More than 20 Silicon Valley lawmakers this week signed a new pledge that outlines how elected officials will consider equity and the needs of disadvantaged communities in policymaking.
The pledge, which was introduced Wednesday by San Jose councilmembers Sylvia Arenas, Maya Esparza, Magdalena Carrasco, Raul Peralez, Sergio Jimenez and Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez, commits lawmakers to prioritize equity when it comes to financial budgets, allocation of resources, public policies and governmental decisions.
The pledge lays out a series of questions that force lawmakers to govern through a lens of equity and think about communities of color and low-income neighborhoods which have often been neglected or left behind.
“We have not assessed the systems in this country and in this city for equity,” Arenas said at a news conference. “Even our well-intended efforts are falling short because we don’t face the underlying problems. It’s easier to identify our people as the problem. It’s like we’re saying we need to fix our people.”
We can no longer govern while blindly ignoring the injustices of the past that have led us to the injustices of today….
But, the lawmakers say, it is the system that’s broken and years of racial injustice and discriminatory policies leading to people of color having limited access to high-quality jobs, medical care, education and housing. Studies have shown immigrant communities in San Jose face higher rates of homelessness, poverty and illness — as seen with the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, Arenas, Peralez, Jimenez, Carrasco and Esparza called for creating an “equity fund” to provide additional resources to some of San Jose’s poorest neighborhoods. The proposal gained traction but was not prioritized as the city faced deep budget cuts in light of COVID-19.
This week, at least 20 elected officials signed the pledge before a small crowd of spectators, including Mountain View Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga, Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese and California Assemblymember Kansen Chu. Arenas encouraged people who commented on her Facebook post to take the pledge, calling on “civic leaders, elected officials and advocates.”
Esparza pointed to the “inequity of COVID” and how the contagious disease has sickened and killed a disproportionate number of people of color. The hardest hit ZIP codes countywide are in her district’s East Side neighborhoods.
Data from the Santa Clara County Public Health dashboard shows the four East San Jose ZIP codes that the Mercury News reported had the most deaths still have more than 250 cases per 100,000 residents. Studies from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show coronavirus cases and deaths are disproportionately high among black and Latino populations across the country.
“We’re at a turning point in our society right now where change is needed,” Esparza said, “but what we really need is systemic change in every way.”
The pledge comes after San Jose partnered in 2018 with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), a joint project of Race Forward and the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley. GARE has the same initiative as the equity pledge, to guide decisions and policymaking through an equity lens.
The city administration last month released a memo calling for a sprint review of how the new fiscal budget addresses inequities in city services and cuts due to the pandemic. An “Equity Review Team” comprised of city officials who had participated in GARE training reviewed budget proposals to ensure they consider impacts to historically-disadvantaged communities.
A summary of their review was provided to the mayor and City Council.
“The leadership is committed to racial equity work and will continue to build organizational capacity and infrastructure, that includes training, tool development, access to data sets that are disaggregated by race, and coordination with the county of Santa Clara,” the memo concluded.
Contact Stella Lorence at [email protected] or follow @slorence3 on Twitter.