Alameda County’s new Reparations Commission already behind schedule

Commission created in March to explore Black Reparations in response to slavery and systemic racism has yet to nominate all its members

Image of the Alameda County Courthouse by photographer Thomas Hawk with the works, "Alameda County establishes Reparations Commission."
Alameda County established a Reparations Commission in March. The body will develop recommendations by July 2024. Photo: Thomas Hawk.

Alameda County formed a Reparations Commission in March to address historic and ongoing racial inequalities experienced by Black people, but an Oakland Voices review of public meetings found the commission is already behind schedule.

The commission was scheduled to be appointed by July 1, but two members of the county’s Board of Supervisors nominated their appointees late and another supervisor’s nominations have not come to the full board at all.

Alameda County’s history of race-based discrimination in housing, policing, and governance justifies making amends or reparations to Black people, according to the March presentation by Caleb Matthews, a former aide and project specialist for Supervisor and Board President Nate Miley. Black residents faced housing discrimination by government agencies in public housing and zoning, and by the real estate industry through lending discrimination and predatory loans and foreclosures. Additionally, Black people have been targeted by police violence, according to the presentation. 

Reparations could take many forms, including payments in the form of compensation or restitution, or apologies and memorials, according to Matthews, who left Miley’s office in April of this year.

An image of Supervisor Nate Miley along with a quote about reparations misinformation.

Reparations Commission formed to address inequalities Black people in Alameda County experience

Supervisors approved the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee composed of up to two supervisors and a 15-member Reparations Commission at its March 28 meeting. The commission is charged with creating “a draft action plan to address the legislative, social, and economic inequities faced by African Americans in Alameda County by facilitating listening sessions, report findings from formative research and focus groups,” according to the approved proposal.

Opposition to forming Commission

While the Supervisors’ approval was unanimous, the specter of reparations for Black people brought out a range of oppositional voices. Speaking entirely via black Zoom squares, virtual public commenters criticized the proposal as an unfair and unnecessary cash giveaway, claiming that slavery did not exist in California, and one caller even played an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington. 

Recently, historians and advocates have drawn attention to the Golden State’s legacy of slavery, despite California being a “free state.” 

Support for Reparations Commission

All of the public speakers present in the county’s downtown Oakland Boardroom spoke in favor of the proposal. 

Supervisor Carson gave a detailed history of the legacy of slavery, in responding to a letter from a member of the public who said slavery was over a century ago.

“Today, we as Black people live under the shadow of slavery,” Carson said. “It wasn’t 150 years ago, it wasn’t 250 years ago, it continues to persist today.”

Supervisor Miley added many public speakers were misinformed. He said the proposal for a Reparations Commission was not about giving cash to African Americans. “There are still a lot of folks who are misinformed, who don’t believe in the reason and the rationale for correcting historical wrongs (and) coming up with remedies,” Miley said. “This is not proposing putting a check in the pockets of African Americans. That’s something that could come out of this, but that’s not what’s being proposed. There are any number of possible directions this can go in.”

Proposed commission process

The commission would meet monthly, with up to five special meetings, and would collaborate with other local municipalities focused on reparations, according to the proposal. Every other month, the commission would provide bi-monthly reports to the Ad Hoc Committee. By July 1, 2024, the full commission is tasked with proposing a draft plan of action to address systemic racism, including short-term, mid-term, and long-term recommendations.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the establishment of the Commission during the March 28 meeting. At the same meeting, Supervisors interviewed four candidates to replace the late Supervisor Richard Valle of District 2, who passed away in February 2023. Supes appointed Elisa Márquez to the vacated seat in April. 
Supervisor Keith Carson’s office posted a call for applications in April.

List of Alameda County Reparations Commission appointees as of August 2023.

Who will sit on the Alameda County Reparations Commission?

Of the 15 seats on the Reparations Commission, 10 seats are allocated for people with specific experiences of expertise. All of the 10 seats, except for Seat 2, require commissioners to be Alameda County residents. Seat 2 is specifically for a person who has been displaced from Alameda County, or that is experiencing or has experienced being unhoused. Other seats include criteria such as expertise on the impact of redevelopment on Black communities, being formerly incarcerated, or providing leadership in a community-based organization that serves the Black community. The remaining five seats are at-large and only require Alameda County residency. 

Supervisors have appointed 12 members to the Reparations Commission. Three seats remain vacant.

District 4 appointees

Supervisors approved Miley’s two nominations on June 6: 

  • Developer Alan Dones for Seat 3, a person with expertise in finance. 
  • Lori Cox for Miley’s at-large nomination. 

Miley, a former Oakland City Councilmember, represents District 4, which includes portions of Oakland, Pleasanton, and unincorporated parts of Ashland, Castro Valley, and Cherryland.

District 5 appointees

On June 13, the board approved District 5 Supervisor Keith Carson’s three nominees: 

District 5 includes Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, and North and West Oakland. 

