After a blown deadline sent the city’s redistricting process into legal limbo, the San Francisco City Attorney on Tuesday issued a memo outlining what steps the Redistricting Task Force must take, and emphasized that there is no further room for delay.
The task force’s decision to bypass an April 15 deadline established in the city charter opened up the risk of litigation, wrote deputy city attorneys Andrew Shen, Gus Gilbert and Ana Flores in a memo to the task force, the Elections Commission and Mayor London Breed. But with district elections coming up this year, the task force also can’t afford to drag its feet any longer on approving a final map.
The task force scheduled another meeting for April 21, and two subsequent meetings are tentatively planned for April 25 and 28, although they are not yet listed on its website.
Under that meeting schedule, “the RDTF has sufficient time to complete its task of redrawing district lines. But there is no cushion in this schedule for any further delays,” said the memo.
Citing an operational deadline of May 2, the date the Elections Department needs the map to prepare for the next election, the city attorneys wrote that the task force must adopt a final draft map at the April 21 meeting, whether it be the so-called “blowup map” that resurfaced at a dramatic April 14 meeting or some other draft.
“We’ve come close before, and 90% of our decisions have been done with unanimous consent,” said task force member Lily Ho. “This is about population, not politics—and if the racist rhetoric can be left at the door, we can get it done.”
Over a number of long meetings that stretched into the wee hours, the city’s redistricting debates frequently grew heated, marked by reports of insulting and racist language, allegations of political meddling and fury over what some groups saw as a lack of attention to community feedback.
After a draft map has been approved, state election law requires two additional hearings before its adoption as a final map. That means that after the April 21 meeting, the task force can only make minor or technical changes over its next two meetings before approving a final map.
“I am confident we’ll be able to do that,” Rev. Arnold Townsend, chair of the task force, told The Standard in a text message.
Also on Tuesday, three plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in SF Superior Court naming the redistricting task force and John Arntz, San Francisco’s Director of Elections. The complaint cited the missed April 15 deadline and asked the court to call a hearing and adopt a final map.
Plaintiff Todd David blasted the “ridiculous” politicization of this year’s redistricting process, saying: “The only reason we are in this position is because of political bullying.” But, David added, if the task force comes back with a legally compliant map on the timeline the city attorneys outlined, he doesn’t plan on taking any further legal action.
“We continue to advise the Redistricting Task Force so that it can complete its work by May 2 in order to meet the Department of Elections operational deadline for November 2022 supervisorial elections. When we are served with the lawsuit, we will review it and respond appropriately,” said Jen Kwart, a spokesperson for the city attorney’s office, in an email.
Annie Gaus can be reached at [email protected]