By and large, Santa Rosans agree on the problem. Over the past three decades — an era of dramatic change for this community — only four City Council members have come from the west side of town. The majority have come from the east side, specifically, the northeast quadrant.
Relatively few candidates have even emerged from the northwest and southwest regions of the community, a source of ongoing debate about what Santa Rosa should be doing to broaden its geographic representation and stimulate neighborhood engagement.
This newspaper has a record of encouraging increased government involvement by Latinos and from west side residents and heartily agrees with the objectives of this latest campaign to address this historic imbalance. But, in the end, we do not support the proposed solution.
Measure Q seeks to resolve this problem by dividing the city into seven districts of equal population with each district represented by a single council member. The advantage, supporters note, is that districts would lower the cost of running for office ensure geographic diversity and improve access and accountability.
We see positives from this approach, but regrettably they are outweighed by the many negatives. One is the likelihood that this system would introduce not only parochial politics but parochial thinking in a community, that despite its growth spurt during the previous three decades, remains too small for this kind of solution. If approved, Santa Rosa would join Salinas and Rancho Cucamonga as among the smallest cities in the state to have district elections.
For all its political squabbling over the years, the Santa Rosa City Council historically has not looked at its resources in terms of how they can be evenly distributed across the city map. The focus has been on addressing needs where they exist. The majority of capital expenditures — roughly 56 percent — over the past eight years, for example, has in fact been spent on the west side of town.
District elections would potentially jeopardize this kind of focus by introducing the responsibility of council members to ensure their district is getting its "fair share" of city resources, regardless of where the greatest needs exist. In a time of diminished resources, Santa Rosa needs less of this kind of thinking — and fewer political partitions — not more.
Second, district elections would bring no assurances that the City Council would achieve goals of broadening demographic representation in other areas such as gender, race, sexual preference, age, etc. The only thing that it would ensure is seven people coming from seven different parts of town. Ultimately, we don't believe the majority of residents make their decisions on who is most qualified to serve on the City Council based on where they live — certainly not enough to give it the priority afforded by Measure Q.
But here is the primary reason for our opposition. At the moment, Santa Rosans have a voice in determining all seven members of the City Council. Every two years, they vote to fill either three seats or four. Measure Q would limit residents to voting on just one council member every four years. Voters would have no input on who represents the other 86 percent of the community. We don't see that as making things better.
We're persuaded that Measure Q would lower the monetary barriers that prevent residents from running for office. But the cost is too great for a payoff that is at best uncertain.