District based elections will have a polarizing effect on local government. Instead of having the “at large” representation we have now, each district will be competing for limited government resources. With at large representation there is at least some commonality among the council members who don’t necessarily have to fight for specific neighborhoods, but can see the needs of the entire community. District elections will be a mistake.



March 1, 2015

The big news in Santa Barbara is that local Hispanic activists want more power (district elections) and less progress (Eastside Business Improvement District). And that’s about it, at least according to news sources here. Yeah, there are murder trials, and freeway head-ons, and the usual nitpicky political stuff. News is pretty boring here but that’s a good thing.

District elections? I get it. Now that Hispanics constitute about 40% of the City’s population (per city-data.com), they see district elections as a path to political power. There will be six new to-be-formed districts. Two of the new districts must be a “minority majority” area (i.e., Hispanic). For example, the Westside, apparently being a majority Hispanic area, is already staked out by City Council member Cathy Murillo. The other district will mostly likely be composed of the Lower Eastside, at least according to the demographic data I reviewed for this article. If you think politics is akin to sausage-making, just wait until you see the hearings on district formation. Who is in and who is out. My guess is that blood will run deep on the floor of the political abattoir.

What I dislike about this whole district thing is the polarizing effect it will have. Instead of having the “at large” representation we have now, each district will be competing for limited government resources. With at large representation there is at least some commonality among the council members who don’t necessarily have to fight for specific neighborhoods, but can see the needs of the entire community. All you have to do is see how our County is run (district elections) and you will see what I mean.

The other thing I dislike about this is the idea that power and progress comes from the government and that you are disenfranchised if you don’t have your hand in the political spoils. This is the problem with America, not the solution to our problems. Our serious problems (economy, jobs, security) have been mostly created by government rather than solved by government.

Polls reveal that Hispanics worry about the same things that everybody worries about: crime, education, and jobs. I’ll save immigration reform for another article (I think it’s necessary, fair, and moral). District elections won’t solve these problems.

There is nothing the City can do about jobs, so if you think your council member will grab a job for you they can’t. They can reduce barriers to those who wish to create jobs in Santa Barbara if you want jobs, but most of the candidates who wish to represent the Hispanic community are Progressives (surely a misnomer if there ever was one) and their policies will only limit job opportunities.

Politicians can do something about education, but the necessary reforms will be not forthcoming from your Progressive council member because they will be heavily supported by the teachers union who wish to prevent the reforms that would create better educational opportunities. Charter schools and vouchers, for example, are a proven path to good education in all communities they have served but the union is dead set against reforms.

Crime is something that they can do something about, but, while there is the common idea that most crime occurs in Hispanic areas, that is just wrong, at least according to the reports of the Santa Barbara Police Department. It seems they have been doing a pretty good job in Hispanic neighborhoods.

Which area of our City has the most crime? There is one area of our City that has about 23% of all crime according to police crime incident reports: the Downtown corridor around State Street. From the beach up to Arrellaga, bounded by Anacapa and Chapala, is where most crime occurs. Also, if you take the area just east of Downtown, from Montecito St. to Victoria, bounded by Salsipuedes and Anacapa (mixed use area), you can add in another 14.5% of all City crime. Why are these areas so susceptible to crime? Well consider that’s where a lot of people gather and commit mayhem, plus the prevalence of drugs and alcohol there, and there are a lot of businesses there to rob (so say the stats).

So you have 38% of all City crime in these two areas.

How about the Westside? Only 2.86% of all crime. The Lower East (excluding the area adjacent to Downtown and the beach), 9.66%. The Milpas corridor from Canon Perdido to the Freeway: only 4.75% (which has gone down considerably because of better policing and an improving economy).

Those of you in the Lower East (9.66%) have something to complain about, but are higher crime statistics the result of a lack of political power? You know the answer to that.

Things won’t get any better with district elections and they may just get worse.

Which brings me to the Eastside Business Improvement District (EBID). The group PODER (Spanish for “power”) noisily opposes EBID. So does Cathy Murillo, maybe not noisily. I reviewed articles about PODER and looked at material on their website. For the record they are a Progressive group. I think their argument is that EBID will improve the area and thus foster gentrification which will raise rents and drive out low income Hispanic tenants.

I also looked at the website of the Milpas Community Association (MCA) which is sponsoring EBID. For the record they are mostly business folks in the Milpas area. EBID will “assess” (tax) the 600 or so businesses in the area. A majority vote of these businesses will create the district. The plan is to use the $164,000 raised annually to clean sidewalks, remove graffiti, do landscaping, stage holiday events, and the like. They will also act to support or oppose development in the area.

If the reason PODER is opposing EBID is because of gentrification, they are way off. Cleaning sidewalks and removing graffiti won’t bring gentrification. Gentrification is where “bad” areas are cleaned up and people move in because the area is more appealing and housing costs are lower than in other areas.

There are only two things that promote gentrification. One is market forces. With high housing costs here middle-income folks are squeezed out of most housing and look for deals in areas with cheaper housing. They buy a small bungalow, fix it up, and move in. But they won’t move in if crime is high and schools are bad. EBID won’t do a thing about this.

The other thing is zoning. If areas are rezoned for higher density development, developers and investors will move in and take advantage of these cheaper properties and develop them into more expensive properties. The City (not EBID or MCA) has already rezoned the Milpas corridor to high density commercial and residential use. Also the area east of Milpas over to Salinas St. (from Carpinteria Ave. to the Freeway) has been rezoned for medium high density residential (15-26 du.ac.). You will start to see your neighbors selling out to developers who wish to build nice condos or apartments. EBID didn’t cause this.

PODER should be thanking the Milpas business folks who are trying to make things better.

Politics and politicians are unable to solve the problems most of us face. All the noise you hear here is mostly about power grabs by interest groups that try to get more out of government to the exclusion of others and perpetuate the power of those politicians they elect.