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Santa Rosa moves closer to vote on district elections

Santa Rosa voters may get to decide in November whether they want to elect their City Council representatives by districts rather than citywide.

City Council members expressed support Tuesday for the recommendations of the 21-member Charter Review Committee, including putting district elections before voters in the fall.

"I don't see why we shouldn't move forward with the committee's recommendations," Mayor Ernesto Olivares said.

The move sets the stage for a Nov. 6 vote which, if approved, could lead to the first-ever City Council election by districts in 2014.

Supporters of district elections packed the City Council chambers, with dozens holding signs saying "District Elections. Let the voters decide." Many pushed for a "simple seven" format with seven council members elected from seven districts and a mayor named from their ranks.

Kyra Janssen, 74, said she attended the charter review meetings, studied the district elections issue closely and concluded that while it is not a "silver bullet," it's preferable given the changing face of Santa Rosa.

"District elections looks to the future rather than to the past," Janssen said.

One of the main arguments for district elections has long been that it would broaden diversity in local politics, which has historically been controlled by residents from the wealthier and whiter northeast section of the city. All seven city council members live in the northeast.

Anne Seeley, of Concerned Citizens of Santa Rosa, said there would be several other benefits to district elections, including reducing the costs of political campaigns and thereby allowing people of more modest means to serve; reduced election costs for the city; and making it easier for voters get to know their elected representatives.

"We think it really is the time to give your constituents the choice in this matter," Seeley said.

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