Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

SF expected to lose a state Senate seat


State Senator Leland Yee may have his district boundaries redrawn under the new redistricting commission. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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San Francisco is expected to lose a state Senate seat and see its clout in Sacramento diminish when legislative districts are redrawn based on the 2010 census count.

Due to anemic population growth in not only the city but throughout the Bay Area, the region is expected to see dramatic changes in the boundaries in its state Senate and Assembly districts as well as congressional districts under next year's redistricting process.

While final numbers won't be known until early 2011, when the U.S. Census Bureau will release population data based by state and county, it is widely expected that the Bay Area will be short a significant number of people compared to other regions in California, which have experienced population booms since the last census count in 2000.

The result is that San Francisco will likely lose one of two state Senate seats and see its portion of one of its two Assembly Districts drastically reduced.

"It is more than a possibility. I would be shocked if it didn't happen," said Paul Mitchell, a Democratic consultant based in Sacramento who has been advising local lawmakers about next year's redistricting process. "San Francisco will have only one Senate seat."

Already, the city's two Senate districts are the most under-populated in California, according to a report released this month by the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College. San Francisco's two Assembly seats rank among the top 10 under-populated Assembly districts in the state, according to the report.

State Senator Leland Yee's (D) District 8 seat has the least amount of people of any Senate district in the state. Openly gay state Senator Mark Leno's (D) District 3 seat is the second least-populated.

According to the Rose report, Leno's seat is "particularly vulnerable" to being redrawn since it crosses the bay and extends into Marin and Sonoma counties. Under new rules adopted by voters, the state's legislative districts are not supposed to jump geographic boundaries such as waterways. It is anticipated that Leno's district will be short 133,900 residents based on the new census figures.

Leno was traveling this week and could not be reached for comment. Yee told the Bay Area Reporter that he intends to fight any decision to strip the city of its representation in Sacramento.

"I am going to fight tooth and nail to ensure we have the representation we currently have. We cannot lose any seat," said Yee. "The fact is one vote is not enough for San Francisco given its diversity and we need to continue to exert the power that we have always had."

The Assembly seats held by Democrats Fiona Ma (District 12) and out lawmaker Tom Ammiano (District 13) are collectively short 155,000 residents, according to the Rose report. It is expected that Ammiano's district will be stretched to encompass a majority of San Francisco, while Ma's seat will be joined with Assembly District 19, now held by Jerry Hill (D), on the Peninsula.

While Ammiano acknowledged the city could see its power diluted in the state capital, he cautioned that it is too soon to accurately tell how the state's newly formed Citizens Redistricting Commission will draw the lines. The voter-mandated panel, made up of five Democrats, five Republicans and four independents, has until mid-August to submit maps for the new legislative and congressional districts to state leaders.

"That is possible, but again, we don't know yet," said Ammiano. "Based on the census the population has not grown that much. That will have a different effect on the Senate districts than it will on the Assembly districts."

Ammiano did predict that his Assembly district will cover more of the city, while Ma's will gravitate southward onto the Peninsula. As for the elimination of a Senate seat, he doubts local leaders will let that happen without a fight.

"I think there will be efforts to prevent that, but again, we don't know what the outcome will be," he said.  

With the potential for less seats in the city, it comes as no surprise that Yee is running to be San Francisco's next mayor and Leno is reportedly angling to be named interim mayor or jump into the mayoral race. Ma and Hill are both said to already be laying the groundwork to run for Yee's Senate seat should he become mayor next fall.

Depending on what the redistricting commission does, Yee, who is not up for re-election until 2014, could find himself representing a Senate district in which he no longer lives. Or Leno could find himself without a seat to seek re-election to in 2012 if his Senate district is dissolved.

"It basically is a coin flip as to which district will remain. Definitely, there is going to be one Senate district by 2012," said Mitchell. "Whoever won that will be the senator in San Francisco. It will probably be the coolest senator in the state. You will be Da Senator, the only senator from San Francisco, like Willie Brown was Da Mayor."

Bay Area could lose House seat

Another worry among local political leaders is seeing the Bay Area's 12-member House delegation be reduced by one seat.

According to the Rose report, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 8th Congressional District based in San Francisco has the "smallest population" of any California district. Since 2000 Pelosi's district has lost 55,000 residents, an under-count of 17 percent, estimated the Rose report.

The redistricting commission will have to enlarge Pelosi's district map, either by usurping parts of Congresswoman Jackie Speier's (D) 12th District, which stretches from San Mateo on the Peninsula into the southern parts of San Francisco, or by jumping across the bay into Alameda County, states the Rose report.

Considering all of the districts neighboring Pelosi's are short of people, there is the likelihood of seeing one Bay Area seat be divided up to bolster the population counts of adjacent districts.

 Spokesmen for Pelosi and Speier did not respond to the B.A.R.'s requests for comment.

Democratic Congressman John Garamendi, who represents the East Bay's 10th Congressional District, said this week he could not say with any certainty what the commission members would do to Bay Area boundaries. But he did suggest one solution would be having the districts extend further to the east into the Central Valley, thus maintaining the dozen seats in the local delegation.

"Do I have any idea where district lines are going to be? No," he said. "I think it is just as likely that the Bay Area will maintain the same number of seats, but they will extend outward from the Bay Area."

He said he was pleased to learn Tuesday from U.S. Census Bureau officials that California did not lose any of its 53 House seats due to the decennial count.

"We were under no allusion we would gain a seat. It turned out the way we thought it could," said Garamendi.

The maintaining of the status quo, in terms of the number of California House seats, is a double-edged sword, said Tunua Thrash, director of innovation at the Berkeley-based Greenlining Institute, which advocates for the proper political representation of communities of color.

"I think people certainly were hoping we would gain a seat to allow a little more wiggle room in drawing of new lines," said Thrash.

Thrash said the institute is not opposed to seeing weirdly drawn districts as long as they protect the voting clout of various minority groups.

"We are concerned about do people in this district really have an opportunity to elect a person of their choice? Are there minority people in this district?" she said. "If a district is drawn in such a way there is disenfranchisement of a certain group, we would be concerned about that. But if it is gerrymandered to empower a certain group that is fine."

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