The most important political change of 2012 may not be the appointment of a new District 5 supervisor or the inauguration of a new mayor and sheriff. A process moving slowly through a little-known city task force could wind up profoundly shifting the makeup, and balance of power, on the Board of Supervisors — and hardly anyone is paying attention, yet.
The Redistricting Task Force is in the process of drawing new lines for the supervisorial districts, as mandated every 10 years when new census data is available. The nine-member body is made up of three appointees each by the board, the mayor and the Elections Commission. While mandated to draw equal-sized districts that maintain "communities of interest," the board has almost unchecked authority to decide which voters are in which districts.
While it's difficult to draw 11 bad districts in San Francisco, it's entirely possible to shift the lines to make it more difficult to elect progressives — something many groups out there are anxious to do.
CONSOLIDATING THE LEFT
Downtown and pro-landlord groups are circulating their own draft maps, attempting to influence the outcome. Their goal is hardly a secret: If progressive voters can be concentrated in a small number of districts — say, districts 5, 6, and 9 — it's more likely that a majority of the board will be moderates and conservatives.
The task force has looked at 10 "visualizations" prepared by a consultant, and each of them had some alarming aspects. For example, the visualizations mostly pushed such conservative areas as Seacliff and Presidio Heights into District 1, which is represented by progressive Sup. Eric Mar.
On Jan. 4, those drafts were replaced by a single working draft map, which is now on the task force's hard-to-find website (www.sfgov2.org/index.aspx?page=2622) — and it's not as bad as the earlier versions. The working draft keeps Seacliff and Presidio Terrace in District 2 — which share similar demographics.
"The working families in the Richmond don't belong in the same community of interest as the millionaires with homes overlooking the ocean," Mar told us.
But there are other changes that some may find alarming. The more conservative Portola neighborhood, which is now in District 9, would be included in District 11, while D9 would pick up the more liberal north Mission. That would make D9 an even safer progressive district — but make D11 harder for a progressive like the incumbent, John Avalos, to win.
The task force has been holding hearings on each of the districts — but there's been little discussion about how the new lines will affect the makeup of the board, and the politics and policy of the city, as a whole.
The driving force behind the changes in the districts is the rather dramatic population shift on the east side of the city. Most of the districts, census data show, have been relatively stable. But since 2000, 24,591 more people have moved into D6 — a nearly 30 percent increase — while 5,465 have moved into D10 (a 7.5 percent increase) and 5,414 into D11 (8.7 percent). D9 saw the biggest population decrease, losing 7,530 voters or 10.3 percent.
The huge growth in D6 has been the result of a boom in new high-end condos in the Rincon Hill and SoMa neighborhoods, and it's changed the demographics of that district and forced the city to rethink how all of the surrounding districts are drawn.