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 firstname.lastname@example.org or delivered by hand to the Office of the Clerk of the Board, in Room 244 at City Hall.