San Francisco board open to reparations with $5M payouts
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Payments of $5 million to every eligible Black adult, 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 per family .
These were some of the more than 100 recommendations made by a city-appointed redress committee charged with the thorny question of how to atone for centuries of slavery and systemic racism. And the San Francisco board of directors, which first heard the report on Tuesday, expressed enthusiastic support for the ideas listed, with some saying money shouldn’t stop the city from doing the right thing.
Several supervisors said they were surprised to be rebuffed by politically liberal San Franciscos, who appeared unaware that the legacy of slavery and racist politics continue to keep black Americans at the bottom of health, education, economic well-being and in prisons and homeless are overrepresented.
“Those of my constituents who have lost their minds over this proposal, it’s not something we do or would do for other people. It’s something we would do for our future, for everyone’s collective future,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes the heavily LGBTQ-heavy Castro neighborhood.
Released in December, the draft remediation plan is unmatched nationally for its specificity and breadth. The committee did not analyze the cost of the proposals, but critics have called the plan financially and politically impossible. A conservative estimate by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution says it would cost every non-black family in the city at least $600,000.
The Board’s unanimous statements of support for reparations on Tuesday do not mean that all recommendations will ultimately be adopted, as the panel may vote to accept, reject or amend some or all of the recommendations. A final committee report is due in June.
Some regulators have previously said the city cannot afford major reparations at this time given its deep deficit amid a tech industry downturn.
Tinisch Hollins, vice chair of the African American Reparations Advisory Committee, alluded to those comments, and several people who lined up to speak reminded the board that they were watching closely what supervisors did next.
“I don’t need to impress you with the fact that we’re setting a national precedent here in San Francisco,” Hollins said. “What we ask for and demand is a genuine commitment to what we need to move things forward.”
The idea of paying compensation for slavery has gained traction in cities and universities. In 2020, California became the first state to form a redress task force and is still struggling to put a price on the debt.
The idea was not 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 make up less than 6% of the city’s residents — and 38% of the homeless. The Fillmore District once thrived with black-owned nightclubs and shops until government redevelopment forced residents into it in the 1960s.
Fewer than 50,000 black people remain in the city, and it’s not clear how many would be eligible. Possible criteria include having lived in the city for specific periods of time and being descended from someone who was “imprisoned for the failed war on drugs.”
Critics say the payouts make no sense in a state and city that has never enslaved blacks. Opponents generally say that taxpayers who have never owned slaves need not pay money to people who have not been enslaved.
Proponents say this view ignores a wealth of data and historical evidence showing that long after U.S. slavery officially ended in 1865, government policy and practice worked toward incarcerating blacks for longer sentences, giving them access to Denying home and business loans and restricting their job and job opportunities live.
Justin Hansford, a professor at Howard University School of Law, says no municipal redress plan will have enough money to right the wrongs of slavery, but he appreciates any attempt to right things “sincerely, legitimately and authentically.” And that includes cash, he said.
“If you’re trying to apologize, you have to speak the language that people understand, and money is that language,” he said.
San Francisco Republican Party leader John Dennis does not support redress, although he says he would support serious discussion on the issue. He doesn’t consider the board’s discussion of $5 million payments as such.
“This conversation we’re having in San Francisco is completely frivolous. They just put out a number, there’s no analysis,” Dennis said. “It seems ridiculous, and it also seems like this is the only town it could possibly get past.”
The board established the 15-member reparations committee in late 2020, months after California Gov. Gavin Newsom authorized a statewide task force amid national unrest after a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a black man.
The committee continues to consider recommendations, including monetary compensation, and its report is due to the legislature on July 1. At that point, it will be up to the legislature to draft and pass legislation.
The state body made the controversial decision in March to limit reparations to descendants of blacks who were in the country in the 19th century. Some reparations advocates said that this approach takes into account the harm suffered by black immigrants.
Under the San Francisco draft recommendation, an individual would have to be at least 18 years old and identify as “Black/African American” in public documents for at least 10 years. Eligible individuals must also meet two of eight additional criteria, although the list is subject to change.
These criteria include being born or immigrated to San Francisco between 1940 and 1996 and having lived in the city for at least 13 years; were expelled from the city by urban renewal between 1954 and 1973, or were the descendant of someone who was; Attending the city’s public schools before they were fully desegregated; or to be a descendant of an enslaved person.
The Chicago suburb of Evanston was the first US city to fund reparations. The city gave money to eligible people for home repairs, down payments, and interest or late penalties due on property. In December, the Boston City Council approved a reparations studies task force.