Yuma Sun

San Francisco board open to reparation­s with $5M payouts


SAN FRANCISCO – Payments of $5 million to every eligible Black adult, the eliminatio­n of personal debt and tax burdens, guaranteed annual incomes of at least $97,000 for 250 years and homes in San Francisco for just $1 a family.

These were some of the more than 100 recommenda­tions made by a city-appointed reparation­s committee tasked with the thorny question of how to atone for centuries of slavery and systemic racism. And the San Francisco Board of Supervisor­s hearing the report for the first time Tuesday voiced enthusiast­ic support for the ideas listed, with some saying money should not stop the city from doing the right thing.

Several supervisor­s said they were surprised to hear pushback from politicall­y liberal San Franciscan­s apparently unaware that the legacy of slavery and racist policies continues to keep Black Americans on the bottom rungs of health, education and economic prosperity, and overrepres­ented in prisons and homeless population­s.

“Those of my constituen­ts who lost their minds about this proposal, it’s not something we’re doing or we would do for other people. It’s something we would do for our future, for everybody’s collective future,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes the heavily LGBTQ Castro neighborho­od.

The draft reparation­s plan, released in December, is unmatched nationwide in its specificit­y and breadth. The committee hasn’t done an analysis of the cost of the proposals, but critics have slammed the plan as financiall­y and politicall­y impossible. An estimate from Stanford University’s Hoover Institutio­n, which leans conservati­ve, has said it would cost each non-black family in the city at least $600,000.

Tuesday’s unanimous expression­s of support for reparation­s by the board do not mean all the recommenda­tions will ultimately be adopted, as the body can vote to approve, reject or change any or all of them. A final committee report is due in June.

Some supervisor­s have said previously that the city can’t afford any major reparation­s payments right now given its deep deficit amid a tech industry downturn.

Tinisch Hollins, vicechair of the African American Reparation­s Advisory Committee, alluded to those comments, and several people who lined up to speak reminded the board they would be watching closely what the supervisor­s do next.

“I don’t need to impress upon you the fact that we are setting a national precedent here in San Francisco,” Hollins said. “What we are asking for and what we’re demanding for is a real commitment to what we need to move things forward.”

The idea of paying compensati­on for slavery has gained traction across cities and universiti­es. In 2020, California became the first state to form a reparation­s task force and is still struggling to put a price tag on what is owed.

The idea has not been taken up at the federal level.

In San Francisco, Black residents once made up more than 13% of the city’s population, but more than

50 years later, they account for less than 6% of the city’s residents – and 38% of its homeless population. The Fillmore District once thrived with Black-owned night clubs and shops until government redevelopm­ent in the 1960s forced out residents.

Fewer than 50,000 Black people still live in the city, and it’s not clear how many would be eligible. Possible criteria include having lived in the city during certain time periods and descending from someone “incarcerat­ed for the failed War on Drugs.”

Critics say the payouts make no sense in a state and city that never enslaved Black people. Opponents generally say taxpayers who were never slave owners should not have to pay money to people who were not enslaved.

Advocates say that view ignores a wealth of data and historical evidence showing that long after U.S. slavery officially ended in 1865, government policies and practices worked

to imprison Black people at higher rates, deny access to home and business loans and restrict where they could work and live.

Justin Hansford, a professor at Howard University School of Law, says no municipal reparation­s plan will have enough money to right the wrongs of slavery, but he appreciate­s any attempts to “genuinely, legitimate­ly, authentica­lly” make things right. And that includes cash, he said.

“If you’re going to try to say you’re sorry, you have to speak in the language that people understand, and money is that language,” he said.

John Dennis, chair of the San Francisco Republican Party, does not support reparation­s although he says he’d support a serious conversati­on on the topic. He doesn’t consider the board’s discussion of $5 million payments to be one.

“This conversati­on we’re having in San Francisco is completely unserious. They just threw a number up, there’s no analysis,”

Dennis said. “It seems ridiculous, and it also seems that this is the one city where it could possibly pass.”

The board created the 15-member reparation­s committee in late 2020, months after California Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a statewide task force amid national turmoil after a white Minneapoli­s police officer killed George Floyd, a Black man.

The committee continues to deliberate recommenda­tions, including monetary compensati­on, and its report is due to the Legislatur­e on July 1. At that point it will be up to lawmakers to draft and pass legislatio­n.

The state panel made the controvers­ial decision in March to limit reparation­s to descendant­s of Black people who were in the country in the 19th century. Some reparation­s advocates said that approach does take into account the harms that Black immigrants suffer.

Under San Francisco’s

draft recommenda­tion, a person would have to be at least 18 years old and have identified as “Black/african American” in public documents for at least 10 years. Eligible people must also meet two of eight other criteria, though the list may change.

Those criteria include being born in or migrating to San Francisco between 1940 and 1996 and living in the city for least 13 years; being displaced from the city by urban renewal between 1954 and 1973, or the descendant of someone who was; attending the city’s public schools before they were fully desegregat­ed; or being a descendant of an enslaved person.

The Chicago suburb of Evanston became the first U.S. city to fund reparation­s. The city gave money to qualifying people for home repairs, down payments and interest or late penalties due on property. In December, the Boston City Council approved of a reparation­s study task force.

 ?? JEFF CHIU/AP ?? A CROWD LISTENS TO SPEAKERS AT A REPARATION­S RALLY outside of City Hall in San Francisco on Tuesday. Supervisor­s in San Francisco are taking up a draft reparation­s proposal that includes a $5 million lump-sum payment for every eligible Black person.
JEFF CHIU/AP A CROWD LISTENS TO SPEAKERS AT A REPARATION­S RALLY outside of City Hall in San Francisco on Tuesday. Supervisor­s in San Francisco are taking up a draft reparation­s proposal that includes a $5 million lump-sum payment for every eligible Black person.

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