If there is something Marina is proud of, it’s the city’s diversity. Over a third of residents can speak a language other than English and its public schools consistently place in the top percentile of the most diverse in the state. It’s even in the city’s mission statement. Yet, four out of the five current City Council members identify as white.
This was not lost on H. Frederick Seigenfeld, an attorney in Santa Barbara. Seigenfeld sent a letter to the city threatening he would sue under the California Voting Rights Act if Marina didn’t move from at-large to district elections. According to documents he sent to the city, since 1994 – that’s 13 election cycles – Marina has had just five winning candidates from minority categories, showing the lack of diversity has a history.
Transitioning to four districts (plus a mayor who represents the whole city) is meant to empower minority candidates to run to represent smaller neighborhoods, rather than the city at large
(The Weekly reported in October that Seigenfeld initially failed to present a plaintiff who was a Marina voter. On his second attempt, Seigenfeld found an allegedly aggrieved voter by the name of Daniel Cagape who, as far as councilmembers know, isn’t registered to vote in Marina.)
Marina had two options to avoid a lawsuit: Pay Seigenfeld $30,000 to leave the city alone until 2022, or adopt a resolution of intent to move to district elections in time for 2020 elections. The city opted for the latter. On Dec. 3 the council voted 3-2 to finalize a district map, with Councilmember Adam Urrutia and Mayor Bruce Delgado in opposition.
Though Urrutia was on the losing side, he’s not against district-based elections. “Even beyond the question of race and ethnicity, this is about the voters picking their representatives,” he says. “[But the Council] ended up picking goofy districts and gerrymandering them like crazy, specifically to protect those who are sitting now.”
Brian McCarthy, a Marina resident who participated in the map-making process, also has concerns about the chosen map, especially in Marina’s newest community, The Dunes: “You would think that would be one contiguous community, but it’s split.” The map cleaves The Dunes into the districts of two current councilmembers, Frank O’Connell and Gail Morton, who are both up for re-election in 2020. (The other two are up for re-election in 2022.)
“There are a lot of growing pains here, but this map doesn’t appear to be unbiased, which is why the lines are so skewed,” says McCarthy, who also favors district elections in general. “We can’t fix it until we decide to redraw the maps.”