By Zach Drucker
After a tumultuous process that included walk-outs, protests, and a vote of confidence, the San Francisco redistricting task force ratified a new supervisor district map on April 28—13 days after the original deadline. The task force had to navigate political drama while also conducting the difficult job of redrawing district boundaries to roughly equivalent populations and doing their best to keep like-minded communities together. With the power to affect San Francisco politics for the next decade, the attention and controversy surrounding the redistricting process did not come as a surprise.
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In the second redistricting process since the City switched to district elections in 2000, this year’s process included significantly more boundary changes to account for the City’s uneven population growth over the past decade. Many of the eastern districts shrank in size while most of the western districts grew. For how contentious the redistricting process became, however, it’s tough to see how the new district boundaries will dramatically affect the political dynamics of most of the districts, at least over the next few years.
With the November election only a few months away, we break down the new district map and highlight five noteworthy changes below.
1. NEW REPRESENTATION FOR THE TENDERLOIN
Many neighborhoods throughout the City changed districts during the redistricting process, but no neighborhood change sparked a debate like the Tenderloin’s move from District 5 to District 6. The Tenderloin and its residents have many established connections with the rest of District 6, especially in SOMA, as the two neighborhoods share many cultural communities and similar characteristics and issues.
The decision to move the Tenderloin into another district prompted serious backlash from progressive leaders and community groups that warned how the change would dilute the political influence and hurt the ability of low-income communities with deep ties to advocate for their shared interests. The City’s transgender and Filipino communities also felt that fear as the new map splits up their residents and puts them under the leadership of two different supervisors.
Despite these substantial concerns, the redistricting task force viewed moving the Tenderloin as the best case to create a balanced map and spare the threat of moving other communities across the City to new districts. The severed connection between the Tenderloin and SOMA will take time to heal as the communities will have to move forward and develop new coalitions and means of political influence. Still, in the end, the Tenderloin did join a similar-minded district with progressive values and the most progressive supervisor on the board, Supervisor Dean Preston.
2. SIGNIFICANT GEOGRAPHIC AND DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGES IN DISTRICT 5
Under the new map, most districts stayed relatively intact by gaining or losing a neighborhood here and there. District 5, on the other hand, faced an almost complete overhaul of its boundaries. District 5 experienced the most significant boundary changes as it gained the Tenderloin and lost the Inner Sunset, Cole Valley, and Cathedral Hill.
In addition to having the most significant geographic changes of any district, District 5 also experienced the largest demographic changes. In District 5, the share of white voters fell by 6.9 percent, and the share of Black and Hispanic voters increased by 3.5 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively. To put these population changes in perspective, only ten demographic groups across the eleven districts shifted by two percentage points or more, and three were in District 5.
As part of the rationale behind moving the Tenderloin into District 5, redistricting task force Chair Rev. Arnold Townsend highlighted how bringing voters in the Fillmore with Black residents in the Tenderloin could create a more influential Black voting bloc. Without moving the Tenderloin into District 5, Rev. Townsend could envision a future a few years down the road where a Black supervisor could not get elected to the Board unless they made themselves attractive to a broader base and did not have Black interests in mind.
Despite these boundary changes, the political makeup of the district should remain relatively unchanged as a progressive stronghold.
3. QUESTIONS LOOM OVER THE POLITICAL FUTURE OF DISTRICT 6
As the district that experienced the most population gains over the past decade, District 6 was due to see its boundaries shrink. As discussed above, this led to District 6 losing the Tenderloin. As a progressive bastion and home to many influential nonprofit housing organizations and other advocacy groups that dominated the district, losing the Tenderloin will immediately impact the district’s political dynamics.
In a district that progressives have dominated since the City switched to district elections, the new boundaries could make District 6 more viable for moderates. The spotlight now turns to the November election when Honey Mahogany, the leading challenger and former aide to District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, takes on the appointed Supervisor Matt Dorsey. The results of this election will set a precedent for how competitive District 6 will become in the next supervisor elections.
4. BOUNDARY CHANGES LEAD TO A MORE COMPETITIVE ELECTION IN DISTRICT 4
Incumbency in San Francisco supervisor races reigns supreme. Since the City moved to district elections, no incumbent supervisor (excluding appointed supervisors) has failed to secure reelection. Incumbents do so well in reelection races that many incumbents face insignificant challengers or run unopposed.
However, this is not the case in District 4, where Supervisor Gordon Mar faces two serious challengers in Joel Engardio and Leanne Louie. In the case of Engardio, he entered the race late as he resided in District 7, but after the redistricting process now calls District 4 home.
Engardio and Louie will try to unseat the incumbent and return District 4 to moderate control as it had been from 2000 to 2018. They should receive a tiny boost of support with the addition of two of the more conservative neighborhoods in Lakeshore and Merced Manor. If fundraising can indicate how close the race will be, Engardio has already raised $20,000 compared to the $39,000 that Supervisor Mar has in his account. Louie, though, has not reported her fundraising numbers yet.
5. PRESSURE MOUNTS TO PRODUCE MORE HOUSING ACROSS THE ENTIRE CITY
The redistricting task force did not want to separate communities or dramatically change district boundaries. Still, due to the uneven distribution of housing production in San Francisco over the past decade, they had no choice but to make tough decisions. Housing production became a clear point of emphasis when drawing the district lines as the task force emphasized where people have moved to and where the City has approved housing developments in the next few years.
In Mayor Breed’s remarks on redistricting, she emphasized this sentiment about uneven housing production. She said we have ten years to address this issue and help other parts of the City grow before the next redistricting process. If the Board of Supervisors does not heed the Mayor’s advice to build more housing across the City, the 2032 redistricting process will almost certainly lead to more drastic boundary changes.
THE FUTURE IMPACT OF REDISTRICTING IN SAN FRANCISCO
Concerning the political makeup of the districts, the new boundary lines will have a relatively small impact on the upcoming November supervisor races, besides District 6 and maybe District 4. That could change, however, in 2024, when the odd-numbered districts are on the ballot. District 1 gained the more moderate Sea Cliff neighborhood, District 3 added the rest of Russian Hill, and District 7 acquired the more progressive Inner Sunset. Ultimately, the lack of an incumbent in Districts 3, 9, and 11 should make those races more competitive regardless of boundary changes.