$5 million in payments to every eligible black adult, elimination of personal debt and tax burdens, guaranteed annual income of at least $97,000 for 250 years, and homes in San Francisco for as little as $1 per family .
Those were some of more than 100 recommendations made by a city-appointed reparations committee tasked with tackling the difficult question of how to atone for centuries of slavery and systemic racism. And the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which heard the report for the first time Tuesday, expressed enthusiastic support for the ideas listed, with some saying money shouldn’t stop the city from doing the right thing.
Several leaders said they were surprised to hear pushback from politically liberal San Francisco residents, apparently unaware that the legacy of slavery and racist policies continue to keep black Americans on the bottom rungs of health care, education and economic prosperity, and overrepresented in prisons and among the homeless.
“Those of my constituents who have lost their minds over this proposal, this is not something we do and would not do for other people. This is what we would do for our future, for everyone’s collective future,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes the Castro’s LGBTQ district.
The draft reparations plan, released in December, is unparalleled in the country in terms of its specificity and breadth. The committee did not conduct a cost analysis of the proposals, but critics have described the plan as financially and politically unfeasible. An estimate by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, which leans conservative, says it would cost every non-black family in the city at least $600,000.
The council’s unanimous support for reparations on Tuesday does not mean all of the recommendations will ultimately be adopted, as the body can vote to approve, reject or modify any or all of them. The committee’s final report is due in June.
Some leaders have previously said the city can’t afford major reparations now, given the large deficit amid the tech industry’s downturn.
Tinish Hollins, vice chairman of the African American Reparations Advisory Committee, referred to the comments, and several people in line to speak reminded the board that they will be watching closely what the leaders 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’re asking for and what we’re asking for is a real commitment to what we need to move forward.”
The idea of paying reparations for slavery gained popularity in cities and universities. In 2020, California became the first state to form a reparations task force and still can’t put a price on the debt.
At the federal level, this idea was not raised.
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 neighborhood once thrived with nightclubs and black-owned stores until the government forced residents out of redevelopment in the 1960s.
Fewer than 50,000 black people still live in the city, and it’s unclear how many would be eligible. Possible criteria include having lived in the city for certain periods of time and being descended from someone who was “incarcerated for the failed war on drugs.”
Critics say the payouts don’t make sense in a state and city that has never made black people. Opponents usually say that taxpayers who were never slave owners should not have to pay money to people who were not enslaved.
Proponents of this view ignore a wealth of data and historical evidence showing that long after slavery officially ended in the US in 1865, government policies and practices continued to incarcerate blacks at higher rates, deny them access to housing and business loans and limiting the places 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 attempt to “genuinely, legally, authentically” fix the situation. And that includes cash, he said.
“If you’re going to try to forgive, you have to speak a language that people understand, and that’s the language of money,” he said.
John Dennis, chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party, does not support reparations, but says he would support a serious conversation about the issue. He doesn’t see the board’s discussion of the $5 million payout as one.
“This conversation we’re having in San Francisco is completely frivolous. They just threw up a number, there is no analysis,” said Dzianis. “It seems ridiculous, and it also seems like it’s the only city he can get through.”
The board created the 15-member reparations committee in late 2020, months after California Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a statewide task force amid national uproar after a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, who was black.
The committee continues to consider recommendations, including monetary compensation, and is due to submit its report to the Legislature on July 1. At this point, it is up to legislators to draft and pass legislation.
A state panel made a controversial decision in March to limit reparations payments to descendants of black people who were in the country in the 19th century. Some reparations advocates said the approach takes into account the harms black immigrants bear.
According to San Francisco’s draft guidelines, a person must be at least 18 years old and have been identified as “Black/African American” on public records for at least 10 years. Eligible people must also meet two of the other eight criteria, although the list is subject to change.
These criteria include being born in or migrating to San Francisco between 1940 and 1996 and living in the city for at least 13 years; be displaced from the city as a result of urban renewal between 1954 and 1973, or a descendant of someone who was; attending the city’s public schools before they were fully desegregated; or be a descendant of an enslaved person.
Evanston became the first city in the United States reparations fund. The Cook County community provided money to eligible people for home repairs, down payments on real estate and interest or delinquent fines on property in the city. In December, the Boston City Council approved a task force to study reparations.
[ Evanston reparations program: When it started, who will benefit, why start with housing ]