Councilemembers Meagan Harmon and Oscar Gutierrez have been appointed to their respective districts and will not appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.
During a special meeting Wednesday afternoon, the Santa Barbara City Council voted 6-0 to appoint Mr. Gutierrez for District 3 (Westside), and 5-0, with Ms. Harmon abstaining, to appoint Ms. Harmon for District 6 (downtown).
By appointing both candidates, the city will save up to $106,000. The savings include $42,000 for District 3 and $64,000 for District 6. The costs are reflective of the voter registration in the respective districts, according to officials.
With the appointment, Mr. Gutierrez will serve a five-year term and Ms. Harmon will serve a two-year term, which includes the remaining two years of former Councilman Gregg Hart, who now sits on the Board of Supervisors.
In his vote of support, Councilman Randy Rowse pointed out that the district elections were part of a 2015 lawsuit settlement with a group called the District Elections Committee, who sued the city and claimed its at-large elections leave Latinos underrepresented on the council and violate the California Voting Rights Act.
During public comment, some said that the city was not transparent enough throughout the election process.
“The process worked and the opportunity was there,” Mr. Rowse said. “Would it have been better to have other members pull papers, make it a more democratic process… yeah, I think that would have been better.
“If we did decide to reopen it and nobody showed up, then what then?” Mr. Rowse asked. “As you recall, there’s a reason why we’re switching to even years, people weren’t showing up for odd year elections. This could be dismally small turnout for both District 3 and District 6. I think we’re doing the correct thing and I think we’re operating within the spirit of the settlement agreement that we made… I think moving forward and doing the appointments is absolutely the appropriate thing to do.”
Councilman Jason Dominguez pointed out that the City Charter allows the council to make appointments and that reopening the process would be “giving a pretty expensive second bite at the apple for someone who didn’t go through this just a month ago.”
Mayor Cathy Murillo said the small candidate pool could be a result of the district elections.
“We knew that when we shrunk the geographic area that you have to have a candidate that lives in that zone and that’s going to limit recruiting and cultivating a candidate,” she said. “The benefit of having someone from the neighborhood, the flip side of that is you have to find somebody from there.
“I think that Ms. Harmon, in particular, is being targeted on this one because Mr. Gutierrez was actually in an election and won,” Ms. Murillo said. “I think she’s well-spoken, does her homework and reflects the values of her constituents and maybe people just said ‘hey, I respect her and I’m not going to challenge her.'”
There will be an election in November for the positions of District 1 (Eastside) and District 2 (the Mesa). Both of those terms run through January 2025.