The Redistricting Task Force. Screenshot taken Saturday April 2.

The Redistricting Task Force released a draft report this week, suggesting changes to the redistricting process and calling for measures to insulate future volunteers from “inappropriate political influence.”

The report says that the task force, which on April 28 voted to approve new district boundary lines, “witnessed unprecedented assaults on its independence by political actors invested in a specific outcome.” The report was penned by task force member Chasel Lee and received input from all nine members.

The task force is composed of three mayoral appointees, three Board of Supervisors appointees, and three appointees from the Elections Commission. Over the past month, it has been dogged by allegations of undue influence and poor transparency. Its final map controversially split the Tenderloin away from District 6.

Data from the Redistricting Task Force.

As well as asking for “stronger measures” against political attacks, the report suggests reviewing the volunteer-selection process to consider a system “without any involvement of elected officials.” It adds that there are currently no guidelines for who may be a member of the task force, leaving them “vulnerable to potential conflicts of interest.”

“A review should consider restrictions on persons directly receiving or connected to for-profit or nonprofit entities receiving discretionary grants or funding from the City,” reads the report.

On April 13, multiple individuals told Mission Local that task force Chair Rev. Arnold Townsend had confided in them that he was under pressure to vote certain ways due to outside political influence. Task force member Raynell Cooper said that Townsend told him the pressure “was due to a longstanding friendship and relationship with the mayor.”

The report references the April 8 intercession of the Elections Commission as an example of undue political influence. Following angry public comments, and letters from the League of Women Voters and ACLU expressing doubt about the task force’s independence, the commission summoned its three appointees to consider their removal. It ultimately commended its appointees and affirmed the task force’s independence.

Two days later, four task force members (including Elections Commission appointee Cooper) walked out in protest over the process’ lack of transparency.

The report does not mention this walkout and does not reference allegations against Townsend — nor the on-the-record accusations of corruption and undue influence made by members of the task force during public comment at their own meetings. It does not include explanations for any specific boundary changes, such as the controversial shift that decoupled the Tenderloin from SoMa. It does not record any individual votes and does not mention that the final map was approved in a contentious 5–4 split.

The report does, however, suggest improvements to the process in general.

Future task forces are urged to begin working earlier in the year. The city is asked to consider creating a temporary division to support the 2031 task force, with a paid chief of staff, administrative support, and help coordinating media and public records requests. And the report asks for better methods to deal with “racist, prejudiced, vitriolic, and other personal attacks and threats” made during public comment.

The report also points out that the task force faced unique challenges due to the pandemic, not least the delay in receiving census data.

The League of Women Voters has published a list of recommendations for future task forces, cosigned by the Asian Law Caucus and California Common Cause. Their recommendations include better access to translation and an “accessible and equitable” application process.

“In the coming years, we expect there will be valuable and important improvements made to redistricting laws,” said League President Alison Goh. The League “plans to pay close attention to redistricting reforms that could affect people’s ability to get fair, equitable representation.”

She added that the League is not considering a lawsuit over the map. Representatives from SEIU 1021 and the Labor Council previously said that they were inclined to pursue legal challenges of earlier iterations of the map, but they have not announced any lawsuits.

On Wednesday, activists from the Unity Map Coalition, a collection of San Francisco organizations and individuals that created its own draft map, called in to the Board of Supervisors’ public comment to ask that their alternative map be put on the ballot in November. The board did not respond to the request.

Task force member Raynell Cooper, who voted against the final map, said that he would have preferred for the final report to include tallies of specific votes. However, he was happy with its recommendations and confident that the city would not forget the lessons it had learned throughout this difficult process.

“There is a lot of institutional memory in the city,” said Cooper. “I don’t think this will be lost to the sands of time.”

As an appendix to the report, each task force member submitted an individual statement reflecting on the mapping process. The task force is expected to publish these in the coming days.

Until May 16, the task force will be accepting public comments on the final report. Public comments should be sent to rdtf@sfgov.org or delivered by hand to the Office of the Clerk of the Board, in Room 244 at City Hall.

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DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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  1. “Nowhere in this process was there any consideration of what district lines would best suit San Franciscans.”

    Ah but that begs the question of “what would best suit San Franciscans?” Is having 8 progressive Supes in a city that is no more than 1/3 progressive “best for San Franciscans?” Says who? One third of them?

  2. It is clear that conservatives successfully organized behind the scenes to elicit a desired redistricting outcome that served their interests.

    The “progressive alternative” rose and fell on the need of advocates and service providers often compensated by the City to be associated with other nonprofits or a desired supervisorial district to serve their interests.

