San Francisco’s new District lines spark controversy

Once every ten years, following the release of the census data, supervisorial districts are redrawn in order to more accurately represent an area’s population change over time. Voters in San Francisco reacted to the newest proposed districts with outrage. The Redistricting Task Force, charged with redrawing the districts, spent weeks listening to public comments and tweaking the map in order to abate public anger. “We had so much different input from so many different communities. Oftentimes, those inputs will clash either directly, or you have two neighborhoods that both want to be in a particular district, but they both don’t fit,” said Raynell Cooper,  a member of the Redistricting Task Force appointed by the San Francisco Elections Panel.

The task force chose to separate the Tenderloin and SoMa (South of Market) into Districts 5 and 6 respectively, which prompted an outcry from community leaders who feared that vulnerable communities in the districts would be hurt. “It separates the Tenderloin from SoMa in a way it feels like a divide and conquer, or it’s at least diminishing a united voice,” said Raina Mast, Urban Spanish teacher, who has been involved in the process. Mast explained that the Redistricting Task Force is supposed to look out for communities of interest when redrawing Districts. “[It] is tough when you’re trying to organize and support one candidate for supervisor and your community is split. So the rule that they were supposed to follow is to not split a community of interest,” said Mast.

The Tenderloin is considered a community of interest because of its vulnerable population and history with the LGBT+ community as San Francisco’s Transgender District.  However, SoMa is not part of that community of interest despite its proximity, allowing the two neighborhoods to be split. Because the downtown area of San Francisco has grown significantly since 2010, large parts of District 6 had to be cut out to bring the population within 5% of the 79,545 people needed in each district in  order to evenly split the population of the city. 

Cooper explained the importance that he put in keeping SoMa and the Tenderloin connected, but that as the map came together it didn’t seem possible without sacrificing areas of Districts 9 and 10. He said that although he and some of his colleagues on the Task Force pushed to move everything east of Second Street into District 3, that idea was shot down. “As we were talking, as we were going through, it became clear that [this was] the change that would do the least harm to everything else,” said Cooper,\

Additionally, many community organizers have claimed that the first proposed map was intentionally drawn to diminish Black voters’ voices. “Black people in this city have been struggling just to survive. For decades, our numbers have been going down,” said Cheryl Thornton, the organizer of a protest against the first proposed map. 

However, these new districts won’t necessarily signal the end of San Francisco as we know it. With enough community effort, it’s still possible to organize behind candidates that will care for vulnerable communities. “I am hopeful that, as a city, we can get through these kinds of lines on a map,” said Cooper.