The heart of San Francisco, District 6 outgrowing its surroundings

When the Moscone Center opened in 1981, Gwenn Craig attended an evening event in the South of Market conference hall, which had been built in what was then a quiet, industrial neighborhood, mostly deserted at night and on weekends.

“So much of the neighborhood was empty,” Craig said. “Everything around it was vacant. You felt like you were going to some sort of distant outpost. People felt a little nervous because it was so deserted.”

Some 14 years after that evening dinner, Craig and eight fellow members of The City’s Elections Task Force drew an invisible line around the neighborhood and called it District 6. Advocates had successfully argued that the downtrodden heart of The City — South of Market, the Tenderloin, the North Mission and the Sixth Street corridor — should be joined into a single district rather than being fractured and underrepresented in other districts. Treasure Island was eventually included the district as well.

By 2010, District 6 still represented those disenfranchised communities, but it also had become perhaps the most transformed part of San Francisco, home to some 94,788 residents, including many of The City’s richest and poorest.

Today, SoMa bears only passing resemblance to the residentially barren landscape the Moscone Center first graced. A Giants outfielder with a good arm could throw a baseball from there and hit several of San Francisco’s hottest restaurants, an upscale grocery store or the current offices of microblogging website Twitter. The once-distant outpost also is surrounded by high-rise apartments and condos, plus museums and hotels.

Some 24,000 new residents have moved into District 6 in just the past decade. The growth makes it the largest supervisorial district by some 15,000 residents, according to a recently released Planning Department analysis of census data. It’s 44 percent larger than the smallest district in The City, the Mission’s District 9. The next redistricting committee will have to take 21,000 residents out of District 6 to make its population equal to that of others.

Some of those residents live in new low-income housing in the Tenderloin and the western edge of SoMa. But most are in the district’s old industrial eastern edge, where lofts and luxury condominiums such as the Millennium Tower and One Rincon Hill have replaced warehouses and surround a gleaming waterfront ballpark.

Craig now works near AT&T Park. She said the neighborhood is already much different from the district she and other Elections Task Force members created in 1995.

“Over the last 10 years, it’s been the most dramatic transformation as The City continues to move southward,” Craig said. “We’re building a whole new city.”

She said District 6 was “probably our most contentious district” during the 2002 redistricting, which she chaired. Among the contentions then was one from some newcomers who complained that they shouldn’t be grouped in with the poorer central neighborhoods.

“We did have some people who came from what they referred to as South Beach who said, ‘Don’t forget about us. We’re different, we have different issues,’” Craig said. “They made up a smaller constituency then than I suspect they do now.”

New boundaries will tug on surrounding districts

Priority No. 1 for San Francisco’s next redistricting task force is to find a way to shave off about 22,000 people from District 6 and redistribute them to other districts.

Exactly how that will be done will change the political alignment of districts across The City, because as one line is redrawn on one end of a district, it will force another line on the other end of the district to also be redrawn.

Current District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim said she entrusts the redistricting process to decide what parts are appropriate to move. But her predecessor, Chris Daly, was not as short on opinion. Daly said it’s crucial to keep the central city together.

“What you want to do is keep the main character and integrity of the district,” he said. “Which means if you’re shrinking, you’re probably shrinking around the edges.”

Daly said the most obvious place to chop the district is on its eastern edge, where most of the growth has happened.

“It’s the waterfront precincts, those are the ones that have grown the most, and I think those are the most logical to turn out of the district,” he said. “Those precincts have much more in common with District 3.”

Jim Meko, a community organizer and unsuccessful candidate for District 6 supervisor last year, said some people on that end of the district might be thrilled to be cut loose. He said in the last round of redistricting, people living in South Beach were eager to escape what they thought was a district that did not represent their values.

“They even came up with a scheme to gerrymander South Beach along The Embarcadero so they could be with North Beach,” Meko said. “They’ve matured since then.”

Elections Chief John Arntz declined to comment on how the district will be chopped, but he said it looks “inevitable” that some rearrangement will have to take place. He said the state’s redistricting process is scheduled to conclude by mid-August, and San Francisco will likely convene its Elections Task Force to consider redistricting after that.

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