According to the city’s 2016 Survey, only one in four Carlsbad residents are “very confident” that their city leaders will make the right decisions for them. That’s down from one in three in 2014. Overall, the share of residents who have confidence in city government dropped from 84 percent to 74 percent in the last two years.
The level of satisfaction varies by ZIP Code. North Carlsbad residents (92008 coastal and 92010 inland) were almost twice as likely to lack confidence in city leadership (27% and 36%) than those living in South Carlsbad (92011 coastal: 17 percent and 92009 inland: 15 percent).
It’s a tale of two cities.
According to SANDAG’s 2016 demographic and socioeconomic estimates:
Carlsbad’s median household income is $98,000. Southerners are wealthier, at $115,000 coastal $99,000 inland, compared to Northerners, at $78,000 coastal and $81,000 inland.
The median age of Carlsbad residents is 41. Northerners are younger, at 38 coastal and 40 inland, compared to Southerners, at 44 coastal and 42 inland.
According to the SANDAG report, 20 percent of Carlsbadians identify as Latinos. For Northerners it’s 25 percent coastal (includes the Barrio), and 19 percent inland. For Southerners it’s 18 percent coastal and17 percent inland.
A total of 86,000 residents were telephoned or emailed the survey, producing 1,000 respondents.
In what can only be assumed to be a typographical error, the survey’s methodology appendix reads, “The large majority of residents is white or Caucasian (77 percent).” Only 7.4 percent are listed as “Hispanic or Latino.”
If only 74 Latinos responded to the survey, the report is useless for measuring their community’s level of satisfaction with city government.
With females representing more than half the population and Latinos one in five it’s hard to explain why Carlsbad has never had a female majority on the Council nor a single Latino councilmember.
The result of at-large elections in Carlsbad has brought the city mostly white male leaders elected by less than half of city voters. The only time Mayor Matt Hall received more than half of the votes was when he ran unopposed in 2014.
Mark Packard has been elected to the Council three times, exceeding 40% of the vote only once.
Michael Schumacher was elected to the Council in 2014 with 42% of the vote.
In 2016 Keith Blackburn won support of only 23 percent of voters, followed by Cori Schumacher, who defeated Lorraine Wood, the Council’s sole female incumbent, 20 percent to 19 percent.
There were four other candidates for the two seats, sharing 36 percent of the votes. Melanie Burkholder withdrew mysteriously from the race at the last minute, before her name could be removed from the ballot. She wound up with 5 percent of those uninformed voters.
And that’s the problem with at-large elections. Only rarely do winning candidates win a simple majority of votes. Election results, either intentionally, or unintentionally, can be influenced by phantom candidates like Burkholder and other hopefuls with very little public recognition. The result is the election of individuals with little constituent support.
According to the city’s website the Council is tentatively scheduled to address the issue of at-large elections at its May 9 meeting. It’s in response to a letter the city received from a law firm claiming Carlsbad’s at-large elections violates the California voting rights act. The letter cites three instances where Latino candidates ran unsuccessfully for City Council, yet received “significant support” from Latino voters.
The city website claims Latinos represent about 13 percent of Carlsbad’s population. That figure comes from the 2010 census. As cited above, SANDAG’s 2016 estimate is 7 points larger.
San Marcos and Vista changed from at-large to district elections last year. Given the experience of other southern California cities, the financial consequences of challenging a voting rights act lawsuit could be in the millions with the strong likelihood that the city would lose.
But the benefits of abandoning at-large elections are substantial, beginning with breaking the hold of a good old boys’ network that serves to bar gender and ethnic diversity from Carlsbad leadership.
Cori Schumacher’s election last year loosened their grip. The political outsider may not have been elected if it were not for her exceptional leadership in the grassroots campaign to defeat Measure A, protecting the Hedionda Lagoon from a billionaire LA developer.
District elections have the potential to change the go-along to get-along politics of our Village by the Sea.