May 11, 2012
What do the new Board of Supervisor (BOS) districts mean for SF and the Asian American & Pacific Islander community?
By Carlo De La Cruz, Voting Rights Coordinator & Carolyn Hsu, Voting Rights Fellow at Asian Law Caucus
Once every decade, following the release of Census data, our democracy goes through a redistricting process in order to ensure that all residents are represented fairly and equitably. The basic principle of redistricting is to ensure that the population in each district is nearly equal in number, so that each person’s vote will carry the same weight. Voters of color are uniquely impacted by the redistricting process because districts may be drawn to fairly reflect minority voting strength, or districts may be dismantled to deny minority voters the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Furthermore, it is important that communities of interest, particularly minority communities, be kept intact. Communities of interest-a community or neighborhood with shared interests, views, or characteristics-benefit from being maintained in a single district because they can better promote responsive representation by elected officials and protect against policies that fracture their communities.
Redistricting takes place on all levels of government, from our local school boards districts to our federal Congressional districts. In August 2011, the Redistricting Task Force was convened to adjust the Board of Supervisor lines for the City and County of San Francisco. From January to April, the Task Force held numerous community hearings in each of the city’s districts, providing a forum for community input and feedback in order to ensure that the final map indicating district boundary lines would reflect the diversity of San Francisco’s communities.
San Francisco Redistricting Process
Throughout the redistricting process, ALC provided guidance to and organized support for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities; worked with community based organizations and other stakeholders to minimize any contention that arose; and collaborated with leaders from other racial and ethnic communities to ensure that common interests and strategies were paramount from the outset. ALC concentrated its efforts on the communities of interest in Districts 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, and 11, providing trainings for people of color communities to increase participation, and conducting outreach to media and policymakers on concerns relevant to those communities. ALC’s primary focus was to ensure that the voting power of minorities would not be diluted or divided, and to keep recognized minority neighborhoods intact, taking into account the diversity of San Francisco’s communities of interest, based on such factors as ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, limited English proficiency, and economic status.
For a detailed map of the new Board of Supervisors boundaries visit: http://sfgov2.org/index.aspx?page=3448
Chinatown (District 3)
San Francisco is home to one of the nation’s oldest Chinatowns, with a local history spanning almost a century. Chinatown is located at the geographic center of District 3, bordering the neighborhoods of Nob Hill, Russian Hill, North Beach, and the Financial District. Although the boundaries of Chinatown are generally understood as a compact neighborhood home to 15,000 residents, the vast majority of whom are Chinese Americans, many other Chinese Americans also live in the surrounding neighborhoods of North Beach and Nob Hill. Additionally, many important community institutions-health care clinics, public housing developments, schools, and community based non-profits-are located in these surrounding neighborhoods and make up the greater Chinatown community.
Throughout the redistricting process, maintaining the integrity of Chinatown’s extended community of interest was a top priority for ALC and other Chinatown community advocates who were involved in the process. Based on our collective testimony, the Task Force preserved the geographic integrity of Chinatown and its surrounding neighborhoods, including in District 3 important institutions that provide critical services to the community. Overall, many of the historic neighborhoods that have made up the core of the district’s community was preserved in District 3. Additionally, District 3 picked up several blocks in the Union Square area, while the northern boundary shifted slightly from Leavenworth to Jones Street.
Fillmore, Western Addition, and Japantown (District 5)
ALC provided critical support to a coalition in the northern District 5 area, which was primarily comprised of Japanese Americans and African Americans from the Fillmore, Western Addition, and Japantown areas. With ALC’s assistance, the coalition submitted several district-wide maps of District 5 to the Task Force, which supported their argument that it was possible to create a District 5 that included their community of interest as a whole. Additionally, ALC provided public comment during Task Force meetings to highlight the coalition’s community of interest and the importance of keeping together in one district all of that community’s resources, organizations, and housing associations, including: the Booker T. Washington Community Center, Japanese Community Youth Council, Westside Courts Housing Association, and Chibi-Chan preschool. The final Task Force map ultimately reflected the strength of the coalition’s efforts, as the Task Force went to great lengths to respect the boundaries requested, maintaining in District 5 all of that community’s key institutions.
South of Market and Tenderloin (District 6)
Among all of the districts, District 6 was expected to undergo the most noticeable shift in terms of population and neighborhoods that comprise the district, as the increase in population over the last decade had resulted in it having well over 20,000 residents above the ideal population size of a district. In District 6, the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood is comprised of one of the city’s largest Filipino communities.
