Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer introduced legislation with Supervisor Vallie Brown creating an Office of Racial Equity. (Kevin N. Hume/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Office of Racial Equity to address The City’s deep inequities

San Francisco is poised to pass legislation that would create The City’s first Office of Racial Equity and penalties for departments that fail to make progress in addressing inequities.

Introduced by Supervisors Sandra Fewer and Vallie Brown, the proposal has picked up the backing of five other supervisors, enough to pass the legislation into law.

The office is intended to create a citywide plan to close the gap on existing racial inequities found in various areas of San Francisco, including household income, health, public schools, homelessness and incarceration.

Fewer pointed to some of the “incredible racial disparities in so many areas,” including “the declining numbers of black, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander children” and “the over-representation of children of color in poverty and the increasing over-representation of African American people who are homeless and incarcerated.”

In 2016, the average income for black households was $46,000 and for Latinx households $70,000, she said. By comparison, white households earned an average of $107,000.

The Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee held the first hearing on the proposal last week. Amendments were made and the committee is now expected to vote Thursday to send it to the full board for a vote on July 23.

Among the amendments was a provision to add more accountability.

“If a department is not compliant with regards to the Action Plan and annual reports, or if progress is not being made to address key Racial Equity disparities, the Board of Supervisors intends to exercise its discretion to withhold spending authority or freeze hiring during the budget process for the following fiscal year,” the legislation reads.

Each city department would have to adopt an action plan that states how they plan to address inequities in their department and services and measure the progress. Annual reports on the progress are also required.

Brown said that the proposal is a “a tangible and accountable way to address systematic racism within city government and San Francisco as a whole.”

“Equality means treating everyone the same. Equity means ensuring everyone has what they need to be successful,” Brown said.

The Office of Racial Equity itself would come under a performance review within five years by the City Controller “to determine whether the existing structures and staffing are sufficient and how the Office can most effectively to achieve its mission and objectives.”

The proposal also requires data collection to address racial equity in The City’s contracts and the Department of Human Resources must provide an annual report of data regarding demographics of government employment, including promotions and discipline.

The Office of Racial Equity would come under the authority of the Human Rights Commission, whose executive director is Sheryl Davis.

“This office signals that San Francisco is finally coming to the reality that San Francisco is not beyond racism, that it lives and it exists here and that we need a mechanism to actually hold people accountable to that reality,” Davis said. “One of the things that we continue to believe is that because San Francisco is progressive is that it is not racist. And I would argue it is probably far more racist than we see in southern states because we hide behind the shield of ‘progressive’ and because we hide behind the shield of ‘liberal.’”

The office is expected to launch later this fiscal year with a staff of four, costing The City $355,783 in the current fiscal year and $618,295 next fiscal year.

In addition to overseeing the department’s action plans, the office must issue a biennial “Racial Equity Report Card” in such areas as San Francisco’s wealth, employment, transportation, homelessness, health, education and policing.

The office will also provide analysis for proposed legislation as such as whether “the proposed ordinance would promote Racial Equity by helping to close opportunity gaps for communities of color, or impede Racial Equity by furthering Racial Disparities.”

And the office will “create a budget equity assessment tool for City departments to use in order to determine whether budget requests and annual allocations benefit or burden communities of color.”

Fewer said that said the office is a “critical step” for The City to “address racial disparities in a very concrete way.”

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