After pressing its three appointees to the city’s redistricting task force on how they approached their work to redraw the city’s 11 supervisory districts, the San Francisco Election Commission on Friday rejected calls to withdraw the trio. It came less than 24 hours before the new political map was released ahead of the final vote next week.
“I think it’s very important to respect the independence of the task force,” said Lucy Bernholz, a lesbian who is chair of the election commission.
Commissioner Cynthia Dai, a lesbian who served on the California state redistricting committee in 2011, said she didn’t want to “blow up” the redistricting process by removing appointees. She said Friday’s hearing was, however, necessary to investigate concerns that had been raised about the way the task force members were carrying out their work.
“We have a responsibility as the appointing authority to ensure that our appointees meet their terms of reference,” Dai said. “I think this hearing was an attempt to verify that. I think we’ve been very respectful to our appointees.”
Yet commissioner Charles Jung said not only did the task force members do nothing wrong, but they should also apologize for having to defend themselves. He argued that the commission should explicitly say that their appointees had done nothing wrong.
“We should be embarrassed to have put them in a position where we suggested they had implicitly engaged in some sort of malfeasance,” said Jung, who claimed they had “harmed” the named individuals. .
The committee’s motion, approved unanimously 6-0, expressly stated that it had found no reason for the appointees to be removed and “commended them for their hard work”. Becca Chappell, vice chair of the commission, said if a more formal apology was to be issued, it could be dealt with at a later date.
Groups such as the League of Women Voters, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and ACLU SF Chapter had raised concerns with the electoral body about its trio of redistricting task force appointees. from San Francisco. They include Queer Task Force member Chasel Lee, as well as Vice President Ditka Reiner and Raynell Cooper.
Yet neither organization called for the removal of task force members at Friday’s meeting, nor would they cite specific examples of illegal actions the appointees have taken. On the contrary, they criticized them and the rest of the task force for not listening to feedback from marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ community, on the map development process.
When asked if the ACLU wanted the task force members fired, Regina S Islas of the legal group replied, “I’m not an expert on this process.”
Voting rights program manager and legal caucus counsel Julia Marks said the election commission should ask “is it clear that the task force is listening to the community?”
The three appointees to the electoral commission forcefully defended their work as being based on nothing other than the task they had been given to distribute the city’s population fairly among the 11 districts. Lee noted how they have spent the past seven months reaching out to the public, especially marginalized communities, to get their feedback on the redistricting process.
“I think we’ve done a good job of raising those voices,” Lee said, pointing out that the task force has to make “tough decisions” that won’t please everyone. “We have often made these decisions with heavy hearts, but we are making them in good faith.”
He pointed out that the members of the task force are unpaid volunteers and “unrefined” politicians with consultants. They pledged “to make a fair and equitable map for San Francisco” because they “love” the city.
Cooper told the election commissioners that he and his fellow task force members take their commitment “seriously” not to draw new lines based on politics.
“All of our members act in good faith towards this commitment, including myself,” he said.
Reiner said the letters sent by the Women Voters League and other groups surprised her. She defended the task force’s work to date, saying no matter what it decides, people are going to be upset.
“A lot of people feel like we’re not listening to them,” she said, “it’s because we can’t do everything people want.”
The chair of the redistricting task force, the Reverend Arnold Townsend, a former election commissioner, defended his fellow members, calling them “the hardest working people we have”. He argued that there was no reason to take them down and that they had heard what the public had told the task force.
“There’s a difference between me not listening to you and you not getting what you want,” he said.
The April 8 special meeting threw a controversial wrench into the already chaotic redistricting process that is supposed to be completed by April 15. For weeks, various neighborhood groups and residents have expressed anger over the new boundaries proposed by the redistricting task force.
As the Bay Area Reporter has detailed over the past two weeks, members and leaders of the LGBTQ community have expressed particular concern about how the task force is redrawing the boundaries of the city’s historic LGBTQ neighborhoods in the Castro, Tenderloin and South of Market. Leaders of the Transgender District in the Tenderloin and the Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District in West SOMA demanded that they be kept together in the new District 6.
Still, as it stood Friday as the redistricting task force reconvened, the Tenderloin would be in a new District 5 with the neighborhoods of Western Addition, Japantown and Alamo Square. It also appeared that the Haight and Lower Haight neighborhoods would remain in District 5 rather than being carved out of District 8 with the Castro.
But it was unclear if District 8 gay supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s residence on Valencia Street would remain in his supervisory district. The redistricting task force has oscillated between moving the Valencia block between 24th and 25th streets where it has a home in District 9 and keeping it in District 8. It questioned whether Mandelman, the only LGBTQ member Board of Supervisors, will be eligible to seek re-election to his District 8 seat in November.
The entire redistricting task force came under heavy criticism this week when it voted at nearly 3 a.m. on Tuesday April 5 to drop a map around which it had coalesced during its April 2 meeting and which was widely supported by the public. He would have kept the Tenderloin in District 6 with Western SOMA and Mandelman in District 8.
But as the task force members attempted to balance the city’s population across the 11 supervisory districts, they hit a roadblock and chose to take a different map as their starting point. This led to howls of protest and accusations of behind-the-scenes scams that culminated in the election commission’s decision to bring its trio of appointees before it and ask them directly what happened.
“That 3 a.m. vote was a consensus,” Reiner noted. “That night we ran into an impossibility of numbers” and “hit a wall”.
She conceded that the vote probably should have been postponed until the next working group meeting. Nonetheless, Reiner said, “We were trying to do the right thing. We care about ourselves and we take our responsibilities very seriously.”
Cooper attributed the standoff to the fact that after the working group voted to move forward with what’s called Map 4D on Saturday, they couldn’t agree on how to make it happen. a final and practical means of equally dividing the city and its districts.
“4D was a much more difficult starting point than we imagined,” he said, adding that when their deliberations ended a few days later, “at some point the only way to “Moving forward with this map was to make changes that we didn’t feel like a working group that we were comfortable doing.”
Additionally, “given where we were on Monday night,” Cooper added, “there didn’t seem to be any possible way to move forward on 4D in a way that audience members would have supported.”
As for their vote that night, “we made the choice to call it over there and choose to discuss a different card,” he said. “It wasn’t a flip-flop or a reversal.”
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