In an 8 to 1 vote, the Redistricting Task Force today approved moving ahead with a map that keeps the Tenderloin in District 6.
The vote came at the end of a grueling seven hours of public comment, in which the task force heard comments from 182 members of the San Francisco public. The vast majority spoke in favor of Map 4D, the only map, of the four put forward by the task force, that kept the Tenderloin in District 6.
“I cannot in good conscience go against the will of the public,” said Jeremy Lee, a member of the task force and manager at the Chinatown Community Development Center. “I see maps A, B, and C as stripping the people of the Tenderloin of their self-determinism.”
He added that despite listening to several hundred public comments over the past few months, he could not recall anyone explicitly requesting that the Tenderloin be separated from central SoMa or District 6.
“This is not a game of SimCity,” said Lee. “We are not generals dividing up the spoils of war. These are people’s lives.”
The task force’s decision is something of a U-turn from last weekend, when map 3B was controversially approved in a 5 to 4 vote. That map saw the Tenderloin and SoMa separated and District 5 drastically shrunk.
Task force member Chema Hernández Gil said today that last week’s approval of map 3B was a “misstep,” and that any move to separate the neighborhoods would mean they were “de facto denied fair and effective representation.” He voted against map 3B last week.
Today’s single vote against Map 4D came from the chair of the task force, Arnold Townsend, who reiterated his belief that moving the Tenderloin into District 5 would create a stronger Black voting bloc. Such a move would mean an increase in District 5’s Black population from 9.2 percent to 13.5 percent, according to the task force’s data.
Justifying district boundaries purely using demographics is legally dubious, and Townsend came under criticism for doing so last week. In today’s meeting, he became visibly emotional as he vented his frustration.
“I’ve watched my ethnic population be the only ethnic population in San Francisco to continuously lose population,” said Townsend. “And I am desperate to do something about it.”
“When we try to suggest things to do about it, they throw legalities at us,” he continued. He went on to cite the city’s early acceptance of gay marriage and lack of cooperation with ICE as instances in which the city said “to hell with the law” to protect minorities. He suggested that there was no similar leeway in this instance.
Earlier in the day, other speakers questioned whether increasing the Black vote in District 5 would make much of a difference, or if it might dilute the Black vote elsewhere. One member of the public pointed out that District 5 already elected a Black supervisor, London Breed, back in 2012 and 2016.
A significant minority of speakers, especially those from District 3, spoke in favor of Map 4B. That map would have seen the Tenderloin and SoMa connected as part of District 5, and District 3 expanded up to Van Ness Avenue in the west. Many of those callers were unhappy that in Map 4D, District 3’s western boundary did not reach as far.
Others criticized Map 4D as being politically motivated by the city’s progressives, who spoke in support of several elements of the map.
Almost no-one spoke in favor of Maps 4A or 4C.
Most of the public who spoke in favor of Map 4D included a caveat that the map was a “starting point” for future tweaks. Many mentioned that the Community Unity Map, a district map created by a coalition of community groups, would be their preferred option, were that on the table.
Several other points of contention raised by speakers will need to be addressed before the task force’s April 15 deadline. They include the possible incorporation of Seacliff and Presidio Terrace into District 1; inclusion of East Cut and Rincon Hill into either District 6 or District 3; and the shape of the northern end of District 10.
“We need to get ready for difficult conversations,” said task force member Chasel Lee.
The task force’s next meeting will be on Monday, April 4, and will include live drawing to augment the map that was approved today.