Map Game: Redistricting May Make Neighbors of Voters

The western neighborhoods can feel a world apart from the rest of San Francisco, particularly when fog muzzles the street lights and paints the empty avenues a desolate yellow. As it happens, another world is just a few blocks away from the dive bars and Asian restaurants of the Richmond District: Seacliff, former abode of Robin Williams and Kirk Hammett, where giant homes face the Golden Gate.

Despite the physical separation provided by the Presidio, Seacliff is part of District 2, which includes Pacific Heights and the Marina, rather than District 1, which covers the neighboring Richmond. Seacliff shares with the Marina not just an elected representative on the Board of Supervisors — Jordan Heights resident Mark Farrell — but also serious wealth and investment portfolios.

The city's electoral map makes slightly more sense than the 20-sided monsters that shape up congressional districts, but it's still gerrymandered. As the Redistricting Task Force prepares to redraw 11 supervisor districts, pairing Seacliff into its geographically logical District 1 is a serious possibility.

"District 1 picking up Seacliff is something that most people have discussed," said political analyst David Latterman. "That would correct the [prior] gerrymandering."

It would — but it would also make this fall's re-election campaign even more challenging for incumbent supe Eric Mar (he of the Happy Meal ban), who is none too popular with the city's moneyed moderates (for whom Latterman almost exclusively works).

Politics aside, such a change makes geographic sense. Yet demographics are another thing — and so is redrawing the districts to comply with city law, which states that "communities of interest" — think gay folk in the Castro, Chinese in Chinatown, or Filipinos in the OMI — and neighborhoods currently in the same district shouldn't be separated, but that each district nonetheless needs to have as close as possible to 72,203 residents.

Some changes are all but done deals: District 9 will be redrawn to include all of the Mission, and heavily populated District 6 will be sharply reduced in size. Task Force Chairman Eric McDonnell knows pleasing everyone is impossible, and says as much. "There is no way in the world everyone will be entirely satisfied with the final maps," McDonnell told the Chamber of Commerce last month. He should know: At the first unveiling of new draft maps Jan. 4, he and other task force members heard earfuls from folks from Lakeside to the Mission to the Excelsior who wanted their districts unchanged.

At least there's little room for backroom dealing. All changes are made in full view at public meetings, and the Task Force has proved pliable: The Jan. 4 draft map looked little like the latest map unveiled on Jan. 26. For intance, half of Seacliff is now in District 1.

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