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Santa Barbara is often stereotyped as a vacation destination for the rich and famous. But locals know that working-class, young and immigrant families make up much of the population in this city, while often being politically unseen and unheard.
When the city council agreed to a California Voting Rights Act settlement to adopt district elections, we at CAUSE knew we had to get involved in the drawing of district lines. In many of the proposed maps, gerrymandering continued to diminish the voices of immigrants, young people, public transit users, workers and renters.
Over the last decade, CAUSE has worked on district maps for city, county, state and federal representatives to protect the voice of working-class neighborhoods, young people, Latino families, and other underrepresented groups in the Central Coast. Our latest victory is the new district map for the Santa Barbara City Council, which was closely based on CAUSE’s demographic research, community engagement and advocacy.
Our staff, grassroots leaders and allies advocated for two strong majority Latino districts on Santa Barbara’s Eastside and Westside, as well as another district to represent the many young apartment dwellers, public transit users, and low-wage workers that live downtown. We pushed to keep together communities of interest around age, income, and ethnicity, as well as hillside, coastal and watershed environmental concerns.
However, there is still unfinished business in reforming the city’s elections. District elections won’t create fair representation in Santa Barbara unless they are combined with ending the city’s odd-year elections for city council. Odd-year elections, held separately from school, county, state and national elections, lead to shockingly low turnout, especially among young people, working-class families, and people of color, while bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional costs. Ventura and Los Angeles have both ended their odd-year elections in the past year, leaving Santa Barbara the lone city in the region still using this inefficient, unjust, and costly election system. CAUSE will be moving forward with work to put this on the ballot as soon as possible.