Living Wage Coalition:
See a recent Op-Ed co-authored by member Tony White and a letter to the editor by member Gene Hottel.
Please consider submitting a letter on Measure Q.
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Yes on District Elections
by Omar Gallardo and Tony White
The opponents of district elections (Measure Q) in Santa Rosa have it all wrong.
Santa Rosa is ready for district elections. It is no longer a small town but a sprawling city with many different neighborhoods, all of which deserve an equal voice in their government.
As The Press Democrat has repeatedly noted, the current council is divided into quarreling factions. City Council members bicker over personality differences and compete for votes instead of focusing on policies that benefit all of us.
District representatives would advocate for their district but would also have to work collaboratively with other council members to obtain the four votes needed to approve any new policies. In the process, they would become aware of the priorities of other districts, as well as the entire city, and would find common ground to solve those issues.
County supervisors are elected by district and represent their districts effectively while collaborating to solve issues important to the whole county. Supervisors Efren Carrillo, Shirlee Zane and Mike McGuire, who represent sections of Santa Rosa, strongly endorse district elections.
There are more households in the city of Santa Rosa than in a Sonoma County district. Consequently, a citywide campaign for the City Council is very expensive and the outcome can easily be determined by deep-pocketed special interests.
Measure Q would replace the current system of electing City Council members in expensive citywide elections with the election of representatives by district. It would create seven equal districts, each of which would elect a resident of the district to the council.
Because candidates would only have to run a campaign in their district, their campaign costs would be one-seventh of running a citywide campaign, more residents would be encouraged to run, and candidates would not have to borrow large sums of money or become indebted to special interests.
Although there are limits on how much an individual can contribute, individuals and organizations may make unlimited contributions to independent political action committees that have no spending limits. These special interests buy elections by pouring money into council races.
Candidates running in their own neighborhoods would be able to counteract special interest money by simply knocking on every door and introducing themselves to voters in their district, impossible in citywide elections.
District elections would not eliminate special interests from city politics, but there would be less chance that they could purchase the outcome of the election process because personal conversations between candidates and voters will beat out slick mailers every time.
Since district representatives would have to live in the district they represent, they would be aware of the needs of their communities.
Voters would know the candidates and be able to decide who is the most qualified to represent them. With a district representative who understands their problems, voters would know that their vote counted.
Despite increasing diversity in Santa Rosa, the composition of the council and its committees has not reflected those changes, and the city risks spending millions of dollars in potential lawsuits under the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.
Other cities that have switched to district elections have not only seen a much greater turnout of voters but also a greater diversity in elected officials and a more effective government. Rather than gridlock, they have experienced unity and cooperation.
By including new and diverse voices, city government would be reinvigorated and better qualified to serve the needs of all residents.
Measure Q is a positive step toward campaign reform and a more representative city government for Santa Rosa.
Omar Gallardo is president of the North Bay Organizing Project. Tony White is a retired history professor and member of the North Bay Organizing Project task force on district elections. Both live in Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Monday, October 15, 2012
For District Elections
EDITOR: The United States is divided into 50 state districts. Each state is divided into county districts. Sonoma County is divided into five supervisorial districts. Nobody is claiming confusion and divisiveness as a result of these districts. Why should city districts be any different?
Isn't democracy more effective the closer it is to the people? Given the wide social, cultural and economic diversity of our city, it has become impossible for each council member to know and comprehend the needs and desires of every area of the city.
True local government is what we need. Would I rather vote for one council member who represents 25,000 fellow citizens than seven council members who represent 175,000? Definitely. I stand to gain — not lose — local power. And the interests of the city as a whole will still be the concern of seven council members.
Would you feel well represented if your state representatives all lived in the Palm Springs area? The current system is unbalanced, making it exceedingly difficult to communicate with our City Council members and see to it that our local concerns are addressed.
I urge a yes vote on Measure Q.