The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hear a draft reparations plan for the city of San Francisco. The plan, sponsored by Supervisor Shamann Walton and developed by an advisory committee with the Human Rights Commission, proposes repayment and support for eligible Black residents in response to the city’s systemically discriminatory public policies.
Today’s hearing was delayed last month, due to Walton’s delayed flight returning from vacation, an unforeseen mishap that brought out backlash to the plan, including personal attacks on Walton. We will be following along with the discussion below.
Safaí, Ronen and Melgar ask to be added as co-sponsors. The resolution to accept the reparations plan passes unanimously.
Someone asks about moving up Item 19, to approve the resolution now. The Board is advised that because of public comment requirements, the item can’t be taken out of order.
Now, another hearing about the SFPD’s progress on years-old reform recommendations from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Today, Walton says, a resolution should be approved to accept the reparations plan. The final report will be ready in June.
He moves to continue this hearing until Sept. 19 (after the final report in June, budget meetings in July, and recess in August).
“Let’s not lose focus,” Walton says, “because when we receive the final report we have to actually resource the path forward.”
Walton praises the Dream Keeper Initiative, as did many commenters: “their investment has proven outcomes that do demonstrate success.”
He asks for an end to attacks on Black community organizations.
Public comment is closed! Just over three hours of commenters.
Later in today’s agenda, a resolution accepting the draft reparations plan is up for adoption. It is co-sponsored by Walton, Preston, and Mandelman.
Despite the overwhelming support for reparations in public comment, several messages sent to the Board of Supervisors ahead of today’s meeting strongly oppose the plan, calling it racist and unfair.
“In the capitalist economy, one needs capital to participate,” says a caller supportive of reparations. He encourages adoption of the plan, which is in line with past initiatives reallocating funding from law enforcement to community.
In-person public comment has ended after two hours. Now the Board is taking comments by phone.
Phelicia Jones demands that Dream Keeper Initiative is part of the 2023-24 budget.
A speaker from Code Tenderloin, a workforce development nonprofit, also supports funding for DKI; it helped participants of the program get substantial payments of $5,000 apiece.
A woman who was once struggling with homelessness says DKI helped her send her daughter to the University of California, Los Angeles.
Commenters still line the chambers, waiting to speak. Speakers continue sharing experiences of racism and violence, their successes with the support of pro-Black community organizations, and the work they do to uplift the Black community.
One commenter calls out supervisors who are looking at their cell phones as Black members of the public share their experiences.
Commenting is limited to one minute, but some speakers continue speaking, even after the mic has been cut. Board President Peskin gently urges them to end their comment. “We hear you,” he says to an instructor from City College.
If you want to call in and provide public comment, call 1 (415) 655-0001 and enter access code 2487 791 7160 ##. To request to speak, press *3.
“This is not about Black people just having their handout. This is about hundreds of years of free labor, about being removed from our homes, not allowed to be educated, not allowed to earn a wage, not allowed to reproduce and raise families, pushed out of San Francisco, forced to pay the education of others without the same benefit, isolated and redlined, and the list goes on,” says one commenter.
Brenda Barros, from the Black employee union at San Francisco General Hospital, is thrilled with this progress.
One speaker says notes that she is only three generations separated from slavery in her family tree. “I got three generations living with me in my house right now … So for those of you that think that, ‘Oh, that was a long time ago:’ It wasn’t. It was yesterday.”
Reverend Arelious Walker, 92, speaks briefly to let the Board know that they have “the opportunity to live up to the commitment” today.
Walker’s granddaughter says she worked with a genealogist to trace her grandfather’s lineage to Nigeria and Cameroon. Walker was working on fields in the South as a 6-year-old. “Reparations are needed for people like him and me,” she says.
An employee of the SFUSD thanks the Dream Keeper Initiative for its support, as have other speakers.
“We’ve had enough presentations of studies,” says Brown, who was around to see previous mayors adopt and ignore earlier initiatives. “I plead with you — don’t do the same thing of permitting a report to be on, and putting it on the shelf to collect dust and do absolutely nothing.”
On to public comment. The audience is full of people lined up to speak.
Reverend Amos Brown, Baptist pastor and president of the NAACP, is second in line. He gives a passionate speech: “We ought to consider there comes a time when we must do more than just have conversation. We must change our conduct.”
Supervisor Catherine Stefani also voices support for the plan. She says she wants to listen more than speak herself. She has asked Black people who have lost family members to gun violence: “‘Show me how I show up for you. Just tell me.’ And it’s worked.”
“I’m really looking forward to showing up,” Stefani says.
Supervisor Ahsha Safaí thanks the Black community for its work on the reparations plan. He acknowledges that white privilege is an uncomfortable truth that many don’t want to talk about; for example, Safaí says members of the public have complained that they weren’t personally involved in slavery.
He says this is the beginning of an important conversation.
