In a U-turn, the task force approves the preliminary district map that keeps Tenderloin in District 6

In an 8-to-1 vote, the Redistricting Task Force today approved moving forward with a map that keeps the net in District 6.

The vote came at the end of a grueling seven hours of public comment, during which the task force heard comments from 182 members of the San Francisco public. The vast majority voted in favor of the 4D map – the only map, of the four proposed by the task force, that kept the Tenderloin in District 6.

“I cannot in good conscience go against the public’s will,” said Jeremy Lee, a member of the task force and director of the Chinatown Community Development Center. “I see cards A, B and C as stripping the people of the Tenderloin of their self-determination.”

He added that despite listening to several hundred public comments over the past few months, he did not recall anyone explicitly asking for the Tenderloin to be separated from Central SoMa or District 6.

“It’s not a SimCity game,” Lee said. “We are not generals sharing the spoils of war. These are people’s lives.

The working group’s decision is something of a reversal from last weekend, when Map 3B was controversially approved by a 5-4 vote. This map saw the Tenderloin and SoMa separated and the District 5 has shrunk considerably.

Chema Hernández Gil, a member of the task force, said today that the approval of the 3B map last week was a “misstep” and that any decision to separate the neighborhoods would mean that they would be “de facto deprived of ‘fair and effective representation’. He voted against the 3B card last week.

Today’s single vote against Map 4D came from task force chairman Reverend Arnold Townsend, who reiterated his belief that moving the Tenderloin to District 5 would create a stronger black voting bloc. Such a move would mean an increase in District 5’s black population from 9.2% to 13.5%, according to task force data.

Justifying district boundaries using only demographics is legally dubious, and Townsend was criticized for doing so last week. In today’s meeting, he became visibly emotional as he expressed his frustration.

“I saw my ethnic population being the only ethnic population in San Francisco to continually lose population,” Townsend said. “And I’m desperate to do something about it.”

“When we try to suggest things to do about it, they throw legalities at us,” he continued. He went on to cite the city’s early acceptance of same-sex marriage and lack of cooperation with ICE as examples in which the city said “to hell with the law” to protect minorities. He suggested that there was no similar leeway in this case.

Earlier in the day, other speakers questioned whether increasing the black vote in District 5 would make a big difference or if it might dilute the black vote elsewhere. A member of the public pointed out that District 5 had already elected a black supervisor – London Breed – in 2012.

A significant minority of speakers, particularly those from District 3, spoke in favor of Map 4B. This map would have seen the Tenderloin and SoMa connected as part of District 5, and District 3 extended to Van Ness Avenue in the west. Many of these callers were unhappy that on the 4D map, the western boundary of District 3 does not extend that far.

Others criticized Map 4D as being politically driven by city progressives, who spoke out in favor of several elements of the map.

Hardly anyone came out in favor of the 4A or 4C cards.

Data from the Redistricting Working Group. Please note: The proposed limits are not fixed and will be updated in the coming weeks. You can access a full-screen version of the map here.

Most of the audience that came out in favor of Map 4D cautioned that the map was a “starting point” for future tweaks. Many mentioned that the community unit map – a district map created by a coalition of community groups – would be their preferred option, if it was on the table.

Several other points of contention raised by speakers will need to be addressed before the working group’s April 15 deadline. They include: the eventual incorporation of Seacliff and Presidio Terrace into District 1; inclusion of East Cut and Rincon Hill in District 6 or District 3; and the shape of the northern end of District 10.

“We have to be prepared for some tough conversations,” said task force member Chasel Lee.

The next meeting of the working group will take place on Monday April 4th and will include live drawings to complete the map that was approved today.

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