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Politics & Policy

SF supervisors accept reparations plan for Black residents

Supervisor Shamann Walton attends the Board of Supervisors meeting within the Board of Supervisors Chambers at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. | Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard | Source: Michaela Vatcheva/The Standard

The Board of Supervisors reviewed and accepted a draft plan for a city policy package aimed at providing substantive reparations to the city’s Black residents Tuesday evening—but the exact details of the plan still have to be ironed out. 

Members also had pointed questions on police reform, in a prelude to further discussion on Mayor London Breed’s $27 million police overtime supplemental budget request on Wednesday. Meanwhile, a competing public safety budget ask was introduced by another supervisor.

Reparations in Review

Rev. Amos Brown, president of San Francisco’s NAACP chapter, speaks in front of the Fillmore Heritage Center on Nov. 15, 2021. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The Committee of the Whole hearing on the plan took up more than five hours of the board’s regular meeting, and featured presentations by staff from the Human Rights Commission as well as members of the African American Reparations Advisory Committee.

Committee Chairs Eric McDonnell, a former United Way executive and Recreation and Parks commissioner, and Tinisch Hollins, a co-founder of SF Black Wallstreet, discussed the urgency of adopting a reparations policy—the implementation of which would be a long-term, institutionalized process. 

“This is not a one and done,” said McDonnell. 

The board also heard an update on the Dream Keeper Initiative, an ongoing program of investment in the city’s Black community, which was initially funded by $120 million diverted from the police budget in 2020 in the wake of public outcry over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Breed annualized $60 million in funding for DKI in 2022. 

Human Rights Commission staff took pains to point out that the reparations policy and the initiative have different objectives. 

While the Dream Keeper Initiative provides point-in-time assistance to Black residents in specific areas, reparations would go further to provide “material and symbolic redress” to historical wrongs in San Francisco that deprived Black residents of generational wealth opportunities. 

Over the course of three hours of public comment, all speakers unanimously supported the reparations plan and many also urged continued funding for the Dream Keeper Initiative.

Meanwhile, many of the historical wrongs the reparations policy aims to address were reiterated in discussion by supervisors. 

Like all her colleagues, District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar spoke in support of the plan. “This is not some gift—it’s a payment or a debt long deferred.”

District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio noted how racist deed covenants in west side neighborhoods prevented Black people, including baseball legend Willie Mays, from buying homes, while whites who bought real estate there during the same period benefited by orders of magnitude. 

Engardio noted that the draft reparations plan “contains dozens of recommendations that our budget could easily sustain.” 

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman criticized the “overheated and irrational response” to the draft reparations plan, much of which focused on one of its more “moonshot” proposals, to pay a lump sum of $5 million to each qualifying Black resident. 

That proposal was specifically rejected by the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP in a statement released Tuesday evening. Instead, the civil rights organization called for specific investments in housing, education, health care and economic empowerment.

Final recommendations for the reparations plan will be submitted to the Human Rights Commission, the mayor and supervisors in June. The board will hear another update on Sept. 19. 

A Police Reform Update—With Implications

San Francisco Police Chief William “Bill” Scott speaks at a press conference at SFPD headquarters on Oct. 3, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Next was an update on the Collaborative Reform Initiative between the San Francisco Police Department and the Department of Justice, focusing on use-of-force, bias and other issues. 

While Police Chief Bill Scott and his staff presented a relatively sunny outlook on the department’s progress, reporting compliance with 245 of the 272 recommendations in the initiative, supervisors questioned SFPD’s progress on specific issues. 

District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí noted continued unequal distribution of regular foot patrols among the neighborhoods; Scott noted that SFPD’s ongoing personnel attrition issues have degraded the consistency of foot beats in many corridors.

District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston asked about continuing bias issues; Scott predicted that incidents of police bias would drop significantly once new general orders, including new rules on pretextual traffic stops, are implemented. 

Those new policies are currently in negotiation with the police union. 

All three supervisors said they would have more questions along these lines Wednesday, when Breed’s police pay supplemental is heard by the board’s Budget and Appropriations Committee. The hearing was continued to October for another update. 

'Non-Police' Safety Plan, TODCO, SVB Hearings

An elderly man in a cap, gesturing with his hands, with blurry buildings in the background.
John Elberling talks in the community garden attached to Mendelsohn House, a low-income senior home in the South of Market area. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

During roll call, Preston introduced a $10 million funding request for “several non-police public safety interventions and programs” in the Tenderloin, which could be seen as a counterpoint to Breed’s plan for more police patrols

It’s enough to make you wonder whether more budget asks, reflecting differing visions of public safety, are in the offing. 

Other notable new business included:

  • Supervisors Safaí and Melgar announced a draft request for an ordinance to streamline the city’s site permitting process to simplify housing production by reducing the number of departments involved to the fire, planning and building inspection departments only. 
  • Supervisor Safaí is also sending a letter of inquiry to the city’s Retirement Board and other responsive departments over any impacts the failure of Silicon Valley Bank will have on investments. 

And in case you were curious: District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s resolution calling for the state to legalize sex work has been continued again, pending more discussions with colleagues.