GOLIS: Will Santa Rosa be a city divided?

Once every decade, Santa Rosans focus on the people and neighborhoods who are under-represented in city government. One side endorses district elections as the only way to bring political equality to the city. The other side says everything is OK and district elections wouldn't work anyway.

They take a vote, district elections are rejected, and everybody goes home.

And another 10 years passes. This has happened twice before.

On Thursday night, I went to see if history would repeat itself.

There's a lot to like about the 2011-12 Charter Review Committee. These are conscientious, slightly wonky people trying to work through complex issues.

They remain divided, of course, in ways we have come to expect. In the popular shorthand, there is the business group and the environmental group. You know who they are even if they don't wear contrasting uniforms and publish a program. From time to time, a sharp exchange reminds us they are not best friends.

But they are more alike than they might want to admit. It has been noted before that the composition of this 21-member committee is symptomatic of the problem — Exhibit A in any conversation about city government's insularity. When City Council members made their appointments, the sign on the door might have read: Only friends and political insiders need apply.

Three-quarters of the committee members live in the prosperous neighborhoods of the city's northeast quadrant. The committee includes two former mayors, a former congressman, a former city manager, a former assistant to the city manager, several former members of boards and commissions, two school board members, two political consultants and two union officials.

But somehow council members weren't able to find anyone under 53 years old to serve on the committee, or even one Latino (in a city where Latinos represent at least 28 percent of the population).

This selection process managed to ignore a couple of decades of complaints about a political establishment that couldn't be bothered to reach out to new neighborhoods and to new residents.

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