This story was updated at 8:30 p.m., April 10
Shortly after 2 a.m., the final major mapping session of the Redistricting Task Force went into meltdown, with members Jeremy Lee, J. Michelle Pierce, Chema Hernández Gil, and Raynell Cooper walking out of the proceedings in protest.
Their walkout came after Vice-Chair Ditka Reiner, also appointed by the Elections Commission, returned from a break and asked to reverse a prior vote. Her reversal meant moving Potrero Hill into District 9 and Portola into District 10, a motion she had rejected only half an hour earlier.
When Reiner first voted against the motion, she said it was “one of the hardest things I have ever done.” Task force chair Arnold Townsend then immediately called a recess for members, to move their cars for street cleaning. When they returned, Reiner asked to rescind her earlier vote, saying she had been confused about the map they had been voting on.
Her four colleagues then walked out of the meeting. They were joined by several members of the public, who had been observing the late-night meeting in person.
Cooper was appointed by the Elections Commission. The others who walked out were appointed by the Board of Supervisors.
After a lengthy recess, in which the video feed of the meeting was cut off, the remaining five members voted to approve a new set of district lines in no small part crafted during this late-night, last-minute meeting. A version of that map was referred to earlier today, disparagingly, as a “class warfare map.”
The remaining task force members, Townsend, Reiner, Matthew Castillon, Lily Ho, and Chasel Lee, were still able to vote, because they had a quorum of five. The threshold of votes needed to pass motions did not change when the others left, meaning they needed to agree unanimously on changes to the map and its final approval, which they did.
The four members who left were still absent when the map was approved. They never returned to the meeting, though they later phoned in during public comment.
As well as moving Potrero Hill into District 9 and Portola into District 10, the approved map splits the Tenderloin away from SoMa. You can see the map that passed on the Redistricting Task Force’s website.
This meeting was the task force’s final session to get a redistricting map approved. Now, only minor edits to the map are allowed before the ultimate deadline on April 15.
Taskforce member Raynell Cooper said that he left the meeting not because of the content of the vote, but because of the circumstances of its process.
“The decorum of that process came totally out of left field,” Cooper told Mission Local. “We have gone back and forth on votes for reasons I don’t understand,” he said.
The Redistricting Task Force has been dogged by allegations of political influence and bias that have grown in the past week.
“There were irregularities in the voting and the motions that we were going through that made me uncomfortable,” Cooper continued. “Changes were made where the sources of those changes were unclear.”
“This isn’t the process I signed up for, and it only became clearly apparent to me tonight.”
Cooper later phoned in to public comment, saying, “I had been duped this whole time.” He said that he still intended to serve on the task force, as that was what he was appointed to do, but said the next few days would be “difficult.”
Pierce and Lee also called in with some choice words for their erstwhile colleagues.
Only two days ago, members Reiner, Cooper, and Chasel Lee were brought in front of the Elections Commission after the ACLU and the League of Women Voters expressed concerns over task force processes and their alleged disregard of marginalized voices. Supervisors Dean Preston and Hillary Ronen have both accused the task force of creating gerrymandered districts that favor moderate and more well-off voters.
On Friday, the Elections Commission declined to unseat any of its three appointees, and affirmed the independence of the task force.
During the Saturday/Sunday redistricting meeting, Pierce strongly criticized the map Reiner flipped her vote to approve, calling it “ethnic suicide” before walking out on the meeting. Hernández Gil had previously called an iteration of the map they were working on a “class warfare map,” and said it disregarded the voices of several marginalized groups.
Some major details of the map, such as Potrero Hill’s move to District 9, were only floated at this late-night, last-minute meeting and had not received public comment. Nevertheless, the map has now been approved. Member Castillon put forward the original motion suggesting the new changes to the map.
“I have no words,” said Chasel Lee, who stayed in the meeting. “I think we deserve the public’s anger. We have completely lost the public’s trust.”
“We have been facing a public perception problem for months,” responded member Lily Ho. “We never had a chance at earning the public’s trust.”
“What happened just now is indicative of external interests impacting the redistricting process,” said Jupiter Peraza, director of social justice initiatives at the transgender district, after the reversed vote.
“These are exactly the concerns community members have been expressing here and to the Elections Commission.”
“It’s just so blatant, I’m honestly speechless,” said Raquel Redondiez, director of SOMA Pilipinas. “They are meant to serve the public interest, not political interests.”
“By going through with this, you are threatening the legitimacy of the next ten years of elections in San Francisco,” said Edward Wright, co-president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Club, during public comment. “All the hundreds of hours of our time that you wasted, that was a sham. The fact that you are still sitting there is shameful.”
Geoffrea Morris of the INVEST BLACK coalition said that the task force “passed the most racist, classist, anti-LGBT map ever in San Francisco history. They literally gutted the Black representation of District 10.”
“It wasn’t about Black people,” said Morris. “It was about power in the city.”
The meeting started at 10 a.m. Saturday and concluded 19 hours and 40 minutes later, at 5:40 a.m. on Sunday.
This was the last meeting in which the task force could make major changes to the map, but they still have a few meetings left to make minor, “clerical” changes before the ultimate April 15 deadline. Their next meeting will be on Monday, April 11 at 5:30 p.m.