Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

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By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

Voters are staying away in droves from Santa Barbara's historic city election, with a mere one-fourth of those registered having returned ballots 36 hours before polling ends at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 2) -- half of the final turnout percentage in a similar contest four years ago.

"One day before Election Day, it looks like turnout is going to be low," county elections chief Joe Holland, who is managing the contest for the city, told Newsmakers. "We'd like to see a lot of people get out and vote on Tuesday."

With the mayor's office and two contested City Council seats at stake, a running total of ballots returned to the registrar as of 11 a.m. Monday, sorted by council district and party. showed that:

  • Just 14,491 of 56,725 registered voters had completed their ballots so far -- 25.5 per cent - in what is the second election under the district City Council system; the first, and only comparable, contest four years ago produced a 51 percent turnout.

  • The lowest turnouts so far were on the Eastside's District 1 (17 percent) and the Westside's District 3 (16 percent); this could spell trouble for incumbent Mayor Cathy Murillo, who previously represented District 3 and who expects to run strong in both areas.

  • The highest turnout -- 34 percent -- is in District 4's San Roque/Riviera/Mission Canyon neighborhoods, spurred by a spirited council battle between incumbent Kristen Sneddon and developer Barrett Reed, as well as by traditional heavy voting patterns among its largely older, mostly white homeowners; this could bode well for the mayoral campaign of former council member Randy Rowse, running as a non-partisan moderate in a field of six, mostly more liberal candidates.

Political junkie special: Here is the complete data set of turnout to date provided by registrar Holland.

 County Elections Office

Still time to vote

If you're reading this on Tuesday, there's still time and opportunity to cast your ballot -- and help put the lie to the gloomy turnout forecast.

The city's website lists eight ballot drop locations, including City Hall, the County Administration Building and the County Elections Office, where you can place your ballot until 8 p.m. Tuesday.

It also lists five locations, including the Eastside Library, the Westside Neighborhood Center and MacKenzie Park, where you can vote on Election Day,

Why no sale on election?

Whoever is elected mayor, the city's only citywide official, along with the winners in council races, will get five-year terms, a one-year bonus. Besides the District 4 race, appointed incumbent Meagan Harmon is challenged by longtime City Hall executive Nina Johnson in downtown's District 6 and incumbent Eric Friedman is unopposed in outer State Street's District 5..

The five-year terms are due to the historic anomaly of the 2021 race being the city's last odd-year election; voters several years ago approved charter changes to move local balloting to even years, a change expected to boost turnout, as well as save money.

The election also is significant in coming at a critical juncture for Santa Barbara's economic future, as it seeks to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, as well as address longer-term challenges caused by the decline of retail, the vagaries of the tourist industry and the chronic problems of State Street, from high commercial rents to apparently intractable homelessness.

The mayor's race largely was seen as a referendum on Murillo's performance in the pandemic, and other disasters, including the deadly Montecito debris flow, which struck in the early morning hours of the day she was sworn in, after she had captured the office by winning 27.96 percent of the vote in a splintered field in 2017.

Beyond Rowse, a No Party Preference independent, her major challengers included two fellow Democrats, Planning Commission President Deborah Schwartz and entrepreneur James Joyce.

In the wake of the national outcry over racial equity following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a white police officer, Joyce's emergence and success in winning key, major endorsements, also were historically notable; the first Black person to run for mayor in more than a decade, his proposals on vaccine mandates, City Hall ethics reform and expanding opportunities for hiring and promotion in city government shaped much of the campaign's debate.

Despite considerable, sometimes noisy, coverage by Santa Barbara's small but energetic political press corps, however, it appears that most voters tuned out of the mayor and council races.

One political consultant suggested part of the reason may lie in the Sept. 14 statewide recall election which unsuccessfully sought to oust Governor Gavin Newsom, and which dominated media political reporting in California and the nation for months.

"A lot of people probably got their city ballot in the mail and thought, 'I already voted,'" this insider said.

Screen grab Montecito Journal

Cathy's foolhardy flyer

Over at the Montecito Journal, the inveterately aggressive Nick Masuda scooped the world with a weekend report on a last-minute, disinformation mailer from Murillo's campaign that broke all world records for faux outrage by portraying Rowse as the second coming of Donald Trump.

