Kidnapping the Tenderloin through Redistricting

Every 10 years, the U.S. Constitution requires all residents to be counted through the Census. The Census occurs every decade, and once it concludes, the redistricting process begins. Redistricting is the redrawing of boundaries to ensure that U.S. citizens in a given state or city have a relatively proportionate number of constituents to serve in legislative offices. The redrawing of district lines is done at every level of legislative government: city, county, state and federal. This process is usually smooth and is done under the radar. 

However, the 2022 redistricting process in the City and County of San Francisco has been everything but smooth. The final meetings of the Redistricting Task Force have become contentious and classist. The final proposed district map pits vulnerable communities against one another, appearing to favor San Francisco’s most wealthy and affluent communities on the west side while wildly ignoring and diluting the voices of the City’s most vulnerable residents on the east side.  

The Tenderloin neighborhood located in District 6 has become ground zero in the City’s redistricting efforts. As a byproduct of the City’s inability to build more homes on the west side, neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, South of Market (SoMa), Dogpatch, Mission Bay and Bayview Shipyard have undergone a housing development explosion that has increased San Francisco’s east side neighborhoods by 40,000 residents. As a result these new residents now have to be redistributed into other areas of the city. 

This redistribution of people has been the sole task of the nine-member Redistricting Task Force composed of three Board of Supervisors appointees, three Mayoral  appointees and three Elections Commission appointees. These individuals have been tasked with drawing the lines and producing a final report. A private consulting firm, Q2 Consulting, has served at the disposal of the Task Force in the drawing of the map. 

The Task Force has listened to hundreds of hours of public testimony and has released a series of approximately 10 maps. Residents of the Tenderloin have urged the Task Force to keep the Tenderloin, SOMA and Treasure Island  together but have yet to be successful. The Task Force has been persistent in their efforts to relocate the Tenderloin to District 5 because it has been the wishes of Task Force chair Rev. Arnold Townsend, who has openly promoted the move as a means to strengthen the Black voting base in District 5 Western Addition neighborhood. However, other than the Tenderloin’s growing African American population, the Tenderloin has nothing common with District 5, which is a district largely composed White residents with higher incomes. The Tenderloin is largely composed of immigrants of color, low-wage earners, families, unhoused residents and residents with serious and often complex substance use and mental health issues. 

On April 2, nearly 150 residents attended the Task Force meeting at which they opposed the Tenderloin being separated from SoMa and Treasure Island neighborhoods. Despite the large turnout, the Task Force voted in opposition to the community wishes on April 10 at around 3 a.m. and shifted the Tenderloin neighborhood from District 6 to District 5. On what was scheduled to be its final meeting on April 13, the Task Force rejected this final draft map, most likely to avoid the risk of legal challenges from labor organizations and community coalitions, and will continue to work past its original April 15 deadline. Until the process is finished, the existing 2011 district lines will remain. 

The online version of the article contains updated information in the last paragraph to reflect developments since the print edition went to press.