San Francisco Office of Racial Equity created by unanimous vote

Used to illustrate a major ACLU initiative last October under the headline, “San Francisco Is a Hotbed of Illegal Race-Based Policing,” this photo begs the question, could the city vaunted as the world’s most progressive be unusually racist? How else could a popular new film be called “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” reflecting a city almost totally bereft of Black people? – Photo: Engel Chang, Shutterstock

by Chelsea Boilard

San Francisco – The landmark racial equity legislation that would create mandates for city departments to address racial disparities, as well as penalties if progress is not made, received unanimous support by the Board of Supervisors.

The legislation, introduced by Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer and Vallie Brown and boasting a total of nine cosponsors, mandates a citywide racial equity plan with outcomes identified for each department and budget implications if outcomes are not achieved. There would also be a new tool to conduct a racial equity analysis of pending legislation at the Board of Supervisors to assess impact on communities of color, and an annual workforce report to illuminate racial disparities within the City and County’s employment.

An Office of Racial Equity would be established to oversee all of this work, under the Human Rights Commission.

“This legislation will hold us accountable to moving the needle for racial equity in our city and addressing the disparities facing communities of color with regards to economic stability, housing, health outcomes or policing,” said Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer. “It is long past due that San Francisco makes real our commitment to racial equity, and this Office of Racial Equity will make sure that everyone in San Francisco has an equitable opportunity to thrive.”

“The deep structural and institutional racism so deeply rooted in this stolen Ramaytush Ohlone land remain.”

Vallie Brown

Racial disparities continue to persist in San Francisco 55 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the founding of the Human Rights Commission. These disparities are seen in life expectancy, infant mortality, employment, household income, racially segregated neighborhoods, arrest rates, homelenessness, school suspensions and more. And while all communities of color experience disparities in these areas, Black San Franciscans experience this inequity most acutely.

Offices of Equity exist in at least 32 other cities and seven counties across the country, according to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Legislative Analyst. This legislation will do more than just create an office in San Francisco, by including clear expectations, support and accountability to ensure that the City addresses systemic racial disparities within its own departments.

“To address a problem, you have to acknowledge you have one,” said Supervisor Vallie Brown. “Race and the deep structural and institutional racism so deeply rooted in this stolen Ramaytush Ohlone land remain as salient as ever. The Office of Racial Equity is a funded commitment from this City to proactively apply a racial equity lens to city actions and policies, measure our progress, and build a path toward equity and justice for all.”

The Office of Racial Equity legislation appeared in front of the Board of Supervisors during the same week that the Human Rights Commission celebrated the 55th anniversary of its founding. Established in 1964, the same year that the Civil Rights Act was passed, the Human Rights Commission was founded in response to explicit anti-Black racism in San Francisco.

Housed under the Human Rights Commission, the Office of Racial Equity will seek to build upon the foundation of this history, and further advance racial equity for communities of color experiencing disparities in San Francisco.

“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,” said Human Rights Commission Director Sheryl Davis, under whose department this office will be housed. “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.”

The historic vote to approve Supervisor Fewer and Brown’s legislation, which is co-sponsored by Supervisors Walton, Mandelman, Ronen, Mar, Safai, Haney and Yee, recommits San Francisco to a vision for civil rights and racial equity – as the work continues to address disparities for Black, Latinx, Pacific Islander, Asian and Native communities not just in San Francisco but across the country.

Chelsea Boilard, legislative aide in the office of District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, can be reached in City Hall Room 280 or at chelsea.boilard@sfgov.org.