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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 11th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 19 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 19

Dividing lines: Pair of competing ordinances aim to control supervisorial redistricting process

By Spencer Cole

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and citizen activists traded barbs over two competing ordinances that aim to redraw the supervisors' district boundaries

The conflict was pushed into public discussion during two separate hearings at the board's regular meeting on July 2. At issue were the differing language and requirements found in the ordinances, particularly how the redistricting commissions would be composed, or to put it simply, just who will be in charge of setting county electoral lines. 

One proposed ordinance came from Chair Das Williams' office, while the other hailed from a group called Reason in Government, which, according to its website, represents what it calls the "voice of the radical center." 

At the meeting, the dividing lines between the two groups became readily apparent, with Williams pushing his version, and Reason in Government, led by real estate and public affairs consultant Robert Collector, arguing for their own. 

Around a dozen public speakers spoke in favor of Williams' more complicated ordinance, and called into question the intent of Reason in Government's. One speaker accused the latter of disingenuous tactics in how it obtained signatures for its ballot initiative, while another speaker went as far as to say that the 16,000-plus signatures collected by Collector's organization were "bought and paid for."

For much of the meeting, 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam appeared to be on the defensive, and at times he directly responded to claims made in the Santa Barbara Independent alleging he was connected to Reason in Government's initiative. 

"I had absolutely nothing to do with this document," Adam said during a period of heated discussion. "Nothing. I know what you read in the paper, but it's not true. It does not come from my office and so they can say what they want, but that's the truth."

Adam, while not referring to the Independent by name, derided it as a "tabloid."

The meeting took a decidedly different tone as public comment on the hearings wrapped up. 

"I'm very pleased there's an inherent admission, which is that elected officials should not be drawing their own districts–the voters should," said Joe Armendariz with the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.

By the day's conclusion, Williams was making references to "the spirit of kumbaya" as the supervisors opted to address both documents at their July 17 meeting. Collector meanwhile began offering to combine the two ordinances. 

"I think we have some language in ours that would make yours stronger," he told the board. 

Collector noted that his organization had been working on its proposed ordinance for a year and a half alongside lawyers and crafted the document after Reason in Government conducted a series of polls on the issue. He said Williams' "You Draw the Lines" ordinance, on the other hand, had essentially been slapped together over the past few days. 

"You guys chose to use certain aspects that fit your determination of what works best," Collector added. "Yours is 10 pages long, ours, I think is an elegant three and three-quarter pages."

The length of Reason in Government's document was particularly troublesome for several of the speakers, who argued that the proposed ordinance was too restrictive and vague on how it selected its redistricting commission members. 

"The entire proposal narrows the final decision making to be made by three people out of the five on the commission," said one speaker, who explained she had worked on the previous iteration that created the current county supervisorial districts. "I don't get it–the three elected officials as has been in the past is supposed to be problematic, but three people whose names are originally drawn at random seems to be what is being proposed."

Reason in Government's redistricting commission would be made up of five members, plus five alternatives, and stipulates that they must not be "affiliated with a political party" and cannot have changed their "political party affiliation in the preceding eight years of being appointed to the commission."

The organization's proposal also precludes citizens who have been "elected, appointed to, or been a candidate for an elective office of a local jurisdiction," as well as those who have done consulting and any official work with a political party. Moreover, the proposed initiative limits those who serve on its board from serving on other commissions, lobbying locally, or accepting any appointments to "an office of the local jurisdiction." 

More than one speaker noted that the proposed restrictions would limit political participation. 

Collector responded by saying: "The most important thing to us is that our initiative achieve its stated goal of independence, impartiality, and fairness. We want this to be Caesar's wife–above reproach. We want this ordinance to have no way, no wormhole, no backdoor, no added complication that allow anybody but the public to draw these lines."

Williams' "You Draw the Lines" on the other hand, would have 11 commissioners, as opposed to five, and has a process for removing members, as well as additional qualifications to base on selecting the board. 

The ordinance borrowed largely from existing state law and similar redistricting commissions in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. "You Draw the Lines" would require seven votes for any official action.

Lindsey Baker, with the Santa Barbara County League of Women Voters, spoke in favor of the redistricting effort without giving favor to either ordinance. 

Following the contentious discussion, Adam softened his tone, calling Williams' proposal "a good faith effort to do the right thing," and asked only for a few minor changes in regard to state law. 

"I don't mind supporting this," he added. "The rest of the document is good. This actually kind of restores my faith in society a little bit." 

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino gave one of the final comments of the day and thanked Collector and Reason in Government for their efforts.

"I hope everybody here understands, whether you like Mr. Collector's work or disagree with it, I promise we would never have been discussing this without [it]," he said. "Whether you agree with what their product was, or not, it did put us in a position where we had to confront this, and I'm excited about that."

 

Staff Writer Spencer Cole can be reached at scole@santamariasun.com.




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