Redistricting threatens to throw San Francisco politics into chaos 

San Francisco will lose power in state government. A portion of The City could be unrepresented in the state Senate for two years. And a host of career politicians’ futures are flailing wildly in the winds of redistricting.

Those are the wild possibilities confronting San Francisco’s political leadership this week, after the first peek at how the state’s independent Redistricting Commission — California’s first-ever attempt at politics-free district drawing — may reapportion the lines of power in California.

The commission released “visualizations” of the new districts for California’s Senate, Assembly and the U.S. Congress this week. If the lines they reveal remain even roughly the same as those drafts undergo revisions in coming months, San Francisco will lose a state Senate seat, a potential blow to The City’s influence in the Legislature.

As it stands, San Francisco has two Senate seats: Leland Yee represents The City’s western half, as well as a portion of San Mateo County, while Mark Leno represents the eastern quadrants, along with much of Marin and Sonoma counties.

But the new commission, which was created by voters in an attempt to prevent gerrymandering, has proposed consolidating The City into a single district.  
The lines were drawn that way to conform to the area’s geography, and because San Francisco is considered a single “community of interest,” UC Berkeley political science professor Bruce Cain said.

“They’re making the assumption that San Francisco is a united whole,” Cain said.

And that’s a problem, said Adam Keigwin, spokesman for Yee. He said having a single state Senate seat in San Francisco will “dilute the power” The City has.

“To think that Los Angeles could have a dozen senators and San Francisco could have one — it’s disproportionate to what the realities of this state are,” he said.

Meanwhile, to make matters more complicated, the numbers assigned to the districts will potentially impact how The City is represented in the state capital.

With an odd district number, an election will be held in 2012, and Yee’s half of The City would be represented by both Yee — whose term doesn’t expire until 2014 — and whomever is elected to represent the newly drawn district, according to Keigwin. But with an even number, the half of The City currently represented by Leno would be without a senator for two years between 2012 and 2014, Leno said.

“That’s always been a problem with this Senate numbering problem and staggered elections — that’s not new,” Cain said.

The numbers are essentially chosen at random — counted from north to south, left to right, Cain said.

“So Lord knows what’s going to happen,” he said.


Leno’s future hangs on luck of the draw

Reducing San Francisco’s representation in the state Senate by one of its districts has left political theorists madly speculating over what will happen next.

State Sen. Mark Leno is at the center of the speculation since his seat is up in 2012 —and his district may be moved entirely north of the Golden Gate Bridge. He’s lived in Noe Valley for three decades, and when asked whether his loyalties were to San Francisco or to the Marin portion of his district, he paused.

“Like I said before, I’ve lived in the same house for 30 years,” Leno said.

If the proposed single San Francisco Senate district stands, Leno’s future depends on the arbitrary attachment of a number onto it. If it’s an odd number, he could run for that district in 2012 — perhaps against Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, who is rumored to be eyeing higher office. But if it’s an even number, the election won’t take place until 2014.

“That would mean my current district will be without representation for two years, and I would be out of office until 2014,” Leno said.

But the scenario gets even more complicated if Yee wins his bid for mayor this year, which would leave his old district free for the last three years of his term. Then, Leno could theoretically run in the special election for his district — though he’d have to move temporarily to the other side of San Francisco — and if he were to win it, a second special election for the remainder of his term.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said he may be interested in either the remainder of Yee’s term in his old district, or in the new state Senate district in San Mateo, but said it’s too early to know how everything will play out.

“I’d be interested, absolutely,” he said. “But this is a situation with a lot of moving parts.”

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