members under such conditions.
But, as Mr. Ochoa and his colleagues have pointed out, this law was enacted before district elections were mandated for Santa Barbara. Current conditions were of course not anticipated by these provisions. It's also true that no Santa Barbara council member since the implementation of district elections here anticipated, or addressed, the very evident possibility of a need to provide for council member replacement.
Judge Ochoa and colleagues have pointed out that the cost of such special election, if combined with the June 5 statewide primary ballot, would add only $30,000. In any case he believes the city would be subject to litigation should it not adapt election as the means of replacing the District 3 council seat.
In my view simple fairness, common justice and equal application of the law require that Santa Barbara's District 3 council seat – and all re-occurrences of like council seat replacement – be decided by a vote of those whose representation is at stake.