The MoJo headline summed it up pretty cogently:

"Desperate Move? Mayoral Incumbent Cathy Murillo Falsely Links Opponent Randy Rowse to Trump."

Personally, we would have lost the question mark.

Let us count the ways this was a dumb move: Besides how famously averse Santa Barbara voters are to even mild forms of negative campaigning (does Pat Dennis, Murillo's Sacramento-based strategist really not know this?), there's the fact that Rowse has been a well-regarded figure in the city's business and political zeitgeist for decades, making it difficult to make phony charges stick,

And purely as a political matter, even if tarring Randy as a Trumpista was a sound strategy, the time to start doing it would have been six weeks ago, not the weekend before the election, if the message was going to take.


Boat Rat busted

It's been truly annoying to drive around town in recent weeks and see the plethora of "Boat Rat Matt for Mayor" signs hung in illegal locations, not to mention nailed to trees, by the campaign of Matt Kilrain - not least because the utter contempt he's shown for the city's allegedly strict regulations on campaign signage match the disrespect and contumacy he's displayed with his QAnon-adjacent, anti-vaxxer, wing nut rantings at campaign forums.

One loyal Newsmaker who shares our outrage has sent multiple images of illegal Kilrain sign postings to City Hall, to no avail, and even caught the candidate in the act, hanging one from a palm near Modoc and Hollister.

Raise the vibe in the 805, indeed.

Boat Matt Rat posting a campaign sign in illegal location (courtesy photo).

Don't forget to vote.

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a-1635885869 Nov 02, 2021 01:44 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

Yet those same people have no problem complaining about everything local government does. If you refuse to participate in your right to vote, you should have no right to complain later. Every vote matters, especially in local elections. If everyone participated we wouldn’t have this mayor, possibly the worst in SB history.

Basicinfo805 Nov 02, 2021 01:19 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

The two previous commenters are the “poster children” for our problems with this and other local elections. Unbelievable - “there’s no one good to vote for so why should I bother?” (that’s you Bosco) and then the equivalent of “the dog ate my homework” (courtesy of Always Running). Grow up and start thinking a bit. There’s ALWAYS a way to vote. And there’s ALWAYS a worse or better candidate. #CmonMan awards to you two.

PitMix Nov 02, 2021 03:31 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

1 of 2 council members to support the homeowner in Eric Friedman's District who was trying to replace a large non-native tree in her yard with a smaller one. Oscar and Alejandra. That's got to count for something. Oscar knows how to work hard and walk the precinct and in a heavily latino neighborhood that counts for a lot.

ZeroHawk Nov 02, 2021 04:14 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

Pit, i don't care about that. at all. nor do i care that oscar, a hispanic male can walk in a hispanic neighborhood. i'm white, grew up with a mexican step dad and mexican family and live in a mostly hispanic neighborhood, and I walk just the same as he or anyone else does in the hood. I can also talk to my neighbors too. None of that is a qualification for a city council seat anywhere. manyof us know how to work hard, i doubt he does at his age and lack of experience on the globe. that is all irrelevant. he's a jerkwad. this dude screamed at the famers market organizers and yelled at and or ignored people that live in the district he now represents. sorry but you can't just roll back time and erase that. he embarassed the city, himself, and all of us during that meeting. he's also done loads of bad things for other districts to coddle his 1% up on APS. He's also stepped into the water fronts region and authority and made attempts to direct them which is laughable. they have no jurisdiction on the water front, and his inexperience proves he's not fit to represent. i could go on and trust me, i have facts and a lot of it against this person.

a-1635981842 Nov 03, 2021 04:24 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

Oscar is badly suited to serve in a public leadership position. As noted he is quick to anger and takes stuff much too personally. Those who have had dealings with him regularly attest to these attributes. He may be unbeatable in the neighborhood but he can not expect to serve in a higher capacity if he continues such arrogance.

sacjon Nov 02, 2021 02:41 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

VOICE - instead of just saying "no they're not," how about YOU provide examples of all the good things the GOP is doing for people of color, women, LGBQT, etc? You keep defending your party against claims that they're racist or curtailing women's rights, but you never explain or provide examples of the good they're doing for these groups.

Put your money where you mouth is.

