Following the killing of George Floyd and the public outcry that followed in mid-2020, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors created a fifteen-member advisory committee to develop a “San Francisco Reparations Plan that addresses the institutional, City-sanctioned harm that has been inflicted upon African American communities in San Francisco.”
This week, after more than two years of considering the matter, the committee (AARAC) has recommended that the city pay each eligible black resident over 18 years old a sum of $5 million. In addition, all debt should be forgiven, including credit card debt, student loans, payday loans, etc. The committee also recommended an annual stipend of $97,000 for qualifying low-income individuals for 250 years. This last suggestion is designed to make up for centuries of harm.
Coincidentally, I have been listening to a 5-hours podcast on the Atlantic Slave Trade this week, it’s genesis and how it developed. My first reaction is how appalling that such a savage thing could have occurred a mere 158 years ago. My second reaction is to cringe at the kind of atrocities inflicted on the slaves from branding to torture to the flat-out denial of their humanity.
It is hard to argue against the atrocities of slavery. What is difficult to argue is that the city and population of San Francisco should be held responsible for this. According to the 2021 census, Asians made up 33.7% of San Francisco’s population. Latinos/Hispanics made up 15.7%. These two populations are largely constituted of immigrants and, moreover, they were not the historic slave-owning population. I also question whether California should be held responsible for the experiences of slaves kidnapped from Africa and transported to the Americas in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. California joined the union in 1850 as a free non-slavery state. Slavery was abolished nationwide fifteen years later.
The committee that made this recommendation works with city government. If the Board of Supervisors decides to listen to them, the reparations which would amount to tens of billions would need to come out of city coffers (perhaps their $13 billion budget) or funded by municipal bonds. They may get lucky and receive supportive funds by the state of California. Federal support is unlikely since the House of Representative flipped red at the start of the year. That leave two reasonable sources of funding for these reparations: an added parcel tax or an increase in local income tax.
Anyone thinking of moving there to avail of the reasonably priced real estate and spotless streets of San Francisco should probably think twice. If the city government is entertaining such expensive ideas, it would be best to should support but not put yourself in the way of that tax tsunami. More than that, it speaks to the alignment of city government with the needs of their citizens.