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Mapping political fault lines

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The 10 precincts that make up the Portola neighborhood have become ground zero in the latest row between San Francisco moderates and progressives. As the Redistricting Task Force attempts to draw new supervisorial districts that will remain in place for the next 10 years, everyone is looking to keep and gain an advantage.

And how this skirmish plays out could determine which faction controls the Board of Supervisors in the coming decade.

Every 10 years, when the national census numbers come out, a local task force is convened to redraw supervisorial district boundaries. Its job is to equalize the districts based on population and so-called “communities of interest.” As with most important matters of local government, this is a painful and boring process. The task force is made up of nine people (appointed by the mayor, the Board of Supervisors and the Elections Commission) who have held 24 public meetings since August, most lasting longer than three hours. They are all going to heaven.

On March 22, the task force released its latest proposed map of supervisorial districts. At meetings Wednesday evening and tonight at 6, they will make changes to the map and a final version will be published April 15. And by final, I mean final. In a refreshing departure from the “group therapy” norm of local politics, the task force’s decisions go into effect without approval by the board, the mayor or even Rose Pak.

This brings me to the Portola-wars. Currently four of the 10 Portola precincts are in District 10 and six are in District 9. Both sides of the neighborhood are politically moderate and almost 50 percent Asian. They vote identically. Most neighborhoods in San Francisco are united inside of one district, so this process is an opportunity to unite the divided Portola precincts.

But where would the new neighborhood go? District 9 or District 10? This is where it gets dicey.

Portola’s population and voting patterns are most like those of District 10, and District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen (who grew up in Portola) has stated publicly that she wants Portola entirely in District 10. This should be no problem, right?

Wrong. Because each district has to have about the same number of people, when a butterfly flaps its wings in Portola, a tornado occurs somewhere else. In this case, that somewhere is Potrero Hill, where progressives are fighting to keep their white, lefty perch in District 10. If Portola moves in, Potrero Hill will have to move out, and gone will be the (already questionable) chances of a progressive being elected in District 10.

Cutting out Potrero Hill would make it easier for Cohen to be re-elected because she got little support from that area in the 2010 supervisorial race. Potrero voters vastly preferred progressive Tony Kelly, who is one of the leaders of the charge to keep Potrero Hill in District 10. He argues that helping Cohen and creating a reliably moderate district is no reason to make dramatic boundary changes.

The most recent version of the new district map puts nine of the ten Portola precincts in District 9 and leaves Potrero Hill in District 10, but a last-minute push by moderates to add Portola to District 10 and put Potrero Hill residents with fellow progressives in District 6 or District 9 is playing out right now.

Five of the board’s 11 members are progressives, three are moderates and three are swing votes. Cohen leans moderate but is one of those swing votes. A progressive representative in District 10 would thus tip the balance of power in favor of a progressive majority.

Redistricting isn’t sexy, but it will shape our politics for years to come.

 

Primary change sure to spice up assembly election

The deadline has come and gone for our local hopefuls to declare a run for state assembly. Fiona Ma is termed out of her seat as the representative for Assembly District 19, and the only headliner in the race has been The City’s own assessor-recorder, Phil Ting. Rumor has it that if he heads to Sacramento, current Supervisor Carmen Chu will be appointed assessor and Mayor Ed Lee will enjoy picking a new supervisor to replace Chu in District 4.

Done deal? Not so fast.

At first I thought this race was shaping up to be a snoozefest, but a friend reminded me that starting this year, all races for state seats will be “top two” primaries. What that means is that whoever comes in second on the June 5 ballot will be in a runoff with the top vote-getter in November. This is true even if the No. 1
candidate gets 95 percent of the vote. Most important to our fair city: this process is done regardless of party, which means we’ll have lots of races with two Democrats in a runoff.

The local Democratic Party endorsed Ting before the deadline to file had even passed (insert conspiracy theory here), but on the very last day another Democrat signed up to run for District 19. His name is Michael Breyer; he filed on March 9 and had raised about $50,000 by March 17. A Stanford MBA, Breyer is the co-founder and president of Courtroom Connect, a service that broadcasts courtroom proceedings. He’s also a library commissioner and the man who started the Draft Ed Lee campaign.

With another solid Democrat in the race, Ting’s supposed inevitability is now in question. Many civilians remember Ting as the taxman whose abysmal showing in the mayoral race cost The City $312,564 in matching funds and $309 per vote. (Fiscal prudence anyone?)

The fact that Ting has campaigned aggressively to allow property tax hikes on commercial real estate has not earned him many friends among business interests. And statewide redistricting changed the boundaries of District 19 so that it picked up moderate fancypants areas such as the Presidio and a large part of the Marina.
Because he has the better name recognition, Ting will probably still win the June primary, but if Breyer can come in second place, the November assembly election will actually be one worth our attention.