A redistricting process that had gone off the rails rhetorically has now gone off its legal rails too, as its task force votes to defy mandatory deadlines, and allegations swirl that Mayor Breed has been tampering.
The ongoing SF redistricting drama, which happens every ten years, but has not in recent memory been as bonkers as it is this year, is still guided by a legal process. The city charter spells out very specifically that the San Francisco Redistricting Task Force “shall complete redrawing district lines before the fifteenth day of April of the year in which the first election using the redrawn lines will be conducted.” That fifteenth day of April deadline is, of course, midnight tonight.
And they are not going to meet that deadline! The Chronicle reports that the Redistricting Task Force rejected their “final draft map” by a 5-4 vote, and will knowingly go past their legal deadline for submitting a final map. The task force is now in jeopardy of a lawsuit, though it is unclear who (if anyone) would actually sue them.
“I’ve been trying to figure out if there are any penalties for being late, short of jail,” task force chair Rev. Arnold Townsend said late Wednesday night, at what was supposed to be their final meeting. “If I get in trouble, it ought to be for trying to do the right thing.”
"I have no choice": Text messages from chair of the Redistricting Task Force Rev. Arnold Townsend show he felt pressured into certain votes.https://t.co/6obALT1zkm— Mission Local (@MLNow) April 13, 2022
Townsend has been something of a swing vote on the nine-member task force, and in voting to reject the “final map,” sided with the more progressive wing of the task force. This may or may not be related to the publication of a Mission Local piece alleging that Townsend had been pressured by Mayor London Breed to pass the seemingly more moderate-friendly map. That piece does not necessarily have any smoking guns, but certainly points out that there is some smoke.
That report details leaked text messages from Townsend (who was appointed by Breed) vaguely saying “I kept my commitment,” and has quotes from multiple task force members alleged improprieties in what was definitely a very odd late-night break by the task force on Saturday night/Sunday morning. In that meeting, Townsend announced, at one point “Why don’t we move our cars?,” and when they returned, vice-chair Ditka Reiner called for a re-vote on a map and changed her previous vote, leading four members to storm out of the meeting.
What happened Saturday night at the redistricting task force? Why did 4 of 9 members walk out after the vote to remove Potrero Hill from D10 passed after a third revote? Thread on why. https://t.co/xpILiqEelX— SF League of Pissed Off Voters (@TheLeagueSF) April 11, 2022
That vote was in reference to moving Potrero Hill out of District 10, which some see as diluting the Black vote and weakening support for Supervisor Shamann Walton. That is one of the many remaining controversies with the map, and the SF Standard nicely summarizes the current redistricting controversies: “Adding Seacliff, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in San Francisco to District 1, the battleground of the city’s moderate and progressive camps; merging Portola, an area with significant Asian American residents into District 10 while moving Potrero Hill to District 9, a move criticized by many for diluting the Black votes; and splitting the Tenderloin from District 6 to District 5, angering the LGBTQ and Southeast Asian American communities.”
And so the task force will blow off its deadline. As Townsend said last night, “Whatever we do in the end will not please everybody, but if we can just get to the place where we can be pretty sure that we’ve done our best, I can rest a lot easier.”
What happens when a court gets it? Anyone's guess. They could appoint a special master to do a proper job that builds on anything the task force did. Or they could just pull out a pen and mark it up in any way that meets the 6 requirements of state law.— Sharky Laguana (@Sharkyl) April 14, 2022
Does anything bad actually happen if they miss the deadline? Plenty of people have (well-informed!) speculation on Twitter, but the reality is we are unchartered waters here. This is normally the section of the article where we explain what happens next, but we have no idea! The task force says it will meet again on April 21, well past their April 15 deadline. Someone could sue them, or sue the city, or the Board of Supervisors could just hand this to a judge to sort out.
Plenty of public commenters said that “any map” would be better than the maps they opposed throughout this process, and welcomed the lawsuits. Well, be careful what you wish for, as now that might happen.
Image: Wikimedia Commons, via the Salem Gazette, Friday, April 2, 1813