Mayor London Breed (center) signs legislation creating an Office of Racial Equity. (Joshua Sabatini/S.F. Examiner)

Mayor London Breed (center) signs legislation creating an Office of Racial Equity. (Joshua Sabatini/S.F. Examiner)

Mayor Breed celebrates SF’s first Office of Racial Equity: ‘We need action’

San Francisco will launch The City’s first Office of Racial Equity later this month to address years of racial injustices, Mayor London Breed and other officials celebrated Tuesday.

The legislation, jointly introduced by Supervisors Sandra Fewer and Vallie Brown, was previously approved by the board and signed by Breed into law in August, but on Tuesday they held a public ceremonial signing at City Hall.

“We need action. We need consistency. We need a change like never before,” Breed told those gathered. “The Office of Racial Equity is really about making that investment, it is about saying that we are tired of reports and tired of the promises and we need to start putting our money where our mouth is.”

The City’s new Office of Racial Equity will be established under Sheryl Evans Davis, executive director of the Human Rights Commission. Davis told the San Francisco Examiner that she plans to hire the director of the office by the end of this month.

The already-approved budget for the office is about $1 million for the remainder of the current fiscal year and next fiscal year. The office will operate out of the Human Rights Commission’s existing offices at 25 Van Ness Ave.

Under the legislation, city departments are required to work with the office and create plans to identify and address inequities by December 31, 2020. The plans are to be updated every three years and annual reports on the progress made are also required.

“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 states.

The office will provide monthly reports on equity work to the Human Rights Commission.

Starting in 2021, “the office shall analyze and report on ordinances introduced at the Board of Supervisors in the areas of housing/land use, employment, economic security, public health and public safety that may have an impact on Racial Equity or Racial Disparities,” the legislation said.

Breed said that The City long attempted to address the challenges facing the African American community, but the same challenges persist.

“When Gavin Newsom served as mayor, he agreed to work with us and create a task force which produced a report that really highlighted the challenges that continue to persist in the African American community,” Breed told those gathered. “The same problems that we are talking about today were problems that were highlighted.”

“You look at the homeless population, you look at the challenges of mental health — disproportionately African Americans are impacted by that,” Breed said. “You look at access to housing and a number of other issues. The list goes on and on.”

Davis called on residents to hold City Hall accountable for the results to bring “the change that we’ve been waiting for for 50, 60, 70, 100 years.”

“Nobody here is afraid to be told that it’s being done wrong and that we need to re-do it,” Davis said. “If you want it to work right you all need to make sure that we are held accountable.”

Similarly, Brown said that the ideas have “to come from the community, not from us telling you what you need.” She called the office “a powerful tool to break down years and years of structural and institutional racism.”

Fewer said that it was “refreshing that we have a mayor that actually embraces this.”

“Today, we are taking a stand in San Francisco to say San Francisco will not stand for systemic racism,” Fewer said.

Breed, who is expected to win re-election in November to a four-year term, has made the issue of equity one of her priorities.

“When I said we are going to look at everything through a lens of equity and make the kinds of deliberate changes and investments to address what we know has been a problem then that’s exactly what we are going to do,” Breed said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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