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SF Redistricting Task Force Rejects Final Draft Map, Missing Deadline and Risking Legal Challenge

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A man on the street hold a multi-colored flag above his head.
A protester holds a flag in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood on March 30, 2022, during a demonstration calling for the Transgender and Leather districts to remain within District 6. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Thousands of public comments. Hours of heated testimony. Accusations of political interference. Sexually tinged insults exchanged by redistricting officials.

The drawn-out decennial effort to redraw the map determining district boundaries in San Francisco, and who gets to vote for which seat on the Board of Supervisors, has certainly not lacked for drama.

Of course, it isn't simply acrimony for acrimony's sake. The changes enshrined by this task force will take away, or solidify, voting power for communities across the city for the next decade.

But after a nearly 10-hour meeting, including public comment from some 150 concerned residents, the San Francisco Redistricting Task Force late Wednesday night narrowly rejected what was supposed to be its final version of the map, amid lingering equity issues and accusations that it unfairly advantaged the city's Democratic moderates, to the detriment of progressives.

"This final draft map diminishes the ability of communities of interest, made up of some of our most vulnerable populations, that should be included in a single district for purposes of their fair and effective representation," task force member Chema Hernández Gil said during the hybrid in-person/virtual meeting.

The 5-4 vote to scrap the draft means the commission will fail to meet the city's binding Thursday deadline to submit a final version, and could now face legal action.

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The task force plans to hold a series of meetings in the coming weeks to tweak the draft map in an attempt to bring it more in line with the demands of residents.

A voting district map of San Francisco.
A draft final map of new voting districts in San Francisco that members of the Redistricting Task Force rejected on April 13. (SF Redistricting Task Force)

Throughout the night, some task force members warned that not approving a map by the deadline would set up the possibility of a legal challenge and the prospect that a judge could ultimately be appointed to produce the final version.

"I feel like it's almost torture to go on at the pace we've been going on," Ditka Reiner, the vice chair of the task force, said. "I'd like to finish this map and meet the deadline. I'm not worried about litigation. I think we did the right things."

But task force member J. Michelle Pierce said she welcomed such an outcome.

"This process has for the last month and a half been overtly racist to me," she said, arguing that the current draft would split up Black communities in the city's southeast neighborhoods. "The tinge of extremely anti-Black racism that I have been feeling the last week and a half has finally reached my breaking point."

She added, "It could not be any more biased than what I’m looking at here. It looks like a KKK member’s dog ate this map, and threw it up, and that’s what we got."

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Some dissenters also argued that if the draft map had been approved Wednesday, the task force would face a legal challenge anyway on allegations of voter disenfranchisement.

Notably, the five members who voted down the map were appointed by the Board of Supervisors and the Elections Commission, with one swing vote from the body's chair, Rev. Arnold Townsend, who was appointed by Mayor London Breed and has been accused of being swayed by her. Two of the four yes votes came from members appointed by Breed, who have faced similar accusations.

While on paper the task force has the seemingly apolitical job of redrawing voter lines that reflect population changes detailed in the 2020 census, the impact of those decisions has an outsize effect on the balance of political power in San Francisco.

The Chinese communities in Chinatown and the city's southeast, the Filipino community in South of Market, the Black community in the Bayview, the transgender community in the Tenderloin, the gay community in the Castro, the Latino community in the Mission and Excelsior — all of these groups and more are pushing the redistricting task force to keep them grouped to preserve the collective power of their vote and allow them to effectively advocate for their needs.

The most recent draft of the map, those groups argue, would have splintered their communities, weakening their political influence and representation. For instance, bringing the wealthy Sea Cliff neighborhood into the Richmond's voting lines could make that district more conservative and potentially diminish the influence of Asian voices, while moving a slice of Potrero Hill out of District 10 would split up Black communities.

During Wednesday's lengthy public-comment period, Karen Pierce, who identified herself as a native San Franciscan, urged the task force to reject the map before them.

"We have a history now that the current District 10 provides an opportunity for the Black community voice to be heard in this city," she said. "Switching this up, it doesn't matter who or what ethnic group is put in here to dilute her voice. The bottom line is, our voice is diluted."

The tense map-drawing process has gone on for months, but reached fever pitch at the previous Saturday meeting when task force members Pierce, Gil, Raynell Cooper and Jeremy Lee walked out in protest at 2 a.m., claiming the process was too rushed and inevitably would disenfranchise underserved communities in the city.

But task force member Chasel Lee, who voted on Wednesday to approve the map, pushed back on that idea.

"I would humbly submit that the map did not foster the divisions. The divisions were always there. They had always existed. And perhaps it’s because we didn’t know about them, or we chose not to see them," he said at Wednesday's meeting.

Townsend, the task force's chair, asked his fellow board members on Wednesday to push themselves a little further, despite the sometimes-grueling length of the meetings.

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"I know the level of exhaustion, of stress," said Townsend. "There's just more work I think needs to be done."

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