Supervisor Matt Dorsey says “it is never too late to right a wrong,” and commits to supporting this plan, and is open to enshrining reparations into our city charter as a budget set-aside.
Dorsey notes that Pope John Paul II issued a letter admitting that the Vatican and the Catholic Church took 350 years to realize that it was wrong on Galileo’s theory of heliocentrism.
Supervisor Connie Chan also supports today’s plan: “I think we just need to get to work and make this be the guiding principle for this budget year.” She calls for her colleagues in city government to put their money where their mouth is.
Mandelman says he, like Supervisor Preston, is also a product of reparations; his grandmother would get checks every month from the German government for what she endured in Nazi Germany.
While the Holocaust lasted a few years, Mandelman notes that Black Americans endured injustices for “hundreds of years over multiple generations.” The “length and depth” of these indignities, he says, are part of what make implementing reparations plans more challenging.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman weighs in: “I have been struck by the overheated and irrational response to this draft report … I think the fury that this little report has inspired among some people is, itself, evidence of the imperative of actually making reparations.”
Ronen is happy to have an “open conversation” today “in a safe space” where she says everyone is in agreement about the the reparations plan.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen is very supportive of the plan before her today.
“I just want you to know that you have my 100% support and commitment to implementing, quite frankly, all 111 of these recommendations — they are all warranted,” Ronen says.
“Why is this controversial? Why?” Melgar asks. She says she has been guided by her Jewish faith to recognize the importance of atonement and repairing the world. “Justice cannot be achieved until we rectify past wrongs, including through reparations.”
Supervisor Myrna Melgar says she supports the reparations plan and, in spite of any backlash, many of the recommendations are indisputable and “common sense.”
“We can all agree that no mother, no child, babies should die as a result of childbirth,” Melgar says. “We can agree that all children should be ready for kindergarten. We can all agree that teenagers should be safe from harm and have equal access to opportunities for educational achievement … “
While the reparations plan is finalized in the coming months, Engardio asks the city to fully staff the Office of Racial Equity within the Human Rights Commission, created four years ago but still understaffed and unable to accomplish its charter-mandated duties.
Supervisor Joel Engardio agrees that San Francisco is not all “summer of love.”
He agrees with the need for a reparations plan, considering that Black San Franciscans were denied access to land and property, and therefore unable to inherit generational wealth as their white counterparts did.
To those “obsessed” with the numbers in the reparations plan, Preston says: “There is no question in my mind that doing nothing on reparations costs far more than funding reparations, regardless of what that number is.”
Considering the discrimination, stolen generational wealth, and systemic racism, Preston says reparations are absolutely warranted.
“I think the only question is how we quantify that, right, how we make amends, how we do better, and how we do it quickly and effectively,” Preston says. “And this reparations advisory committee report takes us a huge step toward doing that.”
In the early 1950s, Preston says his family received reparations money from the German government.
“It gave my family a chance at financial success in this country,” Preston says. “My family was displaced and forced to endure a trauma that didn’t just impact them when they were forced out of their homes, but also haunted them emotionally, every day and every night of their lives.”
The payment sought to mitigate, to an extent, those harms.
Supervisor Dean Preston calls the plan a “fantastic report,” and says his own family received reparations as refugees from Nazi Germany. His great-grandmother, Preston says, was killed in a concentration camp.
Peskin says he has been “startled” by the response he’s heard “in this allegedly liberal progressive city.”
Board president Aaron Peskin kicks off the board discussion, now that the presentation is complete.
Peskin acknowledges today’s city government’s responsibility to take action. Past leaders “historically had a role in systemic racism, particularly against the African American community … that is something that we need to discuss and remember and remind ourselves of and reckon with, and not sweep under the rug.”
Hollins asks the Board of Supervisors to accept the plan, attend the monthly AARAC meetings if they want to learn more, and support investment in the mentioned programs this budget season. “Snap louder,” Hollins says to supporters in the audience. “This budget season.”
Other recommendations: Creation of an Afro-centric school that elevates and promotes Black history and culture; Acknowledgement of the city’s role in harming the mental, physical, and environmental health of Black residents.
“It is for the city to decide what that number is,” Hollins says of the $5 million payment recommendation. “But we want a comprehensive suite of financial reparations, and we want that to be made available immediately to those who qualify.”
This, she says, could include entrepreneurial support or affordable housing at all income levels.
McDonnell says this plan includes 111 recommendations, not one. He says he’s almost insulted that the media has chosen to focus on just one — likely referencing the proposal to pay out certain Black residents $5 million.
Community input, land-parcel analysis, displacement studies, have all been conducted during the development of the reparations plan, says Hollins, with the support of the University of San Francisco and Stanford University.
She points to policy-driven discrimination: Hostile housing policies and workforce discrimination. SFUSD was desegregated by a NAACP consent decree in 1983. Arrest and traffic stop data still today shows glaring disparities.
