Today's SF Board of Supervisors meeting was making national headlines before it had even begun, and that is because SF is poised to become the first major city to grapple with the idea of paying reparations for historical wrongs to Black residents.
We've had about two straight months of the national news media hemming and hawing about a draft reparations proposal by a San Francisco committee that, among other things, floated the idea of making $5 million lump-sum payments qualifying Black residents. Setting aside the inevitable mess of figuring out who would qualify for such a windfall and the fights that would ensue over that, this would be a wildly expensive program of reparations to undertake and likely isn't feasible in the near term.
That said, this is just one of many possible avenues the city could go down to pay reparations for multi-generational wrongs. And today's Board of Supervisors meeting provides the first formal hearing of the San Francisco African American Reparations Advisory Committee's (AARAC) proposals, of which there are many.
As the Associated Press notes, other proposed reparations programs include selling homes to Black families at $1 apiece, and providing $97,000 of guaranteed income per year to qualifying Black families for 250 years. The draft includes around 100 recommendations aimed at economic empowerment, education, and more.
How many of these recommendations can be accomplished financially is a question that the committee says it did not consider — and their draft may be just as much about bar-setting for a parallel effort being undertaken by a state task force.
"We are the harmed," says AARAC Chair Eric McDonnell, speaking to the AP. “If the judge ruled in our favor, the judge would not turn to us and say, 'Help them figure out how to make this work.'"
Supervisor Shamann Walton, who has been helping lead the charge on the reparations front since 2020, tells the Chronicle today that he is "looking at all the recommendations" and he "will not weigh in" on any specific proposals until the final recommendations document comes in June.
"If you look at the [draft] report, you’ll see so many examples of how Black folks were done wrong here in San Francisco, and all of that can really be traced back to the negative effects of slavery, which traced back to negative policies across the country, San Francisco being no different," Walton tells the Chronicle.
Today's Board of Supervisors hearing is unlikely to produce much beyond soundbites — and Board President Aaron Peskin has already indicated that the lump-sum idea is likely not in the cards anytime soon. What he said in January was just a vague call to action: "There are so many efforts that result in incredible reports that just end up gathering dust on a shelf. We cannot let this be one of them."
The board will ultimately have to take a vote to ask for changes to the recommendations, vote to accept them, or to reject them, but a vote to accept the recommendations report does not equal an endorsement of every one of the recommendations.
"This report is good. I am ready to accept it,” Supervisor Myrna Melgar tells the Chronicle. "That doesn’t mean that we’re approving the $5 million for every person … But I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that, as a city, we have not done right by some of our citizens."
Photo via SFBOS.org