Earlier this year, San Francisco leaders formally apologized for the city’s history of racism against Chinese Americans. A consortium of local Asian American nonprofits now wants to see that conciliatory sentiment reflected in the city’s budget.
The API Council—a group of 57 Asian American community organizations in San Francisco—asked Mayor London Breed for a $100 million reparation fund in addition to $7 million in other allocations as part of her proposed spending plan.
But when the mayor on Wednesday announced her vision for the coming year’s priorities in the city’s $14 billion annual budget, those groups got just 3.2% of what they requested.
“It's disappointing that at this critical point in our community's history, we’re still fighting for scraps,” API Council Director Cally Wong said.
Breed’s draft budget focuses mostly on the city’s economic recovery, homelessness and public safety. Some $3.4 million of her plan would go to about a dozen Asian community organizations for programs that include legal assistance, art and culture festivals, meal delivery for seniors, workforce development and support for crime victims.
Wong slammed the mayor for reducing funding to members of the API Council, including the “reparations” that the group planned to spend on “commercial assets and historical preservation for community and cultural corridor” as well as leadership coaching.
Mabel Teng, a former city supervisor and the current leader at the Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative, called the decreased funding “a slap on the face.” While Asian Americans account for a third of the city’s population, they received less funding than a city department.
“This is how you value Asian Americans?” Teng wondered in an interview with The Standard.
Last year, the mayor’s office invested an unprecedented $35 million in the city’s Asian community organizations. But this year, the budget for them shrank dramatically to a tenth of that amount.
Mason Lee, the spokesperson for Breed, said the cuts mainly reflect changes in the city’s priorities as San Francisco shifts from emergency COVID response to recovery and decreases in federal aid.
He also pointed out that the police budget, recovery and homelessness spending will also benefit the Chinese and broader Asian American community as public safety remains a big concern.
Additionally, Lee added that much of the Asian community spending is outside of API Council’s list, including nearly half of a million to the Chinatown Merchants Association and they also granted the full request from the Visitacion Valley Neighborhood Association. He also mentioned the $2 million funding to the Community Youth Center’s Richmond Center, which is funded but not among the API Council’s requests, is another critical infrastructure investment for the Asian community.
Incidentally, just a day before the budget announcement, API Council hosted a press conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressing the anti-Asian hate and community funding. According to Wong, Pelosi has pledged $4 million for the Japantown Peace Plaza project—more than the total funding for API Council’s request in the mayor’s spending proposal.
Connie Chan, a city supervisor who supported the apology resolution, emphasized that it’s only a first step and said the financial reparations would be more meaningful.
“I look forward to the conversation with my colleagues on the board,” said Chan, who among other supervisors will have the power to potentially amend and pass the budget.
She also said she will take the lead in this reparation conversation since former Supervisor Matt Haney, who proposed the apology resolution, has left the board and now serves on the state assembly.
Han Li can be reached at [email protected]