The purpose of this process was not a feasibility study, McDonnell says. “The charge was to chronicle the harm, and determine the value. Period, kind of full stop.”
The choice to accept that value is the Board of Supervisors’ call, he says.
Tinisch Hollins, vice chair of the African American Reparations Advisory Committee, notes that efforts are made by the city to improve discriminatory policies. “But somehow, as our budgets continue to increase to address these Black disparities, Black folks have continued to be driven out of our city,” Hollins says.
McDonnell gives the history of Black migration to San Francisco, with explosive population growth in 1940 to 1950, during and after World War II, as Black migrants fled the Jim Crow south.
“It’s important to remember and keep in mind that, while there was opportunity, it’s not that this opportunity didn’t come without cost,” McDonnell says The Fillmore and the southeast sector were areas where Blacks were segregated, and made the best of it.
Eric McDonnell, chair of the African American Reparations Advisory Committee (AARAC), steps up to speak. He quotes “Caste,” the book by Isabel Wilkerson, on buying a house: “You buy and inherit the good and the bad … The house becomes your responsibility to take care of — whether you built it or not is not really relevant. It’s yours now.”
“And so, while we don’t intend to indict any one of you personally or individually, you’re the owners of the house,” McDonnell says. “And so, we are inviting you again to become co-owners of this process of redressing all of the harm.”
Chicuata goes into the process of developing today’s plan. Since June, 2021, the committee has held 22 monthly meetings, with more than 500 unique participants, plus 11,000 unique website visits.
More than 200 people responded to the survey.
Under Mayor London Breed, Chicuata says, reparations work is moving forward, including by the Department of Public Health, which is helping create mental health services for Black residents, and in the housing-development sphere.
The committee’s work is split into four subcommittees: Economic empowerment, education, health, and policy.
Brittni Chicuata, Director of Economic Rights at the Human Rights Commission, steps up to the podium to introduce the reparations presentation. She quotes the United Nations’ Conditions of Reparations: “measures to redress violations of human rights by providing a range of material and symbolic benefits to victims or their families as well as affected communities.”
“When a government is responsible for wrongful actions or negligence that causes injustice to a specific group of people, it has a duty to remedy those actions,” Chicuata says.
“I prefer the open racism that I experienced in the south versus the covert racism that I experience here in the Bay Area,” says Davis, who hails from Texas. “Anytime we talk about making an actual tangible, really heartfelt investment in the Black community, there’s backlash.”
The reparations plan has brought out the worst in people, Davis says. “We think we’re safe here, but we’re not.”
“We really wanted to make sure that, this time around, we didn’t take a bunch of information and notes and data and say we heard from folks and then the money disappear into the ether,” says Sheryl Davis of the Human Rights Commission.
Up next is the reparations committee.
Leatutufu-Burch calls for ongoing and expanded investment in these programs: Guaranteed income, homeownership, entrepreneurship. She wants DKI approaches to be integrated across city government.
“The scale of investment is still not enough,” Leatutufu-Burch says.
“Home ownership this is something that that came from the recommendations and community meetings,” Leatutufu-Burch says.
Last year, 22 families purchased their own homes with support from the Dream Keeper Initiative, Leatutufu-Burch reports, 19 of which identify as Black. These homes are located in districts across San Francisco.
Today’s hearing also includes a presentation from the Dream Keeper Initiative on its progress. Its director, Saidah Leatutufu-Burch, introduces the research institutes that provided data for the initiative’s work, and cultural and community organizations that DKI supports.
DKI has helped launch 201 new businesses, 34 new storefronts, nine new Black-owned daycares, 22 Black educators working to get licensed, and nearly $3 million granted to entrepreneurs.
“The commitment to make an investment in the Black community” began as a result of the racial awakening in 2020 — a reality that Black people have been living, Davis says.
At the time, $60 million was allocated to the Dream Keeper Initiative, Davis notes, but this alone was not reparations. The plan before the Board of Supervisors today outlines specific initiatives to pay and support Black residents — financially, and in education, health, and more.
Human Rights Commission director Sheryl Davis is called to speak. The audience bursts into cheers and applause.
Davis thanks Walton for “continuing to show up for community.” She is looking forward to hearing from the community on the plan today.
“Now for the painful part,” Walton says. Public comment is limited to one minute each.
The final report for the plan is due in mid-2023. “There is much work that still needs to be done,” Walton says.
Walton lists examples of reparations plans that have been discussed and adopted in other communities.
Walton says he has endured “some of the most racist and disgusting commentary” in this process. He says it’s important to repay current residents, and “repair the damage of the past.”
“We have to remind everyone why this is so important,” Walton says, because not everyone understands. Black families have to pay education taxes, even though their children were not allowed to learn in schools, he says. Black communities were blocked from owning property or getting home loans.
Shamann Walton opens the discussion and thanks the community for its support, the Reparations Task Force, the Human Rights Commission, and the Dreamkeeper Initiative for their work on this plan.