Supervisor Vallie Brown, seen here during a hearing on discriminatory hiring practices in city government in September last year, on Tuesday introduced legislation with Supervisor Sandra Fewer (right) to create an Office of Racial Equity. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF to launch Office of Racial Equity

New body would work to help city agencies, policy makers avoid disparate outcomes and impacts

San Francisco may join tens of other cities that already have an Office of Racial Equity.

Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer and Vallie Brown jointly introduced legislation Tuesday to create a five-member office under the jurisdiction of the Human Rights Commission that would solely work on addressing San Francisco’s racial disparities.

Fewer said that it “will institutionalize our commitment to address long-standing racial disparities.” She said that since she began serving on the board there hasn’t been analysis “of how decisions we made would positively or negatively impact communities of color.”

The office would have a number of duties, including the analysis of proposed Board of Supervisors legislation to determine how it would promote racial equity and to help every city department establish racial equity plans. The plans would address racial disparities within their own departments and in services they provide.

Every two years, the office would grade how The City’s racial equity efforts are faring.

As defined in the legislation, a racial disparity is “where one racial group systematically and disproportionately experiences worse outcomes in comparison to another racial group or groups.”

The office’s mission is to “advance racial equity in the city and repair harm done by government policy decisions that have created, upheld, or exacerbated racial disparities in the city,” the legislation states. That includes addressing “structural racism that limits opportunities for and impacts the wellbeing of people of color in The City.”

These disparate outcomes are seen in such areas as education, employment, wealth, housing and health.

One health disparity reported by the San Francisco Examiner Friday showed Black males living in The City have the lowest life expectancy, 68, compared to other races. Asian males have a life expectancy of about 84 and white males around 80.

The hope is to have the office up and running by the end of the year. Conversations are ongoing with Mayor London Breed to include funding for the office in her upcoming city budget proposal.

At five staff positions, the office is expected to cost $640,000 annually.

“This is, I think, well worth the money,” Fewer said. “It is a tool not only for legislators but it is a tool for city departments to look internally and externally.”

Brown said that “it is more expensive for us to be guessing on policy and funding as we go along. We want to make sure we get it right and that the funding is right.”

Brown noted that oftentimes decisions are made through a “gut feeling” and not real information.

“For the city, we are having such wealth and we are seeing so many people struggling with housing and healthcare and jobs,” Brown said. “We really need to find out what is happening, where their needs are and be able to maneuver with policy and funding.”

The legislation also requires the Department of Human Resources to annually report on racial equity in government employment with analysis by race looking at new hires, promotions, salaries and complaints of discrimination.

The proposal already has the at least six votes needed to pass.

Human Rights Commission Director Sheryl Davis supports the legislation.

“Decades of failing to address and, in some ways, worsening inequality through local policy decisions has resulted in disproportionate health outcomes, displacement, unnecessary interactions with the justice system, lower wages, and a host of other negative experiences for very specific populations,” Davis said in a statement.

Her statement continued, “As public servants, we must shine a light on these disparities, reconcile past harms, and identify solutions so that all San Franciscans may achieve their greatest potential without being undermined by structural obstacles to success. Creating this office is a great first step toward justice and inclusion for the most marginalized residents.”

This may not be the only new office created this year. Board president Norman Yee also asked the City Attorney to draft legislation Tuesday to create an Office of Emerging Technologies.

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