Recognizing the growing complexity of their communities and trying to reach out to underrepresented sectors of their cities, 16 of the 20 largest cities in California have some form of election by district and four combine district and at-large formats.
By dividing Santa Rosa into seven districts, in which the residents elect a resident of their district to represent them on the City Council, the council would become more representative of the whole community, the elected representatives would be known by their constituents and they would be familiar with the needs and concerns of their districts.
In turn, we think that residents would feel that they have more of a stake in city government, since they would be able to contact their district representative directly and be assured that their concerns would be taken seriously. When needed, community pressure could be applied on issues important to the community, and the district representative could be held accountable.
At a time when faith in government and its elected officials is faltering and voter turnout is disappointing, the adoption of City Council elections by district, in which candidates come from the community, are known to voters and are not dependent upon large donors, should increase civic participation and create a more vigorous city government.
Since the cost of running a campaign, even on the local level, has become excessive, many potential candidates are dissuaded from seeking office. District elections, however, would drastically reduce the size of the electorate and, therefore, the cost of campaigns for the City Council. More residents could seriously consider representing their community, without being beholden to large contributors.
In view of the above, we strongly recommend that the Santa Rosa City Council offer the people of Santa Rosa the opportunity to vote on whether to amend the charter to provide for district elections to the City Council. Fairness, civic harmony and democracy deserve nothing less.
Omar Gallardo of Santa Rosa is president of the North Bay Organizing Project. Tony White is a retired history professor and member of the NBOP task force on district elections.