Commentary

Commentary: Kevin Frazier

By Kevin Frazier

How do you fairly slice a Hawaiian pizza? You could cut it in equally sized slices. Or you could make sure the distribution of pineapple was equal. Yet another option would be to make sure everyone got their fair share of Canadian bacon. Fair could mean a lot of things. So before slicing up the pie, it’s imperative to ask the end consumers what they value most in a slice. 

That’s exactly what San Francisco’s redistricting process is supposed to look like. Every 10 years, a Task Force takes on slicing up the City’s population into districts for the Board of Supervisors. By law, they have to weigh a number of factors — keeping the split of population relatively even among the districts, recognizing the interests of diverse and distinct communities, and responding to the geographic realities, like hills and beaches, that define the city. Given that there’s a little wiggle room with respect to each of these factors, the Task Force is supposed to consult the people to learn what they care most about when it comes to their district. 

Though this process seems simple enough, it went horribly wrong in 2010. Some San Franciscans got a bigger slice, with more pineapple, and tons of Canadian bacon. Here’s one example: District 6 has 103,564 residents, over 30,000 more than District 1, which is home to 72,848 residents, according to the Official Redistricting Data for the State of California. This disparity should come as a shock. It’s hard to imagine that the residents in these two districts have an equal chance of getting the attention of their supervisor.

Another example of flagrantly unequal slicing: Sea Cliff, though geographically clearly a part of District 1, was entirely placed in District 2 in a likely effort to dilute the power of more moderate community members. By failing to incorporate geographic realities, redistricting can make it harder for residents to participate in civic affairs and get to know their neighbors.

One final affront to any definition of fair: Visitacion Valley and Excelsior, a collective area landlocked by two freeways and the southern border of the City, were cut up in a way that means residents of those areas have three different supervisors apparently representing their interests. Communities that are divided among different supervisors will find it harder to have their interests championed before the Board.

Residents should assume that redistricting is done fairly — distributing residents as evenly as possible while taking community interests and geography into account. Yet, fair is subject to who makes their voices heard before the Task Force. That’s why it’s so important to increase awareness of the means for residents to express their priorities for redistricting. 

Community organizations, civic leaders, and small business owners can make sure their community has the right ratio of crust, bacon and pineapple by encouraging their neighbors to take three steps: 1) propose a map of their own by using the Task Force’s mapping tool (available online at: https://sf.gov/redistricting-tool-sf-redistricting-task-force); 2) email the Task Force directly at rdtf@sfgov.org and share their thoughts on what defines their community; and, 3) participate in Redistricting Task Force meetings (meeting information is also available online). 

It’s not a fair slice if someone gets all the good stuff. The last distribution of political power unfairly left some San Franciscans craving their share of representation. We cannot allow the same mistakes to occur. Now’s the time to make sure your voice is heard before the lines are set for the next ten years.

Kevin Frazier is a law school student at UC Berkeley and a Richmond District resident.

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