COURSEY: Mapping Santa Rosa's political divide
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 12:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 12:48 p.m.
If the geographic, ethnic and economic divide in Santa Rosa wasn't clear enough to you during last fall's campaign about district elections, take a look at the map now posted on the Press Democrat's “Watch Sonoma County” web site here.
Here is the problem in a graphic nutshell. The northeast quadrant of the city, which has controlled nearly every seat on the City Council for as long as anyone can remember, voted in November to keep things that way. Neighborhoods in the south and west voted for a change.
The balance of power in Santa Rosa has been clear for decades. Three successive Charter Review Committees, which are convened every 10 years to identify issues of importance to the overall community, have been divided over whether to spread that power around through the implementation of district elections. After another vigorous debate on the issue last year, members of the council opted to let the voters decide.
Measure Q would have split the city into electoral districts, ensuring that each district or neighborhood would have at least one resident on the council. But when voters were asked to support that notion, they responded with a resounding “no.” Measure Q lost 60 percent to 40 percent.
The status quo abides.
The map shows why. Bill Steck, a former public employee union official who served on the latest Charter Review Committee, produced this graphic study of precinct tallies to show where the votes for and against Q came from, and who cast them. And while there are a few surprises in this study, the overall conclusion was known before the election. Santa Rosa, as the headline says, is “A City Divided.”
The dividing line on Steck's map isn't where you might have expected. It's no surprise that the west side of Highway 101 had stronger support for Measure Q than the east. But the dividing line isn't the highway. Portions of northeastern Santa Rosa — including neighborhoods where the city's power brokers traditionally have lived — are colored purple and blue and green, indicating more support for Measure Q than the city as a whole. The Junior College and Burbank Gardens neighborhoods had a majority in support; South Park, the Grace Tract, McDonald Avenue and parts of Montgomery Village neighborhoods were in the 40- to 50-percent support range.
But once you got east of the city's core, the votes turned strongly negative. Steck's map uses yellow, orange and red to signify support of less than the citywide 40 percent, and the northeast and southeast side of the map is a solid sea of those colors. Fountaingrove, Alta Vista, Annadel Heights, Rincon Valley, Bennett Valley, Skyhawk and Oakmont all voted overwhelmingly against Measure Q.
One glaring chunk of Steck's map is colored white, indicating no votes at all. That's Roseland, an island of unincorporated county territory surrounded by Santa Rosa. It is home to about 7,000 residents who didn't get to vote on Measure Q. The map shows that in the portions of Roseland that are part of the city, support for Measure Q was more than 50 percent.
In addition to showing the geographic divide in Santa Rosa, Steck's study reveals an ethnic and economic gulf. Precincts where Measure Q enjoyed stronger support had more Latino residents of voting age than those that didn't — 31 percent versus 10 percent. Precincts where Measure Q had less support had higher median household incomes — $77,000 versus $53,000.
There also was a large age gap in the vote. In precincts with low support for Measure Q, more than 56 percent of voters were 55 or older. In precincts with stronger support, less than 39 percent were older voters.
If you pay attention to politics in Santa Rosa, Steck's map doesn't tell you anything you didn't already know. But it confirms with real data the very stark political divide that exists in our city.
And it reminds all of us that, despite 30 years of lip service to this issue, we still haven't done anything about it.
Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.