A number of community advocates testified as to the various ways in which District 6 boundaries could be drawn. Supporters and members from the Filipino and other Asian American communities urged the Task Force to keep whole the historic Filipino communities in SoMa. The final set of lines kept nearly all of the Filipino community intact in SoMa. However, despite negotiations between community groups from SoMa and northern Mission to keep the Districts 6 and 9 boundary line around 14th and 15th Streets, the Task Force adopted a more northern boundary line that runs along Central Freeway. As a result, some Filipino residents, mainly those located in northern Mission, now find themselves as the newest residents of District 9.
Additionally, District 6 is home to the Tenderloin area, where a large Vietnamese and Southeast Asian population resides. The Tenderloin consists of many of the city’s public housing and Single Resident Occupancy developments. Because preserving not only the various ethnic communities, but also socio-economic communities of interest was at the heart of ALC’s involvement in the redistricting process, ALC, along with other community organizations and individuals, testified to keep the Tenderloin neighborhood intact with its sister working class neighborhoods in District 6. The final boundary lines shift the North-West boundary of District 6 from Gough Street to Van Ness Avenue, but still preserve in District 6 the low-income Southeast Asian community of interest. Although District 6 has more residents than any other district, it was able to maintain for the next decade the core communities and neighborhoods that have defined it.
Excelsior (District 11)
Throughout the redistricting process, ALC participated in and contributed to planning meetings held by the Filipino community to discuss their communities of interest in San Francisco, particularly in District 6’s SoMa area and District 11’s Excelsior neighborhood, one of the most diverse districts in the city. During the final stages of the redistricting process, the Task Force needed to lose population in District 11 and looked to the northeastern boundary of District 11 and southern boundary of District 8 to do so. Because a large number of Filipinos resided in that area, ALC spoke out on their behalf, requesting that the Task Force limit any boundary changes.
Simultaneously, ALC was supportive of the efforts by the community in Ocean View, Merced Heights, and Ingleside (OMI), to stay together. It was clear that one of the Task Force’s biggest hurdles process was maintaining in District 11 all its communities of interests, particularly OMI. Given the large population of OMI, the Task Force struggled to keep it intact in the district. Ultimately, the Task Force captured nearly all of OMI in District 11.
Portola and Visitacion Valley in District 10
ALC met frequently with members of the African American and AAPI communities in District 10 to discuss concerns surrounding: (1) reuniting the Portola area, home to a growing population of Chinese immigrants, which had been split into three districts during the last redistricting process; and (2) ensuring that the communities of interests that were primarily African American were not splintered. The Task Force was responsive to public comment and reunited the Portola area by placing it entirely in District 9. At the same time, the Task Force successfully kept together the African American communities in Bayview and Hunter’s Point.
Community Unity Map
Early in the redistricting process, several community groups came together to form a coalition to create a “Community Unity Map,” using the San Francisco Bay Guardian, a local progressive newspaper, as the platform. The coalition that transpired held several meetings throughout the process to receive feedback from supporters in San Francisco.
ALC played a crucial role in highlighting to the Community Unity Map group the growing coalition in the northern District 5 area. As a result, the Community Unity Map was subsequently revised to include the suggested District 5 boundary lines. Additionally, with regard to the area near the Districts 2 and 3 border, ALC provided input to the Community Unity Map, underscoring that the largely low-income Chinese American community could potentially be divided.
Implications for the future
Overall, the San Francisco redistricting process progressed smoothly and resulted in a map that ALC could support. ALC was successful in providing legal guidance, minimizing contention in areas that did arise, and serving as a bridge between communities so that common interests were identified and common strategies were pursued. By serving that role, ALC and its allies could provide constructive input to the Task Force members so they could redistrict San Francisco in a manner that was inclusive and reflective of its communities of interest.
Notably, the redistricting process went smoothly in large part because the Task Force members selected were not only diverse, active members of the San Francisco community, but also guided by principles of transparency and deference to the public, which they established at the beginning of the process. Notably, the Task Force’s draft maps were responsive to public comment, and closed sessions were held only to invoke attorney-client privilege over potential litigation issues. The Task Force revised their working map almost every other session and immediately posted their revisions online for community response. Furthermore, the Task Force’s collaboration with a non-profit organization to provide online mapping software was particularly useful, as the software was accessible to and helpful for all participants. As reflected in the final Supervisorial map that respects San Francisco’s communities of interest, the Task Force’s emphasis on transparency throughout the San Francisco process was key to minimizing conflict among the different stakeholders involved and to encouraging community input.