Supervisor Connie Chan, her Board of Supervisors allies, and members of Asian-Pacific Islander communities on Tuesday called for a $118 million investment in programs serving Asian-Pacific Islander communities, portraying their demand as a matter of racial equity. With the city’s budget mandated to be finalized by month’s end, this was an unsubtle gauntlet thrown down at Mayor London Breed’s feet.
“Talk has been inspiring, rallying has been great for community bonding, but it is time for the city to deliver for” the Asian-Pacific Islander communuties, said Chan, the District 1 supervisor, who is spearheading the proposal. It is also backed by the API Council, a coalition of 57 Asian and Pacific Islander nonprofit organizations that serves an estimated quarter of a million people in the city annually.
“We think outside of just the Chinese American community, we have to think larger and think about all the APIs in our community and think about how we leverage what we already have in the city,” said Chan at a press conference on Tuesday.
The $118 million “API Equity Fund” proposal is a two-year, one-time investment in infrastructure and capital improvements for members of the API council. In comparison, Breed, in 2021, supported Supervisor Shamann Walton’s proposal for a $120 million to support the city’s Black communities.
Asian and Pacific Islanders from countries including China, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Samoa represent 37 percent of San Francisco’s population, compared to six percent for Black residents and 15 percent for Latinx residents.
The speakers at yesterday’s press event purport to represent the largest plurality of San Francisco’s population. Their demand adds a political complication for the mayor to what already promised to be a heated and challenging budgeting process.
While Breed supported the allocation for Black residents, “the mayor did not listen to this request,” said Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, vice chair of the budget committee. “We are going to listen on the Board. We’re going to do everything that we can to try to meet these requests and try to deliver for the API community.”
For Desi Danganan, the executive director of Kultivate Labs, the issue is symbolic of something much larger. He feels the mayor has some important thinking to do.“How is history going to look upon you during these dark times? Are we going to be the government that is just reactive to the things that the universe throws at us?”
A Breed spokesperson, Mason Lee, wrote in an email to Mission Local that the mayor finds it problematic that this funding for land acquisition and capital projects intends to tap into the fiscal cliff reserve, money which was originally intended to protect the city against dramatic projected budget shortfalls.
“Using our reserve could jeopardize our city’s long-term fiscal health, especially with great uncertainties around our economy ahead. It is imperative that we remain fiscally responsible for all San Franciscans,” said Lee in the email.
Lee also cited some active contracts between city departments and organizations within the API Council, emphasizing that Breed had already committed significant funds to these communities. As much of this is still planned to be delivered in the future, the email emphasized that, in time, the existing contracts would likely go beyond the $118 million proposed by the API Equity Fund. Instead, Breed’s current budget emphasizes aspects such as “public safety, promoting economic recovery to get our City moving forward, significant investments in wages for city workers and non-profit workers, and continuing to address the challenges we face around homelessness and mental health.”
The API Equity Fund aims to counteract the economic insecurity and gentrification from which some API member organizations are suffering. The Southeast Asian Development Center (SEADC), a member organization of the API Council, is in the midst of an age-old toilet crisis. “We serve over 600 clients, our spaces are under resourced. I’m sad to say that we have only one bathroom for the entire center,” said Judy Young, the executive director of SEADC.
The Chinese Cultural Center is in a similar situation because of the limited duration of its lease, which has 10 years remaining. With the funding from the API Equity Fund, it would likely be about to buy a building of its own, according to political consultant David Ho.
For some communities, the fund is also perceived as payback for past injustices. “Our community has never, ever asked anything from the City Hall,” said Patsy Tito, the Executive Director of the Samoan Community Development Center, a community that accounts for less than 0.5 percent of San Francisco’s population.
San Francisco became the fourth city in California to officially apologize to Chinese communities this February in advance of the 140th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act. But Ho doesn’t feel the apology was enough. “It didn’t come with any meaningful resolution to mitigate the past wrong of the U.S. government,” said Ho. “I see this [fund] as a continuation of that work.”
The perceived wave of anti-Asian hate also contributes to a feeling that reparations must be made. District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin said, “I want to say that the experience that the AAPI community has had during the pandemic, and prior to the pandemic, really is a case for this level of investment.”
Several of the district supervisors in attendance expressed that the fund would be a top priority for them in the intense budget negotiations over the next two weeks. The budget proposal has until the end of the month to rack up support from the eight members of the board of supervisors to get approved. Still, the mayor’s office remains unconvinced.
For Chan, this is not acceptable. “Most importantly, we also need to make sure that the mayor’s office understands,” she said.