The campaign signs opposing Santa Rosa's Measure Q urge voters to "Protect Your Vote."
They'd be more accurate if they said, "Protect the Status Quo."
That's what Measure Q is all about. The issue of district elections in Santa Rosa is a matter of answering a simple question: Do you like the way things work at City Hall?
If your answer is "yes," vote no on Measure Q. If you see no reason to change the political equation in Santa Rosa, if you see no need to tip the balance of power that has been in place for at least the past 30 years, then there's no reason to support district elections for city council members.
If, however, you believe that Santa Rosa could benefit from a shake-up in the either/or politics that have created a long-running stalemate on the council and a resulting inertia in city government, you should consider voting in favor of Measure Q. A "yes" vote is a dart to the heart of the status quo.
Let's be clear: Measure Q does not guarantee positive changes at City Hall. But it does guarantee changes, and it will remedy a problem that has been clearly documented and identified as a serious concern in city politics for the past two decades.
That problem is virtually all of the people who serve on the city council come from one section of town. And that geographic homogeneity has been accompanied by lack of diversity in council members' ethnicity, economic status and political views.
Actually, there has been a little bit of diversity in the latter. For the past 20 years, about half of the council has come from one side of the political spectrum, and about half has come from the other.
But there are more than two political views in Santa Rosa, just as there is more than one neighborhood, more than one ethnic group and more than one economic status.
Measure Q may not be the only way to increase the diversity of the council, but it the only way that is on the ballot. And it is the way that has been recommended for nearly two decades by members of three separate committees charged with finding ways to improve city government.
Of course, those committees — each of which reflected the biases of the city council that appointed them — were evenly divided on the issue. Which is why, finally, the question will be decided by the voters on Nov. 6.
If approved, Measure Q would require that Santa Rosa be divided into seven districts, just as California is divided into Congressional districts, Sonoma County is divided into Board of Supervisors districts and the Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees and Sonoma County Board of Education are divided into districts. Santa Rosa would be the 30th California city to use district elections.
Voters in each district would elect a single candidate — a resident of that district — to represent them on the city council.
For years, opponents have argued that dividing the city into districts would "balkanize" the city council. But the council already is sharply polarized, and has been for years, with the majority teetering back and forth between a business-friendly faction backed by the Chamber of Commerce, real estate and development interests and an environmental-leaning faction backed by neighborhood groups and unions.