Redistricting panel’s independence under siege

As a result of a ballot initiative approved by voters, county supervisor electoral boundaries are now being drawn by a local independent redistricting commission. The ordinance, drafted by county supervisor Das Williams, requires that anyone who has worked for a county supervisor or a candidate’s election in the past eight years can’t be a member of, or a consultant to, the redistricting commission. The purpose of this requirement is to preserve the independence of the commission from partisan political interference and any form of “electioneering.”

Predictably, the independence of the commission is under siege by progressive activists.

These include activist progressive attorney Phil Seymour, Santa Barbara County Democratic Party organizing director Spencer Brandt, and Lee Heller, who is a consistently large donor to local Democratic candidates (she recently donated $11,000 to support the re-election of Supervisor Williams). 

This group relentlessly pressured the redistricting commission to forego hiring the firm of Nielsen Merkasmer to serve as their legal counsel based on a very nebulous accusation that Nielsen was in violation of the eight-year prohibition having to do with the firm simply filling out a report indicating that one of their clients had donated $1,000 to Supervisor Bob Nelson. Nonetheless, Nielsen was initially recommended by county staff because it is the only firm in the state that specializes in drawing political boundaries, having provided services to the cities of Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, among hundreds of other jurisdictions. Moreover, Nielsen’s initial bid came in $100,000 less than the attorney the activists wanted, Mr. Fred Woocher. 

The Board of Supervisors is expected to award the contract to Mr. Woocher at its March 9 meeting based on the recommendation of the Redistricting Commission.

What both Mr. Seymour and Mr. Woocher failed to initially disclose is that they were the attorneys on record for a court case representing County Supervisor Doreen Farr, since retired, that certainly fell within the eight-year prohibition. The case ran up a legal bill in excess of $500,000, which Farr’s campaign was required to pay unless the attorneys decided to donate their time. This case clearly falls within the eight-year prohibition. 

A second cause of action has to do with another provision of the county ordinance, namely, all commission members and their consultants, must reside in Santa Barbara County and be registered to vote in the county. Mr. Woocher fails on both of these counts and is thereby disqualified from the contract.

Mark Meuser, Attorney

Dhillon Law Group

Counsel for the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB)

In defense of  SYHS teacher, lecture data

I’ve decided to write my own letter to the editor because, frankly, I’m tired of the nonstop attacks and criticisms in the “Santa Ynez Valley High School Administration/School Board Transparency Project” Facebook group. Slandering a good teacher and person is not “transparency.” I don’t think this behavior and treatment of this teacher is OK or should be tolerated for any other teacher either.

I am an actual former student of Mr. Mullin (unlike the letter previously published here by Jessie Bengoa and several of the adults posting in the Facebook group). I graduated from SYVUHS in 2006. I had Mr. Mullin for Latin 1 my freshman year (the year he won Teacher of the Year for the state of California), Latin 3 my sophomore year, and AP U.S. history my junior year. If he taught a class for seniors, I would have taken that too because he’s an amazing teacher and makes learning fun and enjoyable. My husband also had Mr. Mullin for Latin and says he was the best teacher he had at the high school. 

It is evident that a lot of people (based off the blog post written by Dr. Baeke) have twisted data and now are running with this narrative that they are somehow victims of a teacher’s political opinion (they are not, by the way). 

Sharing political data trends to an AP U.S. history class is completely appropriate, especially during an election year. These are high school students capable of critical thinking, and they will soon be old enough to vote for themselves. Shouldn’t they be learning about our current political system and climate as students? Sharing data is not sharing an opinion. 

Here’s an example of how incorrectly the blog is interpreting the lecture and data:

From the transcript, Mullin says: “But the younger Latinx kids tend to vote Liberal, but have a hard time convincing Granma and Granpa to change their vote… there’s a thing there.”

Baeke says to this: “According to the teacher, in Hispanic families it is the elder members who are naive and wrong-headed and need to have their political beliefs changed by the youngsters.”

That is completely misinterpreting the statement. Mullin said “young Latinx have a hard time convincing their elders to change their vote.” He did not say “young Latinx voters have the right idea and their elders are too stupid to figure it out.”

This data trend is true for my family. My Cuban grandmother (and grandfather before he passed) is conservative/Republican. Her children and grandchildren are not. We would never be able to convince her to change her vote. That doesn’t make her stupid or “naive and wrong-headed” as Baeke claims. Clearly, we are not the only family where this is true. That’s why it’s a reported trend according to their research data. 

Another thing people on the group and the blog are claiming: “He’s calling Trump supporters stupid.” 

No, he’s not. 

According to the 2016 data from Pew Research Center, Clinton supporters tended to have a higher level of education than Trump supporters. That is NOT calling anyone stupid. “What is your highest level of education?” is a commonly asked question when collecting demographic data. 

I’ll use another example from my family on this point. My mom, her parents and her six siblings (who are white) are all Republicans. Most are Trump supporters too. My mom graduated college. A lot of her siblings, and her dad, did not go to college. Therefore, their levels of education are lower than people who graduated college when they are asked about their demographics, but that does not make them stupid. It means they have different levels of education. If they voted Democrat, their levels of education would still be the same. Their voting preferences do not determine their level of education or “smartness.”

From Pew Research Center’s website: “Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. We conduct public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research. We do not take policy positions.”

In conclusion, you should not be offended by data trends and demographics that voters self-reported. If you are, that is your fault, not the teacher’s. Stop attacking a good teacher because you failed to understand how to objectively interpret data.

Erica Valdés

Proud former student of Mr. Mullin, SYVUHS Class of 2006

Developer’s plan will disrupt private road

Los Alamos is a small unincorporated town. We don’t have our own elected government. We depend on county officials. We pay property taxes just like other county residents and expect fair and responsive treatment by these agencies. 

Recently, however, a Planning and Development (P&D) issue has come to the fore after lying dormant for about two decades. Back then, the county ceded all responsibility for the maintenance of a two-block stretch of road here. We didn’t ask for it. They placed financial responsibility for road upkeep entirely in the laps of the adjoining homeowners.

While 18 homeowners pay annual dues for these repairs, we are more than welcoming to pedestrians, joggers, bike riders and dog walkers from all parts of town. All may enjoy this quiet and safe neighborhood.

Today, P&D is moving ahead with a developer’s profitable plan that would add as many as 11 new homes on an adjoining acre-and-a-half lot. The county has granted him the right of access to our private road. A county permit for his lot plan would greatly increase traffic here. It would raise the risks of accident and injury, reduce the safe and peaceful enjoyment of the road by us and our neighbors in town, and result in higher costs to us for road maintenance.

It may be that P&D is able to do this within existing zoning and planning rules. But it is not the right or smart thing to do; there is another road that could provide access for the developer. Planners ought to steer the outcome in this sound and responsible direction.

Instead, they first ignored a one-lane bottleneck. Then they tried to minimize its risks to safety because acknowledging it would complicate their aim to push forward with an ill-considered plan.

It seems to many here that county bureaucrats have been rigid, programmatic, occasionally arrogant and obfuscatory.  Isn’t it time for a reappraisal and a sensible result? 

Seth Steiner

Los Alamos

President, Shaw Street Maintenance Association