As social justice protests swept the country in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, California took a first-in-the-nation step in the name of racial equity.
The state created a task force to study and recommend reparations for Black Californians, putting into motion an idea that had stalled for decades at the federal level.
The nine-member panel spent months conducting research and holding listening sessions from the Bay Area to San Diego. And in its final report, approved over the weekend, the panel recommended a sweeping statewide reparations program, including a formal apology to Black residents and billions of dollars in payments.
Though California never officially allowed slavery within its borders, discriminatory practices like redlining and school segregation held Black Californians back for generations.
“This really is a trial against America’s original sin, slavery, and the repercussions it caused and the lingering effects in modern society,” said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, one of two state lawmakers on the task force.
The numbers are stark. The median wealth of Black households in the United States is $24,100, compared with $188,200 for white households, according to the Federal Reserve.
I spoke to Kurtis Lee, an economics correspondent for The New York Times in Los Angeles who has been closely covering the state’s reparations efforts. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
Roughly 2.5 million Californians identify as Black or African American. Could all of them qualify for payments?
Not necessarily. Last year, the state task force voted that any reparations should be based on lineage — basically, any descendant of an enslaved African American or a free Black person living in the United States before the end of the 19th century would qualify. How exactly people will prove that lineage has not been completely determined, and would be worked out through any legislation.
The panel considered awarding reparations in the form of tuition or housing grants, but ultimately landed on direct payments instead. What is the most that someone could get under this plan?
In theory, a lifelong state resident who is 71 could be eligible for roughly $1.2 million in total compensation for housing discrimination, mass incarceration and additional harm outlined in the report. These are preliminary estimates, and all of this falls on state lawmakers in Sacramento to create and pass legislation.
Right. So what happens next?
The task force will present its report to the Legislature ahead of a July 1 deadline, and from there, it’s up to lawmakers to get to work. Constituents here in California, politicians in other states, historians and economists are definitely going to be watching to see what comes about.
California had a budget surplus when the panel was created, but it does not now. How might that affect the outcome?
Back in 2020, the state was in a different financial position. A few months ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who supported the creation of the reparations task force, announced that the state is facing a roughly $22 billion deficit. When it comes to reparations, that will probably come up in debates in Sacramento among legislators.
Read Kurtis’s full article.
The rest of the news
Rushing waters, rising anxiety: Heavy snowmelt runoff has prompted sheriff’s departments and public safety officials to close rivers in several counties to recreation until further notice, and to urge white-water thrill-seekers to avoid the dangerous waters, The Mercury News reports.
Award-winning journalism: Two of California’s leading newspapers were honored on Monday. The Los Angeles Times won two Pulitzer Prizes, including one for its coverage of a secret audio recording of Los Angeles City Council members making racist and disparaging comments. And The San Francisco Chronicle was a finalist in two Pulitzer categories, including for its investigation into the city’s inadequate housing for homeless residents.
Los Angeles housing: The city known for its conventional single-family homes may offer some of today’s most innovative solutions for multifamily housing.
Aid for Planada: Central Valley legislators have submitted a request for $20 million from the state in disaster-relief funds for Planada, a community in Merced County that is still struggling to recover from devastating flooding this winter, The Fresno Bee reports.
Community hospital could face permanent closure: After shutting its doors in January and filing for bankruptcy in March, Madera Community Hospital faces an uncertain future, with its license set to expire May 26, The Fresno Bee reports.
T-Mobile store closes: The retail landscape of downtown San Francisco is looking a little more barren with the permanent closure of T-Mobile’s flagship store in Union Square, SFGate reports.
Oakland strike: Educators in Oakland are continuing their strike, urging district officials to consider negotiating on more than economic issues, CBS News reports.
Diocese declares bankruptcy: Contending with hundreds of sexual abuse lawsuits spanning decades, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Oakland has filed for bankruptcy on behalf of the diocese, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from June Oberdorfer, who lives in San Jose. June recommends visiting the ghost town of Bodie in Mono County:
“I’ve been to Bodie several times, and there is something otherworldly about it, as if it were frozen in the instant the gold mining was abandoned. It’s easy to imagine stories about the people who occupied the many houses, stores, and churches, and then left quickly for new opportunities. It’s a photographer’s paradise.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Dr. Ross E. DeHovitz, a semiretired pediatrician in Palo Alto, fell into the habit of reading The New York Times every day when he was in medical school. He even perused the tiny paid notices at the bottom of the front page known as “reader ads” — little notes from Times readers to the world.
So when it came time to pop the question to his girlfriend, Ann, in 1989, DeHovitz decided to place a reader ad himself: “Ann, my love for you is forever! Please marry me. Love, Ross.”
Once the newspaper arrived at Ann’s apartment in San Francisco, he asked her to read the newspaper to him aloud, telling her he had had a very bad day. She humored him, and read all the way through Page 1 and moved onto Page 2 before DeHovitz stopped her. He asked her to turn back to the front page, which is when she spotted the two tiny lines of type dedicated to her.
“Hell, yes, I’ll marry you,” she answered.
Read the couple’s full story in — where else? — The Times.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Briana Scalia, Johnna Margalotti and Geordon Wollner contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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