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Chaos Again Engulfs Effort to Draw New District Lines After 2 a.m. Walkout

Written by Mike Ege, Han LiPublished Apr. 10, 2022 • 2:30pm
The current draft map of SF's supervisorial districts. The percentages indicate deviation from ideal population.

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Saturday’s Redistricting Task Force meeting began at 10 a.m. and lasted more than 19 hours, descending into chaos early Sunday morning as four members walked out in protest over the protracted voting process and the current draft map.

Proposals to relocate entire neighborhoods from their current districts caused widespread uproar in this latest episode of a dramatic, decennial redistricting process. Representatives from numerous community groups, in particular those affiliated with the city’s progressives, often spoke of the redrawn map in life-or-death terms. The eventual results may reshape the demographics of the Board of Supervisors, exerting a strong influence on the city’s electoral politics for the next decade. 

After hours of public comment, tensions boiled over at around 2 a.m. when four members—José María (Chema) Hernandez Gil, Jeremy Lee, J. Michelle Pierce, and Raynell Cooper—walked out of the meeting. At issue was whether the Portola should be part of District 10, which currently covers Bayview-Hunters Point, Dogpatch and Potrero Hill.

This report is based on direct observation of much of the meeting, along with the accounts of five people who were in attendance.

Whichever district the Portola ultimately joins has implications for the city’s delicate racial politics. Placing it in D10 would reunite it with Visitacion Valley, something that AAPI advocates claim will undo diluted representation for their community after the last round of redistricting. But increasing the proportion of that district’s Asian population may outweigh the votes from its Black residents, who have all but ensured Black representation on the Board in the city’s southeast.

A vote to make the change had failed 5-4 with the supervisorial appointees, Hernandez, Pierce, and Jeremy Lee, along with Elections Commission Appointees Cooper and Reiner voting against. Task force chair Townsend then asked for a recess so that members could move their cars for street cleaning. 

When the members returned from recess, Reiner moved to rescind the earlier vote, as she had voted with the majority by mistake due to being confused about the item. The motion to rescind the vote then passed 5-4, as did another motion to approve the change. Hernandez, Pierce, Jeremy Lee, and Cooper opposed these votes and walked out of the chambers along with members of the audience. The meeting was adjourned at about 5:40 a.m.

The late-night implosion highlighted the ongoing controversy over how to draw the lines while protecting “communities of interest,” which the city defines as “a group of people in a defined geographic location that share a common bond.” Member Matthew Castillon proposed map changes around midnight that attempted to move the Portola District, a neighborhood with a substantial Asian American community, into D10. As that would necessitate moving Potrero Hill into D9, where it would join the Mission and Bernal Heights, the proposal elicited harsh, loud criticism from the audience. Member J. Michelle Pierce denounced the process in language that stopped just short of a comparison to genocide.  

“I feel that this map takes what we’re trying to do and reintroduces redlining … to remove us completely,” Pierce said. “When I look at systemic removal, I think of something, given the situation in Ukraine, and out of respect I won’t call it that, but it starts with a G.” 

Shaw San Liu, the executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, who walked out together with the members, slammed the alleged backroom deal.

“It’s clear that there’s something very wrong about the process.” Liu said. “We are not hearing the whole story.”

Julie Soo, a Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board commissioner, called in shortly before 3 a.m., as the meeting grew increasingly restive.

A supporter of a move to eliminate districts altogether and return to citywide elections, Soo said she’s “disgusted” that the members walked out and the Chinese community appeared to be pitted against the Black community. She later told The Standard that she had notified the Sheriff’s Department regarding safety concerns facing the all-volunteer task force.

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The hours-long process was able to produce some compromises, such as an agreement between representatives of Japantown and those of nearby retirement communities that wished to be grouped together. But several points of contention flared up repeatedly during public comment.

Besides the fracas over D10, there was a battle over moving Sea Cliff, Presidio Terrace and the Lake Street corridor from D2 to D1, where it would join the Richmond. Opponents cited the former’s history of racist covenants and the income disparity between neighborhoods, but in the current map, Sea Cliff has been moved.

The other major source of disagreement is the Tenderloin, which is currently part of D6 along with SoMa and Mission Bay. Enormous growth in those neighborhoods distorted the city’s overall population distribution, which is what led to such radically reworked district maps in the first place—and now the Tenderloin may move into District 5. The proposal to separate it from SoMa drew heavy criticism from representatives of cultural districts whose footprints straddle Market Street, such as the Transgender District.  

Following the walkout, there was a recess, after which the remaining members reconvened only to face a continuing stream of critical public comment. The meeting finally adjourned at 5:43 a.m. Sunday, having approved a draft map that is expected to draw heavy criticism. The Task Force has two more meetings to work out a final map before the April 15 deadline.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify sourcing.

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Mike Ege can be reached at [email protected]
Han Li can be reached at [email protected]




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