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Politics & Policy

Effort to oust task force members turns citizen-led redistricting into partisan war

Supervisor Aaron Peskin speaks at a rally against the proposed redistricting maps on April 6, 2022. | Camille Cohen

An effort by a coalition of progressive groups to remove three members of what is supposed to be a non-partisan Redistricting Task Force, which is being considered Friday by the SF Elections Commission, has thrown the process of drawing new district supervisor lines into chaos, with no clear solution in sight.

Technically, the fight involves how to draw a new map that will take into account population shifts—primarily a surge in population in what is now District 6 and includes SoMa and the Tenderloin. A committee of volunteers appointed by the mayor, the Board of Supervisors and the Elections Commission is supposed to manage a public input process and make the final decisions.

But the process this year is instead showing how the city’s bitter political divide between so-called moderates and progressives is undermining routine governance.

The current crisis arose after progressive political groups and their allies on the Board of Supervisors, unhappy with the maps the Task Force was putting forward, mobilized supporters Wednesday to demand that the Elections Commission remove its three appointees to the nine-member task force.

The Commission agreed to consider that unprecedented step in the wake of packed demonstrations and testimony at both the Redistricting Task Force and Elections Commission meetings, which were happening in adjacent rooms in City Hall on Wednesday.

Organizers from San Francisco Rising, an alliance of progressive groups, asked attendees sitting in an overflow room inside City Hall to impugn the integrity of the Election Commission appointees and demand that the commission remove. That came after the Task Force voted to approve a new interim map that veered further away from San Francisco Rising’s preferred map. 

According to sources who were listening to the proceedings–no video or minutes are available of the meeting as of press time– the Elections Commission voted to consider removing the task force members after one commissioner apparently left the room. They also consulted a deputy city attorney who said that they had the authority to remove the task force members, and that remaining task force members could go forward with the process. 

“It’s very concerning that the Elections Commission would consider this move,” says John Trasvina, a former dean of the University of San Francisco law school and former elections commissioner. “They are being led into making a political judgment, when their strength is that they are supposed to be a non-political body…removal based on a decision regarding an interim map risks crossing a line.”

SF Rising took the lead on organizing at City Hall and in the media in favor of a “Community Unity Map,” which prioritizes keeping district lines in place so that the various communities of interest are kept together. 

Accusations lack evidence of misconduct

San Francisco Rising was formed in 2009 to advocate for the interests of a number of nonprofit and grassroots groups which have traditionally been part of the progressive movement in San Francisco: affordable housing developers and advocates, and other community organizing groups. Among their affiliate partners are the Chinese Progressive Association, PODER, and the South of Market Community Action Network. They’ve claimed credit for recent progressive political victories in venues ranging from budget fights at City Hall to ballot initiatives such as Proposition L, an increase in tax on businesses with excessive CEO pay. 

On Wednesday, social media posts from SF Rising and the League of Pissed off Voters–another influential progressive group that publishes election guides–urged the elections commission to "investigate" its appointees, cloaking a call to remove three members in rhetoric about protecting democracy by stopping a #ModCoup. Some of these tweets were accompanied by graphics of the targeted task force members, citing their professional and even personal backgrounds as evidence of a lack of integrity.

Tweets from supervisors Dean Preston and Connie Chan echoed that rhetoric, with Chan praising the League of Pissed Off Voters’ coverage and Preston speaking at a rally outside City Hall Wednesday. Supervisor Aaron Peskin was also present, later telling the Chronicle that the commission’s move to consider removal was warranted. 

The ACLU and the Asian Law Caucus also weighed in with concerns.

Still, there don’t appear to be any specific allegations of misconduct. The three task force members–vice chair Ditka Reiner, Raynell Cooper, and Chasel Lee–defended themselves in a statement released Thursday. 

“The necessary changes that we and our colleagues have been poring over painstakingly for weeks now are difficult decisions and we are doing our best to weigh the many variables at play,” the statement reads. “We are trying to do so in a collaborative process that reflects the concerns we’ve heard from stakeholders.”

“I have not seen any evidence that there is any corruption in the redistricting process so far,” says Jason McDaniel, professor of politics at San Francisco State. “It is perfectly legitimate for people and community groups to advocate for their desired redistricting outcomes… [but it’s also] important to recognize that there are negative impacts that arise when political leaders stoke outrage without any evidence to undermine the legitimacy of the redistricting process.

The possible removal of the appointees sparked outrage among elected officials and moderate political groups. Mayor London Breed, State Senator Scott Wiener, and Supervisors Matt Haney, Catherine Stefani, Ahsha Safai and Rafael Mandelman have all condemned the move. 

Meanwhile, a number of groups reacted to the move by organizing volunteers themselves. Center-left and moderate groups including the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club, Edwin Lee Democratic Club, District 2 Democratic Club, and GrowSF have also made public calls to speak out against the removal of the task force members, seeking to pack the Friday meeting with statements defending the three members. 

No matter what the Elections Committee decides at Friday’s hastily arranged meeting—which as of this writing promises to extend late into Friday evening—the end result of this fight may be the destruction of public confidence in the redistricting process, with ripple effects beyond just the task force itself. 

“In one act, the Elections Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and the Task Force could suffer a loss of integrity,” says Trasvina.