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How We Represent 

It's time for district elections in Santa Rosa

click to enlarge LOVIN' IT A license plate says it all outside a public meeting on district elections in March of this year.
  • LOVIN' IT A license plate says it all outside a public meeting on district elections in March of this year.

I drove by Sheppard Elementary the other day, just to see if a crosswalk had gone in yet. It hadn't. For over three years, parents in the neighborhood have been asking for a crosswalk in front of their children's school on West Avenue in southwest Santa Rosa, and it still has not been painted on the road.

I thought about this the other day when I got a robocall from the "No on Q" campaign. In the recording, a man identifying himself as a resident of Santa Rosa warns about the danger of district elections, and assures that minorities are already well-represented in Santa Rosa.

If minorities are already well-represented in Santa Rosa, then why can't parents in the city's most predominantly Latino neighborhood get a simple crosswalk painted on the road in front of their children's school?

District elections are on the Santa Rosa ballot this year in the form of Measure Q, and here's what it would do. Santa Rosa would elect its city council from seven different districts of the city, ensuring an equal geographic spread of representation at city hall.

Why the need? Because in the last 30 years, only four of 30 councilmembers have come from the entire west side of Santa Rosa. None have come from the southwest quadrant, which includes Sheppard Elementary. None.

A rallying cry for the "No on Q" campaign is that district elections would only allow voters to choose one council candidate instead of voting for all seven available council positions. "Protect your vote," the many campaign signs prominent in northeast areas of town say. But if almost all council candidates come from Fountaingrove, Skyhawk, Montecito Heights or the McDonald area, what kind of vote is being protected? What kind of representation is that for someone who lives on Bellevue or Corby Avenue?

Let's face it: Santa Rosa is already divided. To ignore that fact is to be living in a midcentury idyll of Santa Rosa as a small town. We are split by the freeway and by the mall, and it's worth noting that efforts to mitigate those very tangible dividers have been shot down by the same council majority that opposes district elections. John Sawyer? He tried to block construction of a sorely needed bicycle and pedestrian overpass over Highway 101 near Coddingtown. Ernesto Olivares? He had the gall to actually demote a board member for suggesting to the owners of the Santa Rosa Plaza that they might want to explore some proposals for creating a full-time pedestrian walkway through the mall.

So when I hear opponents of district elections, including the Press Democrat's editorial director Paul Gullixson—incidentally, a very smart Santa Rosa resident who, ahem, lives on the east side—talk about district elections bringing "division" and echoing cries of "balkanization," I have to do a double-take.

You wanna talk balkanization? Roseland, with the largest concentrated Latino population in Santa Rosa, is still not included as an official part of the city. Santa Rosa's city limits completely circumvent Roseland, leaving a giant doughnut hole of non-city jurisdiction on the map. Never mind that this is a community that's been around for over a hundred years or that it has a vibrant concentration of locally owned businesses. The city doesn't want it.

Roseland lacks parks, libraries, community centers and other city amenities, and although Roseland is just one mile away from city hall, and surrounded on all sides by Santa Rosa, its residents don't get to vote in city elections. They literally have no vote to "protect" in the first place.

Could a city councilmember from the southwest area of Santa Rosa help give a much-needed voice to Roseland residents? Maybe even get a crosswalk painted on the street? Most people seem to think so.

In March, at a public meeting of the Charter Review Board, 44 of 46 speakers were in favor of district elections. (One of the two opponents was Keith Woods, of the North Coast Builders Exchange, who, some may remember, helped fund the 2010 David Rabbitt mailer about Mexican immigrants coming to your picnic and murdering your family.) Here's another thing: every candidate for city council except Olivares supports district elections. Gary Wysocky, Julie Combs and Caroline Bañuelos have been the most vocal on the issue, and, come to think of it, those might be good names to remember at the ballot box.

Three separate committees have recommended district elections for Santa Rosa as a step in the right direction toward equal representation. Many other cities follow the same model, as does the County Board of Supervisors and the school board, with no catastrophic results.

District elections won't divide the city; they'll ensure that every region of the city is represented on city council, which sounds a lot more like unity than what we've had for the last 30 years.

Vote yes on Measure Q.


Gabe Meline is the editor of this paper and lives downtown, roughly one Buster Posey home-run length away from city hall.

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