SANTA MARIA, Calif. - The Santa Maria City Council has formally adopted a controversial map for new, citywide district elections starting in 2018.
Only one person spoke against the decision to formally approve the map at Tuesday night's City Council meeting saying the new map preserves the political status quo in the city by protecting existing Council seats and fails to adequately represent Santa Maria's majority Hispanic population.
"We will have two races on the ballot next year, 2018 November", said Santa Maria City Manager Rick Haydon, "it will be District 3 and District 4, which will represent primarily the southeast and southwest neighborhoods."
The City of Santa Maria currently has at-large City Council elections including the Mayor's race.
The City was forced to make the change to district elections by the threat of a lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act which protects against "racially polarized voting".
The City is also looking to redefine the role and responsibilities of Mayor which remains an at-large elected position with the new changes.
Like most other cities and counties in California, Santa Maria is staring at a "structural" budget deficit where spending is outpacing revenue, currently by a bout $4 million a year.
But that deficit is expected to grow as employee pension costs rise and sales tax revenue falls.
"We're going to address the budget on a combination of reductions in operational costs, we'll be taking a look at reductions in service levels", Haydon said Tuesday night, "we'll also be taking a look at a concession bargaining with the employees as well."
Former Santa Maria City Councilman Bob Orach, who spent nearly 30 years on the City Council and volunteering in the community before retiring last year, will have a city park named after him on the southwest side of Santa Maria near Liberty School.
"That's what this community is about", Orach told the City Council Tuesday night, "I've always felt, that's it, that's kind of your duty, to be involved and make things possible."
As for SMPD Chief Ralph Martin, who is retiring next month and leaving the department, Haydon says he plans to name an interim Chief in the coming weeks.
Haydon would not say how the City plans to conduct the search for Chief Martin's permanent replacement.