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Politics & Policy

California’s redistricting poised to shake up dynamics of AD-17 race

California’s redistricting could have major implications for next year’s District 17 State Assembly (AD-17) race, potentially reshaping which local candidates have a shot at representing roughly half of San Francisco’s population over the next decade. 

On Wednesday, the state’s redistricting commission released a new draft map of AD-17 that turns what used to be the eastern half of San Francisco into a carve-out of eastern and western neighborhoods that eliminates Bayview and swaths of the Mission while adding the Presidio, Marina and Seacliff.  

A visualization shows the difference between the current map and the proposed changes. Districts drawn using 2010 census data are outlined in green. The most recent draft from the California redistricting commission is in blue.

The draft map sparked rancor among some political observers, who charged that it could disenfranchise voters of color clustered in the southeastern part of the city. Jim Ross, a longtime political consultant, said that the changes could lead to more politically moderate candidates competing for the seat in the assembly primary next June. 

“In ideology, the candidates running for the race right now are not dramatically different,” Ross said. “It’s very possible that a candidate could run in the new district, but not run for the special [election] and be successful.”

Currently, the four candidates for the AD-17 assembly seat include David Campos, who formerly represented District 9, which includes the Mission; District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney; entrepreneur and scientist Bilal Mahmood; and Thea Selby, a member of the City College Board of Trustees. The seat was vacated by David Chiu, who had served in the seat since 2014 and was recently sworn in as City Attorney.  

Given the timing of the vacancy, candidates for the seat must navigate a sequence of elections that will include up to four races and a redistricting change that takes effect next year. 

Chiu’s vacancy spurred the process of two distinct elections for the seat: a special election to replace Chiu, followed by a regularly scheduled statewide primary that includes a contest for the same seat. A special primary election, which is scheduled for April 2022 with a primary in February, will use the current AD-17 map. A subsequent general election, scheduled for November 2022 with a primary in June, will use the new map. The redistricting commission plans to finalize the map on Dec. 27. 

Campos voiced concerns that the proposed changes to the assembly district would muffle voices of historically disenfranchised groups of voters. 

“The visualizations really harm communities of color, and they raise a lot of concern about diluting the voting power of these communities,” Campos told Here/Say in an interview. “My hope is that this is so bad that this outcome won’t be accepted. Hopefully, more people will be weighing in to keep that from happening.”

The state’s redistricting commission redraws district lines every ten years based upon changes to the census. The process is subject to changes in district populations, as well as demographics and community characteristics, designed to give populations the ability to elect representatives of their choice. 

Fredy Ceja, a spokesperson for the redistricting commission, stressed that while public opinion is an important barometer in adjusting the maps, commissioners must also account for how the entire state will shift as a result.  

“We have to come back and restructure certain parts of the state,” Ceja said. “But once you start editing one part of the state, it has a ripple effect to the other parts…It’s just a jigsaw puzzle that’s never ending.”  

The commission allows for public input on the drafts until Dec. 27., and accepts comments either through an online form or by attending a public input meeting.   

Ross said he imagines that the district map will change before the comment period has expired, and that it could reshape what types of local candidates are most viable in AD-17 for the next decade. While it may not have much impact on the state’s overall political landscape, a changing AD-17 could open up new pathways for San Francisco politicians. 

“Based on that map, there’s a real path for a much more moderate candidate, but that’s by San Francisco’s standards,” Ross said. “The way it would impact the assembly wouldn’t be that different, but it would be a big difference for San Francisco politics.”  

David Sjostedt can be reached at