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Politics & Policy

Redistricting gets uglier: Commission to meet Friday on whether to remove 3 task force members

Jupiter Peraza, Director of Social Justice Initiatives at the Transgender District, speaks at a rally against the proposed redistricting maps to a crowd of various community groups on April 6, 2022. | Camille Cohen

The brouhaha over the city’s redistricting process reached a fever pitch on Wednesday evening as the San Francisco Elections Commission moved to hold a special meeting to consider the possible removal of one or more of their three appointees to the Redistricting Task Force. The meeting, initially scheduled for the weekend, will now take place tomorrow, Friday, at 1:30 p.m., according to an email this afternoon from the commission.

The move came days before the task force is due to submit a final map of the city’s supervisorial districts to the Board of Supervisors, and followed a frenetic and hours-long spectacle that brought an outraged crowd to the door of the elections commission. 

“I am amazed and confused by this,” said Arnold Townsend, who chairs the task force, referring to the election commission’s decision to consider removal of three task force members. “Removal should be about malfeasance, not matters of opinion. Nobody told us there would be a litmus test for this job…I think [considering removal] is a dereliction by the commission. We’ve lost the capacity for dialogue in this city.”

The move was denounced Thursday by top city political leaders including Mayor London Breed and State Sen. Scott Weiner. Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the district at the center of the fight and is now running for State Assembly, also said late Thursday that he opposed the 11th-hour effort to remove the task force members.

At the Wednesday evening meeting, organizers in favor of a “Community Unity Map” proposed by San Francisco Rising, an alliance of progressive groups, asked attendees sitting in an overflow room inside City Hall to switch their attention from a task force meeting to a simultaneous elections commission meeting. Both the redistricting task force and elections commission met on Wednesday, in adjacent rooms at City Hall. 

Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and Honey Mahogany, Legislative Aide of Matt Haney, attend a rally against proposed redistricting maps on April 6, 2022. | Camille Cohen

According to participants and written talking points distributed in advance of the meetings, organizers were encouraged to voice “major concerns over the integrity” of the commission’s three appointees to the task force, and to claim that the map-drawing process had insufficiently factored in community input. The task force is comprised of nine members: three appointed by the Board of Supervisors, three by the mayor, and three by the elections commission, a government body that facilitates local elections.  

By roughly two hours later, the commission had moved to hold a special meeting to consider removal of the task force members.  

Paper reflecting the written talking points distributed in advance of the meetings on April 6, 2022. | Camille Cohen

The three appointees being considered for removal are task force vice chair Ditka Reiner, Chasel Lee and Raynell Cooper, according to a press release from San Francisco Rising.

In a statement Thursday, the three forcefully rejected the calls for their ouster.

“For the past seven months, we have spent countless hours volunteering our time, often late into the night, to hear from different residents, communities, and organizations about how we can best adjust San Francisco’s district boundaries to reflect the changing population of our city,” they said in a statement.

“Over the past few days, we have been accused of bias, attacked on social media, and targeted by elected officials and their allies who are trying to intervene in our independent process and influence the district that they will ultimately represent…We are asking you to reject this proposal, shield our committee from these efforts to undermine our independence, and allow us to complete our process free of undue influence and partisan pressure.”

The motion to switch maps was made in the early hours of Tuesday morning, after a Monday evening meeting dragged on late. The motion was made by mayoral appointee Matthew Castillion after being suggested during discussion by Cooper. It carried with votes by Cooper, Reiner and Lee, all elections commission appointees, along with Ho, Townsend and Castillon.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin speaks at a rally against the proposed redistricting maps on April 6, 2022. | Camille Cohen
Zachary Sexton, a USF students and volunteer with the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (Organizing branch), and Liana Labarca, with Tenderloin Healthy Corner store Coalition, hold signs at a protest outside city hall on April 6, 2022. | Camille Cohen

Ahead of the Wednesday meetings, progressive political groups had rallied members to a City Hall demonstration in response to a vote in the early hours of April 5, in which the task force moved to start fresh with a new map after struggling to reconcile population changes with community input in an earlier version. Redrawn districts must include roughly 80,000 people apiece, with maximum 5% deviation, and 84 communities of interest had filed publicly for consideration in the redrawing.

Organizers accused the task force of attempting to unfairly split up communities into separate voting districts: The new map, among other things, moves the Tenderloin to District 5, in with the Western Addition and away from SoMa. That had particularly enraged progressive organizers, who view the Tenderloin and SoMa as having similar constituents and issues. 

Organizers also cried foul at the late hour in which the vote to switch maps was conducted: After hours of discussion and public comment, the vote came after 3 AM on Tuesday.

Progressive politicians had also amped up pressure on the volunteer task force, with District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston echoing claims of integrity issues on the task force in a Twitter post and in a speech at Wednesday’s City Hall rally. Sandra Lee Fewer, former supervisor of District 1, was also reportedly present at the elections commission; District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin also spoke at Wednesday’s rally.

In a statement on Thursday, State Sen. Scott Wiener slammed the commission’s decision to consider the removal of three task force members as “about raw, hardball political power and nothing else.”

“If the Elections Commission takes this shady step—not based on inability of its appointees to perform their roles but rather on disagreement with their votes on redistricting maps—the integrity of the independent redistricting process will be severely and permanently damaged,” Wiener said.

Task force member Lily Ho told The Standard on April 6 that the map the task force had been working on up until the April 5 switch had particular difficulties in resolving population changes and keeping communities of interest intact in districts 3 and 6.

The task force is due to finalize a map by April 9, with the approved map forwarded to the supervisors by April 15. The body is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, April 7 at 3PM.

Correction: The motion to switch working maps from 4D to 4B was made by member Matthew Castillion after a suggestion by fellow member Raynell Cooper.