Santa Barbara County’s Board of Supervisors will soon decide which of two redistricting initiatives makes the November ballot, and the most likely scenario is that voters will have a choice between the two measures.
Almost a sure bet to make the ballot is a measure proposed by a group calling itself Reason in Government. Less likely but still in play is an ordinance drawn up at the request of board chairman and 1st District Supervisor Das Williams. This one would be a direct response to Reason in Government’s initiative. The board will make the final call at its July 17 meeting.
The dueling ordinances came about because some members of the board expressed concern about simply putting the Reason in Government’s proposal on the ballot by itself. Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann voiced reservations from the start of the discussion, mostly because she felt the board didn’t know enough about what the proposed Reason ordinance would accomplish.
After some discussion and Williams’ proposal, it was agreed that the true goal is to prevent gerrymandering of districts to favor a specific candidate, incumbent or ideological majority on the board.
That’s more or less the ambition of every districting initiative, but politics has a way of worming its way into the process, which can freeze out significant segments of the voting population.
Among elements of the first proposed ordinance would be taking the responsibility of redistricting out of the hands of board members, and shifting it to a citizens’ commission.
That seems an ideal way to make such important decisions, but unfortunately, political bias can and does find its way into even the best-intentioned citizens’ groups.
A representative from the local League of Women Voters seconded Hartmann’s concern about the lack of information on the first proposal, and frankly, just about any position the LWV takes earns our respect.
The board will get a staff report on the ramifications of the proposed ordinances, which may change things by the July 17 meeting. For example, based on what county staff discovers, the board could simply adopt the first redistricting ordinance, instead of sending both measures to the November ballot.
Redistricting is a hot-button topic for the board, whose members are elected without regard to political party affiliation — which, of course, is patently ridiculous, because most voters are acutely aware of where each board candidate stands ideologically.
In general, allowing politicians to establish their district boundaries also is patently ridiculous. Think — fox guarding the henhouse.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino was part of the last redistricting effort following the 2010 census, and called the experience “the worst week of my life.” All of which fairly demands that some kind of independent commission make the decisions about who votes for whom by drawing district lines.
Whatever happens, the end result is crucial for the 3rd District, which has a long and colorful history of disagreement, dissent and electoral chaos. For one, it’s the largest of the five districts in terms of square miles, and it extends from the bifurcating mountain range down into parts of Goleta and up the coast. The 3rd District board member is often the swing vote on the five-member board, which is important to the north/south county political differences that have been the foundation of several unsuccessful attempts to split the county into two counties.
It seems likely both proposals will be on the ballot. If both fail, it’s back to the current district lines. If both pass, the measure with the highest vote percentage is the winner.
As always, stay tuned.