    Nowhere in this process was there any consideration of what district lines would best suit San Franciscans.

    Why ever vote for a progressive branded politician like Jane Kim ever again if they’re just going to give a leg up to a parade of hacks (credit: Elaine Santore) like Viva Mogi, Elections Commission chair, who appointed YIMBY to the RDTF and delivered for the conservatives?

  3. The current redistricting fiasco is further proof of the utter failure of our 20-year experiment in election of supervisors by district.

    It has resulting in feckless and incompetent governance, parochialism and a Board of Supervisors that is genetically incapable of acting what is in the best interests of the entire city.

    We need to return to the citywide election of Supervisors which has traditionally produced a higher caliber of elected, the kind that enjoys broad support — one that must appeal to 100K voters, rather than to just 10K.

  4. People are dreaming that redistricting district isn’t a political animal. I ‘ve worked on two redistricting for the State Assembly and State Senate. The only way to avoid political fights would have NO district lines. Everyone would be elected at large–top 12 candidates would serve on the BOS.

    1. David Takashima,

      I agree, wholeheartedly. District elections in SF have proven themselves to be a 20-year failed experiment.

    2. The obvious problems with that are the expense of campaigning city-wide (tilting the balance heavily in favor of those with the best financed campaigns), and the very real possibility that entire areas of the city would be without anyone on the board familiar with those areas and their concerns. With district elections it’s at least possible that residents can organize themselves to advance a candidate; without that door is shut.

      1. Tak,

        You’re assuming that most people’s “communities of concern” are based upon geography. I don’t believe that to be the case.

        The Citywide election of Supervisors using a ranked-choice approach — like they do in Denmark and a host of other progressive multi-party countries — will still allow people with common interests to join together to elect their preferred representatives.

        One’s that have the interests of the entire City at heart, not just the parochial fixations of this or that special interest group trying to control its “territory”; as is currently the case.

        Case in point: All the storm-and-drang nonsense surrounding the D5 and D6 redistricting fiasco.

        The successful candidates will have to canvas and state their case in each and every neighborhood — like they had to do prior to the year 2000.

        It doesn’t take massive amounts of $ to do that — just good political skills and dedication.

        1. In the YIMBY view of SF there are no neighborhoods just income brackets. A system with representatives that “state their case to each and every neighborhood” dilutes communities of color and possibly violates the voting right act. It’s a majority white SF and Sonja/Karl would like the board to reflect that.

          Which is it? Ranked Choice or “top 11”? You are mixing election systems like you mix German metaphors (storm-and-drang?) and it makes no sense.

          1. I would call it a ‘minority White’ city – somewhere btw 38-45% depending on “white” (latin-non-latin). Asians are almost 38%; and together with Blacks and Latins make up the majority.

            So currently we have 30% (3) of supes Asian, 9% (1) Black, 66% (6) white, and however Melgar and Safai identify (can’t recall at present). Oh, and 0% (Zero) Latin.

            IOW, Blacks and Whites are overrepresented, while Asians and Hispanics are underrepresented. Though I’m not really sure what the advantage is (for the people, anyway).

            But I guess thats ‘representative’. You’re probably familiar with the pop stats; which don’t exactly match.

        2. But they changed it to district representation back in the mid-seventies because whole groups like LGBTQ and African Americans were not being sufficiently represented in the BOS. In fact (and this is so well known that it is almost trite even to mention it) Harvey Milk the first openly gay supervisor in this city, was only able to be elected to represent the Castro after they implemented District Elections. That could just be good timing, so let’s consider the fact that the first and only Black supervisor, Terry Francois, was actually appointed to the board by then-Mayor John Shelley, and was a Republican. It would not be until after the BOS election change was implemented that District 4 which included the Fillmore, saw Ella Hill Hutch and Willie B Kennedy, two progressive African American women, elected.
          From what we are hearing, the biggest complaint coming out of this redistricting process was the undue political influence being asserted by influential, but representational outside bodies. That would be the opposite of democracy.

          1. Prior to 2001 until the present, the only other time that SF has elected Supervisors by District was the brief period of 1978-1980. Willie B. Kennedy was not elected via District elections. She was initially appointed by Mayor Dianne Feinstein in 1981 (upon the untimely death of Ella Hill Hutch) and subsequently elected via Citywide (aka “at large”) election in 1982 and re-elected continuously, at-large, until 1995.

  5. Undue political influence in San Francisco? I’m shocked I tell you…..shocked.

    When has any decision by any organization even remotely connected to the cesspool that is San Francisco’s political landscape, no had undue political influence exerted?