Advocates urge district elections at Santa Rosa charter forum

  • Mike Senneff, middle, chairman of Santa Rosa's 21-member Charter Review Committee listens to Santa Rosa citizens talk about issues related to the city, with his colleagues Saturday May 10, 2012 at the Utilities Field Operations Building on Stony Point Road. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

A parade of speakers on Saturday called for district elections in Santa Rosa, saying the concept is more democratic and would bridge the city's economic and ethnic divide.

"The current system does not work for the most marginalized" residents, said Omar Gallardo, referring to the low-income Roseland and Apple Valley areas. "I encourage you to bring back democracy."

About three dozen members of Gallardo's group, the North Bay Organizing Project, attended a public hearing hosted by Santa Rosa's Charter Review Committee at the Utilities Field Operations building on Stony Point Road.

About 130 people attended the three-hour meeting to consider possible changes to the city charter, including a switch from citywide voting for all seven council members to separate voting in seven districts.

By unofficial count, 44 speakers favored district elections and two supported the status quo.

Boisterous applause followed some of the majority comments, voiced by whites, Latinos, blacks, academics, clergy, activists and residents from all quarters of the city.

Nineteen committee members, appointed by the council, made no comment. The committee, which previously had rejected district elections on a 10-6 straw vote, is expected to recommend charter amendments to the council in May.

The council will decide whether to put any amendments to a public vote in November.

"I don't want my city known for having an exclusionary attitude," said Rev. Curtis Byrd, who noted he is the second African-American appointed to the Planning Commission. "The time for change has passed."

Northeast Santa Rosa residents have long dominated the council and other policy-making boards, and in 145 years only two westside residents and two minorities have been elected to the council.

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