Three groups and five citizens filed a lawsuit against the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 8, requesting that the Santa Maria Superior Court throw out changes made to the county map last spring.
On Aug. 21, the County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve new boundaries for the county’s five districts. The revised map went into effect Sept. 20. The plaintiffs allege that the boundaries unite groups of citizens with contrary interests, divide Latino/Hispanic populations and fail to create districts of equal population. In particular, litigants argue that Isla Vista should not have been kept within the 3rd District, which extends to Buellton and Lompoc.
State law mandates that redistricting take place every 10 years, following the census, in order to maintain equal population within each district. The law states that the board of supervisors “may give consideration” to factors such as topography, geography, cohesiveness, contiguity, integrity and compactness of territory, and community of interest.
Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, one of the groups pursuing the suit, said the interests of I.V. are contrary to the interests of homeowners in the remainder of the 3 District and that neither has received adequate representation because of the conflict.
“We feel there is a proven 20-year history that the 3rd District has not done anything to improve Isla Vista,” he said. “The reason is that boundaries for the last couple decades have linked divergent communities. The current district plays those off against one another.”
Caldwell said that because the majority of I.V. residents are renters, their interests are closer to those held by the residents of Santa Barbara City, a part of the 2nd District.
“The top issue in the South County is availability of rental housing. Santa Barbara City has the highest renters of any city in the county,” he said.
One of the named plaintiffs, Jonathan Kalinski, is a member of UCSB Associated Students. This summer, A.S. passed a resolution that supported a move to the 2nd District.
“We presented that resolution to the Board of Supervisors meeting and it was ignored. I want the Board of Supervisors to know they can’t ignore I.V.,” he said. “With a district that cares about improvement and upkeep of urban areas like the 2nd District, Isla Vista would better have their needs met.”
The approved boundaries were drawn by 3rd District Supervisor Gail Marshall and were a composite of plans presented by citizen groups from North and South County. Mark Chaconas, Marshall’s assistant, said the current plan was a widely accepted compromise.
“We heard from UCSB students and Isla Vista residents and we took all their opinions into account and we created a plan that balanced all those interests,” he said. “We felt we did a good job. The folks who are suing are just looking for a headline – which you are going to give them.”
The suit also alleges that the boundaries of the 1st and 5th Districts divide Latino/Hispanic communities to minimize influence of minority voters. Second district resident Fred Vega said he is participating in the suit to represent the interests of Hispanic people in Santa Barbara County.
“I am Hispanic. This circumstance has divided Hispanics in the county,” he said.
Chaconas said the percentage of Hispanics included in each district was fairly consistent among the different plans submitted to the board.
“There were groups that united larger percentages of Hispanics in their proposed plans. But the plan that was supported by Hispanic groups split Santa Maria. But, in the interest of Santa Maria, the mayor requested that we not split his city,” he said. “I would add that this is not a diverse group. It is a very small group of people trying to get their way using lawsuits and intimidation. There is nothing diverse about that at all.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the board did not create districts with sufficiently equal populations. Caldwell said the current plan disenfranchises North County voters by placing I.V. in the 3rd District and including residents in the population totals – namely prisoners and military employees – who cannot vote.
“For the last 30 years North County growth has not been reflected in the district boundaries. Instead of weighting population growth via reapportionment, the plans have stunted North County by combining them with Isla Vista,” Caldwell said.
Chaconas said the redistricting plan is well within state guidelines for equal representation.
“The plan meets the request of North County mayors to keep the cities whole. It is balanced between districts,” he said. “State law allows counties the right to decide whether or not to include prisoners. The prison population was also included in the last 10 years so we chose to follow the precedent.”
The lawsuit also alleges that personal politics influenced the drawing of district boundaries. Kalinski said Gail Marshall altered the boundaries in a way that would secure her reelection.
“The only way that Gail Marshall can stay in office is by maintaining Isla Vista in her constituency. We serve to get Gail Marshall elected,” he said.
Chaconas said Marshall was not motivated by personal political goals and feels she has been a successful representative for Isla Vista.
“We won’t know if a change in district would affect Gail’s reelection for another three years. Gail feels she has done a good job representing Isla Vista,” he said.