Voice of Reason Nov 02, 2021 02:48 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

Again, great example of you ignoring half of what goes on I've said many times they aren't "my party" and have plenty of their own issues. What you just wrote here is a simply anti-GOP taking points regurgitated from the TV and social media that bear little resemblance to actual policies and legislation proposed by the GOP. But of course, you apparatenly know what the GOP stands for better than actual conservatives....

ZeroHawk Nov 02, 2021 04:07 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

Sac is right on all points here, VOR. You do claim this crap often with nothing to back it up, when the rest of the world knows better. on the global stage, the GOP are known as rich folks, mostly white and all very out of touch with reality, and very anti just about everything.

sacjon Nov 02, 2021 04:10 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

VOICE - this should be easy for you. You keep saying we're wrong about the GOP, despite policies I've cited in the past (TX abortion law, restrictions on health coverage for trans people, attempts to repeal DACA, etc etc...). I've already done my part. If you're so sure that we're wrong, you should be able to explain why quickly and easily. Saying we're "parroting the media" (which is EXACTLY what you do, different media) is not an "explanation." Stop dodging and tell us why the GOP is not as we say.

Here, take a gander at some more...

Voice of Reason Nov 02, 2021 04:34 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

Abortion law, as far as the GOP is concerned, has to do with the baby, not about the women, not sure what restriction they're pushing on trans people as it relates to health coverage, repealing DACA is not racist but has to do with following the immigration laws we have on the books that so many politicians on both sides have simply ignored for years (rather than engaging in meaningful immigration reform). Zerohawk its was the Dems that were the racists pigs in the 50s and beyond, you'd also have to ignore the still serving Dem politicians who were buddy buddy with actual members of the KKK (not to mention the prior and not so prior racists comments from our current prez). They're entire platform these days is identity politics and are pushing this division which you've and many others have fallen for, this will not go over well for them in the coming years as evident by the continued slip of minorities from blue to red. I don't how you could look at the leadership of the DNC (or GOP) and say they aren't rich old white people who care more about their corporate donors and grips on power than their actual constituents.

Voice of Reason Nov 02, 2021 04:37 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

"When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, a higher percentage of Republicans voted for this landmark bill than Democrats in both the U.S. House (80% vs. 61%) and U.S. Senate (82% vs 69%). Plus, Southern Democrats led the 74-day filibuster that opposed this legislation.

Now in the 21st century, poverty, crime and apathy continue to plague many Black communities, especially in major U.S. cities led by Democrat mayors.

In short, liberal Democrats have done far more than Republicans to sabotage the progress of Black people over the past century-and-a-half. Not surprisingly, the biased, dishonest media has concealed the lies of liberal Democrats and fanned the flames of racism."

Voice of Reason Nov 02, 2021 05:02 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

So it's actually Republicans in charge (in disguise) of nearly all major US cities that are raging with poverty, bad schools, and crime which are, unfortunately, predominantly impacting minorities? Why did Covid disproportionately impact minorities in Dem led CA vs. Repub lead FL where the impact was proportionate? Why are you okay with the racists vaccine-only restrictions which disproportionally impact minorities? Racist! Is it the Dems or Reps who are for school choice (hint, it isn't the party that the teachers unions give millions of dollars to each year)? Regarding TX in particular, that law won't stand, and in the minds of the Texas GOP, it has everything to do about the baby.

a-1635899197 Nov 02, 2021 05:26 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

@VOR, I was the original responder and you asked for sources so here they are. (side note, I don't watch much tv, but do read)

OGSB Nov 02, 2021 07:18 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

5:43, So you're insinuating that I get all my information from "non-journalists and social media nutcase sites like Breitbart"? (btw, don't get your news from ANY social) Well, you're half right. Although I have only heard about Breitbart, I do give stock to nonbiased, non-reporters. I don't need my news slanted with some journalists' opinions. That's just me, I'm weird like that.

Transparent Nov 02, 2021 02:55 PM
Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results, Cathy's Last Stand, Matt Caught in Act

Procedurally, what would it take to change to Ranked Choice / Instant Run-Off for city elections.

I imagine dems / repubs might both tend to support this. It would allow liberals more space to have inter-candidate debate/dissent without fearing a dreaded republican might win. For conservatives, they might appropriately feel it would moderate the state democratic party, and give them space to vote for less extreme liberals as their 2nd or 3rd choice. I just feels more participatory, and gives space for more thought and less animosity.


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