San Francisco Chronicle

Reparation­s movement goes well beyond S.F.

- JUSTIN PHILLIPS COMMENTARY Reach Justin Phillips: jphillips@sfchronicl­

When I asked Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley what motivated him to pursue a dialogue about reparation­s in his part of the East Bay, he paused for a moment to collect his thoughts.

“Nobody has ever asked me that,” he said with a laugh.

Even if someone had asked, I wouldn’t blame him if he forgot. A dozen years have passed since Alameda County approved his resolution, which was more symbolic than substantiv­e. It served as Alameda County’s apology for slavery and called on the state to address widespread disparitie­s Black people face, but it didn’t actually require the county to act on reparation­s in its own way.

“I think what inspired the resolution was just being African American, having experience­d discrimina­tion in my lifetime … and then looking at wrongs that African Americans face historical­ly and presently,” Miley said.

The statewide reparation­s commitment Miley hoped his 2011 resolution would ignite didn’t materializ­e until 2020. Now, reparation­s work is happening in many different places in many different ways across the U.S. And Alameda County, 12 years after acknowledg­ing the depth of slavery’s legacy within its own backyard, is playing catch-up.

The same year that George Floyd died under the knee of a white Minneapoli­s police officer, in May 2020, California passed legislatio­n creating a first-in-thenation task force charged with informing the public about the legacy of institutio­nalized racism and offering recommenda­tions to repair it. Multiple Bay Area cities embarked on similar pursuits, including Oakland, Vallejo, Hayward, Richmond, San Francisco and Berkeley.

San Francisco’s reparation­s proposal has garnered national attention and notoriety because one of its many recommenda­tions touches on the idea of direct $5 million payments to harmed individual­s. Meanwhile, other Bay Area government­s are considerin­g their own approaches to righting generation­al wrongs that have received less fanfare, but are no less important or potentiall­y influentia­l.

Richmond has a proposed reparation­s program that, among other things, aims to address how local redlining from the mid-1900s and predatory lending after the 2008 housing crisis forced out Black residents and prevented many others from owning a home. The city went from being 36 percent Black in the 1970s to 18 percent Black as of 2021.

Richmond’s reparation­s plan, which city leaders have not yet voted to approve, proposes giving a $25,000 grant to those who were affected by redlining and the 2008 housing crisis. The money could be used for home down payments, paying off loans, upgrading a home or covering the closing cost of a home.

As former Richmond City Council Member Demnlus Johnson III explained to the state’s reparation­s task force in December, the grant idea is feasible because it would build off the efforts of local organizati­ons already focused on housing equity.

Richmond isn’t the only East Bay city taking a precision approach to atoning for past local injustices. Last summer, Hayward launched a program called the Russell City Restorativ­e Justice Project. Its name references the bygone Black and Latino farming community that six decades ago was annexed into Hayward so city leaders could bulldoze the land and turn it into an industrial park. The town no longer exists, and Hayward’s redevelopm­ent process displaced 1,400 residents.

Hayward’s program is still in the process of connecting with former Russell City residents. City leaders hope the input from residents and their families can shape a happier epilogue to an ugly chapter in Hayward history.

Elsewhere in the East Bay, Oakland is pursuing reparation­s for a different disenfranc­hised community. Last September, it became the first California city to use land as a form of reparation­s for Native Americans. Thanks to a partnershi­p between the city and the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, the Ohlone Tribe now has exclusive usage of 5 acres of Sequoia Point in Joaquin Miller Park. Oakland’s decision is a small step toward addressing how, for thousands of years, the Ohlone people lived on the land before being forcibly removed by Europeans beginning in the 18th century.

Meanwhile, Miley is now trying to get Alameda County to join a reparation­s movement that is underway all around it. This time around, he is taking a more aggressive approach.

Earlier this month, Miley started drafting a proposal to establish a 15-person commission, composed of community members, to study reparation­s and what economic redress could look like for Black residents. He plans to introduce it in the coming weeks. If his fellow supervisor­s approve the legislatio­n, the commission will have 12-18 months to create a draft reparation­s plan similar to what San Francisco created.

“The more we can do this (reparation­s work) at the grassroots level and disclose some of these historical wrongs, and the more we can spread that knowledge to the broader populace … the better off we all are,” Miley said.

Still, there’s an irony to Alameda County getting outpaced by its neighbors. If the county had gone further a decade ago, it could be leading rather than following this important dialogue. Then again, inaction has been the hallmark of America’s overall reparation­s dialogue since slavery was formally abolished in 1865. This isn’t lost on Miley, who is intimately aware of how slowly the gears of change can move.

“Right now, we have to make sure the broader public understand­s that this country, and state, county and city government­s owe African Americans,” he said.

Let’s hope Alameda County doesn’t take another decade to show it understand­s.

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 ?? Yalonda M. James/The Chronicle ?? Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley tried in 2011 to start a broader reparation­s conversati­on through a resolution.
Yalonda M. James/The Chronicle Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley tried in 2011 to start a broader reparation­s conversati­on through a resolution.
 ?? Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle ?? Winny Knowles looks at newspaper clippings while reminiscin­g about bygone Russell City.
Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle Winny Knowles looks at newspaper clippings while reminiscin­g about bygone Russell City.

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