NBOP promotes District Elections for Santa Rosa City Council

Letter to the Editor

Published: Monday, June 4, 2012

On June 12, the Santa Rosa City Council will consider asking voters if they want to change from an at-large election system to a system in which each of seven districts would elect its own council member. The council member would be required to live in the district.

Currently, only 54 percent of eligible voters vote in city elections. The existing system isn't fostering democracy. One area, the prosperous Northeast, has dominated the council for years.

When council members appoint people to boards and commissions, they typically appoint people they know — good citizens from the Northeast quadrant. These are not bad appointments, but they are not representative of the entire city. Is it possible that people don't vote because they feel no one understands their particular needs?

District elections would make the time and expense of running for office less daunting. Candidates would be able to spend more time getting to know the district. Surely this would encourage people to run for office who cannot possibly fund a campaign today.

We already elect our county supervisors and Santa Rosa Junior College trustees in district elections. Santa Rosa would benefit when its elected officials reflect the ethnic and economic diversity of its residents.

HARRIET LEWIS

Santa Rosa

This letter originally appeared in the Press Democrat on June 4, 2012 and is available here: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20120604/OPINION/120609805/0/ARTICLES?Title=Tuesday-s-Letters-to-the-Editor

 

GUEST OPINION: Give district elections a chance

Published: Monday, June 11, 2012

Members of the Santa Rosa City Council are elected in citywide elections, and since the winners of these elections have come predominantly from one quadrant of the city, the more affluent Northeast, the council has not been truly representative of the entire city.

In spite of the surge in population in recent decades and the increasing ethnic and economic diversity within Santa Rosa, the City Council has not reflected those changes and has become less representative of a rapidly changing community.

The city charter provides for a review of the charter every 10 years, and the Charter Review Committee has been working diligently since last year. After careful review and public hearings, that committee has recommended that voters have the opportunity to decide whether to elect members to the City Council by district or continue the at-large system.

In view of recent global, national and local movements to create more representative and open political systems, the North Bay Organizing Project believes that this review process offers an opportunity to create a more representative City Council by putting district elections on the ballot.

If approved by a majority of voters, the charter would be amended to provide for district elections.

Since our nation's independence began as a protest against the lack of representation in Parliament, there is abundant historical precedent for seeking more direct representation. Recent protest movements have also reflected this tradition.

Our national government is based on representation by state and congressional district, our state government replicates that structure, Sonoma County is divided into five supervisorial districts and the trustees of Santa Rosa Junior College are chosen by district.

Recognizing the growing complexity of their communities and trying to reach out to underrepresented sectors of their cities, 16 of the 20 largest cities in California have some form of election by district and four combine district and at-large formats.

By dividing Santa Rosa into seven districts, in which the residents elect a resident of their district to represent them on the City Council, the council would become more representative of the whole community, the elected representatives would be known by their constituents and they would be familiar with the needs and concerns of their districts.

In turn, we think that residents would feel that they have more of a stake in city government, since they would be able to contact their district representative directly and be assured that their concerns would be taken seriously. When needed, community pressure could be applied on issues important to the community, and the district representative could be held accountable.

At a time when faith in government and its elected officials is faltering and voter turnout is disappointing, the adoption of City Council elections by district, in which candidates come from the community, are known to voters and are not dependent upon large donors, should increase civic participation and create a more vigorous city government.

Since the cost of running a campaign, even on the local level, has become excessive, many potential candidates are dissuaded from seeking office. District elections, however, would drastically reduce the size of the electorate and, therefore, the cost of campaigns for the City Council. More residents could seriously consider representing their community, without being beholden to large contributors.

In view of the above, we strongly recommend that the Santa Rosa City Council offer the people of Santa Rosa the opportunity to vote on whether to amend the charter to provide for district elections to the City Council. Fairness, civic harmony and democracy deserve nothing less.

Omar Gallardo of Santa Rosa is president of the North Bay Organizing Project. Tony White is a retired history professor and member of the NBOP task force on district elections.

This article originally appeared in the Press Democrat on June 11, 2012 and is available here: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20120611/OPINION/120619929/1010/sports?p=3&tc=pg