Politics

Redrawn Lines Upset South San Francisco, Coast

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San Francisco Examiner
by Katie Worth

South San Francisco is already split between two supervisorial districts — and now it could be split between two state Assembly districts and two Senate districts as well.

“There’s one neighborhood where the line is drawn just down these small residential streets,” said Mayor Kevin Mullin. “You’d think they’d draw lines on a big street like Hickey or Chestnut [streets], but they’re just randomly drawn across that neighborhood. It’s kind of frustrating.”
This week, Mullin wrote a letter to the California Redistricting Commission saying South San Francisco would be better served in a single state Assembly and Senate district.

Every decade, the state is required to redraw the lines for state Assembly, Senate and congressional districts. In the past, this was done by the Legislature itself, but this year, the work is being done by the voter-created California Redistricting Commission, an independent body that is tasked to avoid the gerrymandering of the past.

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Earlier this month, the commission revealed the first draft of its proposed maps to the public. The new maps solve Daly City’s problem — that city is split in two in the current district configuration — but shifts it to South San Francisco.

The new Assembly lines would also split the San Mateo County coast in half as well.

In a commission hearing on Monday, John Oehlert of Montara argued that the coast should be reunited. The maps currently propose placing Pacifica through Moss Beach in a northern Peninsula district and everything south of it in the Silicon Valley district. The coast, which is driven by agriculture, fishing and tourism, has “very little in common with the ‘over the hill’ group,” Oehlert stated in his written testimony.

The commission faces the complex task of drawing lines that have the same amount of people in them, but also ensure that groups with similar interests — like people who live in the same city — are not split between districts.

Mullin said he knows there’s no way to draw the lines that will please everyone, but said that splitting a city so that 45 percent of it is in one district and 55 percent is in another is an inelegant solution.

“I understand they have to put that line somewhere; it’s just unfortunate that it’s our city,” Mullin said.

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Menlo Park is to the north of East Palo Alto, but has more in common with the cities to the south of it. East Palo Alto is south of Menlo Park, but has more in common with the cities to the north of it.

Have fun with that puzzler, California Redistricting Commission.

At Monday’s commission hearing in San Francisco, two perspectives were heard on the problem.

Michelle Romero of the Greenlining Institute, an advocate for low-income communities, argued that East Palo Alto should be drawn into the congressional district district to its north — the district that includes Redwood City, San Mateo and Daly City, all of which contain working-class, diverse neighborhoods similar to East Palo Alto.

But other speakers, such as Menlo Park City Councilman Peter Ohtaki argued that his city is a Silicon Valley town that belongs in the same district as the affluent suburbs to its south and west, including Palo Alto, Atherton and Mountain View.

The proposed drafts pull East Palo Alto and most of Menlo Park to the northern district, and the rest of Menlo Park to the southern district. Ohtaki said his highest priority is reuniting the city into a single district.

The trouble with granting the wishes of both cities is it would require what some may describe as gerrymandering — skirting the lines around the edge of Menlo Park to reach East Palo Alto, which the commission has been specifically ordered to avoid whenever possible.

Romero argued that the commission’s highest priority should be placing East Palo Alto in a district where it would receive the best political representation possible, since the low-income neighborhood has been historically disenfranchised, she said.

“For East Palo Alto, it really is make-it-or-break-it. I don’t think they stand a fair chance to be represented in a district that is its opposite,” Romero said.