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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Zero Tuesdays to Go: Very Low Turnout Will Shape SB Results; Cathy's Last Stand; Matt Caught in Act

Voters are staying away in droves from Santa Barbara's historic city election, with a mere one-fourth of those registered having returned ballots 36 hours before polling ends at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 2) -- half of the final turnout percentage in a similar contest four years ago.

"One day before Election Day, it looks like turnout is going to be low," county elections chief Joe Holland, who is managing the contest for the city, told Newsmakers. "We'd like to see a lot of people get out and vote on Tuesday."

With the mayor's office and two contested City Council seats at stake, a running total of ballots returned to the registrar as of 11 a.m. Monday, sorted by council district and party. showed that:

  • Just 14,491 of 56,725 registered voters had completed their ballots so far -- 25.5 per cent - in what is the second election under the district City Council system; the first, and only comparable, contest four years ago produced a 51 percent turnout.

  • The lowest turnouts so far were on the Eastside's District 1 (17 percent) and the Westside's District 3 (16 percent); this could spell trouble for incumbent Mayor Cathy Murillo, who previously represented District 3 and who expects to run strong in both areas.

  • The highest turnout -- 34 percent -- is in District 4's San Roque/Riviera/Mission Canyon neighborhoods, spurred by a spirited council battle between incumbent Kristen Sneddon and developer Barrett Reed, as well as by traditional heavy voting patterns among its largely older, mostly white homeowners; this could bode well for the mayoral campaign of former council member Randy Rowse, running as a non-partisan moderate in a field of six, mostly more liberal candidates.

Political junkie special: Here is the complete data set of turnout to date provided by registrar Holland.

Still time to vote. If you're reading this on Tuesday, there's still time and opportunity to cast your ballot -- and help put the lie to the gloomy turnout forecast.

The city's website lists eight ballot drop locations, including City Hall, the County Administration Building and the County Elections Office, where you can place your ballot until 8 p.m. Tuesday.

It also lists five locations, including the Eastside Library, the Westside Neighborhood Center and MacKenzie Park, where you can vote on Election Day,

Why no sale on election? Whoever is elected mayor, the city's only citywide official, along with the winners in council races, will get five-year terms, a one-year bonus. Besides the District 4 race, appointed incumbent Meagan Harmon is challenged by longtime City Hall executive Nina Johnson in downtown's District 6 and incumbent Eric Friedman is unopposed in outer State Street's District 5..

The five-year terms are due to the historic anomaly of the 2021 race being the city's last odd-year election; voters several years ago approved charter changes to move local balloting to even years, a change expected to boost turnout, as well as save money.

The election also is significant in coming at a critical juncture for Santa Barbara's economic future, as it seeks to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, as well as address longer-term challenges caused by the decline of retail, the vagaries of the tourist industry and the chronic problems of State Street, from high commercial rents to apparently intractable homelessness.

The mayor's race largely was seen as a referendum on Murillo's performance in the pandemic, and other disasters, including the deadly Montecito debris flow, which struck in the early morning hours of the day she was sworn in, after she had captured the office by winning 27.96 percent of the vote in a splintered field in 2017.

Beyond Rowse, a No Party Preference independent, her major challengers included two fellow Democrats, Planning Commission President Deborah Schwartz and entrepreneur James Joyce.

In the wake of the national outcry over racial equity following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a white police officer, Joyce's emergence and success in winning key, major endorsements, also were historically notable; the first Black person to run for mayor in more than a decade, his proposals on vaccine mandates, City Hall ethics reform and expanding opportunities for hiring and promotion in city government shaped much of the campaign's debate.

Despite considerable, sometimes noisy, coverage by Santa Barbara's small but energetic political press corps, however, it appears that most voters tuned out of the mayor and council races.

One political consultant suggested part of the reason may lie in the Sept. 14 statewide recall election which unsuccessfully sought to oust Governor Gavin Newsom, and which dominated media political reporting in California and the nation for months.

"A lot of people probably got their city ballot in the mail and thought, 'I already voted,'" this insider said.

Cathy's foolhardy flyer. Over at the Montecito Journal, the inveterately aggressive Nick Masuda scooped the world with a weekend report on a last-minute, disinformation mailer from Murillo's campaign that broke all world records for faux outrage by portraying Rowse as the second coming of Donald Trump.

The MoJo headline summed it up pretty cogently:

"Desperate Move? Mayoral Incumbent Cathy Murillo Falsely Links Opponent Randy Rowse to Trump."

Personally, we would have lost the question mark.

Let us count the ways this was a dumb move: Besides how famously averse Santa Barbara voters are to even mild forms of negative campaigning (does Pat Dennis, Murillo's Sacramento-based strategist really not know this?), there's the fact that Rowse has been a well-regarded figure in the city's business and political zeitgeist for decades, making it difficult to make phony charges stick,

And purely as a political matter, even if tarring Randy as a Trumpista was a sound strategy, the time to start doing it would have been six weeks ago, not the weekend before the election, if the message was going to take.


Boat Rat busted. It's been truly annoying to drive around town in recent weeks and see the plethora of "Boat Rat Matt for Mayor" signs hung in illegal locations, not to mention nailed to trees, by the campaign of Matt Kilrain - not least because the utter contempt he's shown for the city's allegedly strict regulations on campaign signage match the disrespect and contumacy he's displayed with his QAnon-adjacent, anti-vaxxer, wing nut rantings at campaign forums.

One loyal Newsmaker who shares our outrage has sent multiple images of illegal Kilrain sign postings to City Hall, to no avail, and even caught the candidate in the act, hanging one from a palm near Modoc and Hollister.

Raise the vibe in the 805, indeed.

Don't forget to vote.


Images: Facebook; County Elections Office; Screen grab Montecito Journal; Boat Matt Rat posting a campaign sign in illegal location (courtesy photo).

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