Contentious redistricting process leaves S.F.’s J-Town relatively unscathed


San Francisco’s nine-member Redistricting Task Force has made headlines during its final weeks of deliberation in April, but the city’s Japantown has largely stayed out of the spotlight, despite sitting on the border of the heavily impacted District 5.
Every decade, the city must redraw its 11 supervisorial districts based on the latest U.S. Census data in accordance to the United States Constitution’s 14th Amendment. While District 5, where Japantown is located, remained closest to the target population of 79,545 people at 1.53 percent deviation, other districts, such as District 6, which includes the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods, saw the most growth in the last 10 years and giving it a deviation of more than 30 percent from the target population.
Districts may be redrawn with a deviation of up to one percent or five percent if the boundaries are adjusted in order to keep pre-existing communities of common interests, such as commercial districts and cultural districts and neighborhoods, together in the same district.
According to Emily Murase, executive director of the Japantown Task Force, Japantown community members have been advocating for the ethnic enclave to remain in District 5, together with the Fillmore and Western Addition neighborhoods since at least January.
“We want to maintain the cultural assets for Japantown, and there’s a very, very clear map of Japantown in the Japantown Cultural Heritage and Economic Sustainability (Strategy),” she said, citing the city-approved 2013 document outlining a 30-block area as Japantown’s boundaries.
Murase added that several other assets are not included in the JCHESS map, such as Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, Hokkeshu Buddhist Church, the Western Addition Public Library and the Chibi Chan Preschool, but the proposed District 5 boundaries included all cultural assets, save for the Japantown Community Youth Council’s Chibi Chan Preschool on the corner of Pierce and Pine Streets. Though the Japantown Task Force initially advocated for the school’s inclusion, Jon Osaki, JCYC’s executive director, decided not to further advocate for such at the end of the redistricting process.
“There are many communities advocating for priorities related to redistricting and overall Japantown has done extremely well. With the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center included in D5, our Chibi Chan II site is included in the district. Given the volatility regarding this redistricting process, I am willing to allow our Rose Court Chibi Chan site to be moved into D2 in favor of some of the other urgent priorities of other communities,” he told the Nichi Bei Weekly in an e-mail.
This round of redistricting has been far more contentious compared to that of a decade ago. This year’s process has consisted of task force members making bleary-eyed 3 a.m. decisions and the potential removal of three of the members by the city’s Election Commission. It culminated with four of the nine Redistricting Task Force members walking out in protest before the release of a final draft map during the early morning hours of April 10, which some say will dilute the voting powers of African Americans, LGBTQ people and many established neighborhoods, especially in the Tenderloin, which joins District 5, and the SoMa Pilipinas Filipino Cultural District and the Leather and LGBTQ Cultural Districts in South of Market, which remained in District 6.
The Compton’s Transgender Cultural District, which sits on both sides of Market Street, will also be bisected into two districts. Other controversial moves include the Potrero District moving from District 10 to 9, instigated the April 10 walkout.
Despite the drama going on elsewhere in the city, Japantown faced major changes only a couple of times throughout the process and survived with almost no cultural assets being removed from District 5, aside from the preschool. First, when the city initially released a draft map in early March, the proposed boundaries moved Japantown into District 3 with Chinatown. Task force members quickly reigned in the map, which one city supervisor described as “a joke.” Later, on April 6, Ditka Reiner, a member appointed by the Elections Commission, proposed to move several District 5 blocks (outlying pieces of Japantown) into District 2. Reiner cited seniors living in the area, namely the Sequoia Living assisted living facility residents, as having advocated to join their Cathedral Hill neighbors in District 2.
The boundary shift would have moved the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, Kimochi Home and Nihonmachi Terrace into District 2. Ultimately, only the blocks containing the Sequoias and Cathedral Hill Plaza were moved to District 2.
The nine member Redistricting Task Force is made up of three members appointed by the mayor, the city’s board of supervisors and the city’s Election Commission. The new maps, to be finalized and approved by Friday, April 15, will not be approved by the mayor, nor any other entity and will go into effect immediately. For more information on the process, including a copy of the final draft map, visit

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