District 3 appointees

On June 27, the last meeting before the July 1 deadline, the Board approved District 3 Supervisor Lena Tam’s three nominees: 

  • Phillip Gardiner, a public health doctor and [location] resident, for the seat for displaced residents. 
  • Carolyn “CJ” Johnson, executive director of Black Cultural Zone, for the leader of a community-based or religious organization seat.
  • Larry McClendon, San Leandro resident and community economic development program manager for the City and County of San Francisco, for Tam’s at-large seat.

Tam represents District 3, which includes Alameda, San Leandro, and parts of Oakland.

Only supervisors Carson and Tam submitted all their nominations before July. 

“Today, we as Black people live under the shadow of slavery. It wasn’t 150 years ago, it wasn’t 250 years ago, it continues to persist today.”

Keith Carson, March 2023

Nominations to Reparations Commission Late, Missing

Two supervisors submitted nominations late and one appears to not have submitted any nominees at all.

District 2 appointees

On July 11, the board approved two of Márquez’ nominees and Miley’s third. Márquez nominated: 

  • Vickie Stephens for the small business owner seat.
  • James Knowles, of Hayward and a former Russell City resident for Márquez’ at-large seat. 

Márquez joined the Board of Supervisors after the establishment of the commission. 

Supervisor Miley, whose office spearheaded the proposal, submitted two of his nominations in May. On July 5, Miley’s office submitted a nomination of Leo Bazile, a former Oakland City Councilman, for the elder seat. The board approved the nomination on July 11.

At the August 1 meeting, Supervisors approved Márquez’ final nomination of Artavia Berry for the storyteller/historian seat. 

District 1 appointees missing

It is unclear if Board Vice-President and District 1 Supervisor David Haubert submitted any nominees to the Board clerk. Board meeting agendas reviewed by Oakland Voices did not include any nominations from Haubert. One nominee has been submitted and two other candidates were scheduled for interviews, according to Shawn Wilson, Haubert’s chief of staff. District 1 includes the cities of Dublin, Livermore, most of Fremont, and other unincorporated areas. 

The remaining appointments, from Haubert’s office, are expected to take place on September 19, according to Miley’s staff.

Other Reparations efforts in California, Bay Area

The case for reparations has been taken up by a few local governments in California. In February 2020, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors established an African American Reparations Advisory Committee under the Human Rights Commission. In June 2021, the City of Los Angeles formed the Reparations Advisory Committee. In November 2021, the City of Hayward issued a formal apology to the descendants of Russell City, a vibrant ‘Blues City’ bulldozed for so-called urban renewal. Hayward has launched the Russell City Reparative Justice Project

Three years ago, the state of California proposed legislation to form a California Reparations Task Force. In June, the state Task Force delivered its final report, just two years after its first meeting, concluding that “the breadth and depth of the historical and ongoing harm done to this group of people (African Americans) make clear that the relevant question is not whether compensation should be given,” but how the state could calculate and distribute compensate for descendants of “historical atrocities.” The report identifies five areas of calculable harm, including health, housing, mass incarceration and over-policing, unjust property takings, and the devaluation of Black enterprises. 

While media reports about San Francisco’s Reparations Advisory Commission have narrowly focused on the possibility of Black San Franciscans receiving $5 million, lesser known recommendations in the nearly 400-page final report (PDF) focus on housing, education, jobs, and support for Black businesses and community institutions.

“I would’ve liked for the Commission to already have its first meeting, but because it took a while for all the Supervisors to make all their appointments, it’s kinda delayed.
At this point, we’re about three to four months behind.” 

Nate Miley, August 2023

The Road to Reparations in Alameda County

In Alameda County, supervisors adopted Resolution No. R-2011-177 in June 2011 to formally apologize for the enslavement and racial segregation of Black people.

During the Covid-19 pandemic and post-George Floyd racial reckoning, Supervisors Supervisors voted to formally apologize and express remorse for the slavery, segregation, and discrimination of African Americans. On October 6, 2020, the Supes pledged to develop an action plan to address the legislative, social, and economic inequities faced by African Americans. A work group consisting of 13 county agencies and departments then discussed approaches to reparations. 

Supervisors budgeted $51,268 for the county’s Reparations Commission. The largest expenditures are for support from the Clerk of the Board for support with distributing meeting agendas and recording minutes. Each commissioner will receive $50 in stipends for each meeting attended. The budget planned for 12 monthly meetings and up to five special meetings. 

Unlike other reparations initiatives, Alameda County’s Reparation Commission does not include a budget for research. San Francisco’s commission engaged researchers with the University of San Francisco for focus groups and interviews. The state Task Force utilized researchers from UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies to facilitate listening sessions, oral history interviews, and public opinion surveys. Alameda County’s initial proposal notes that “Outside consultants and research professionals may be required.”

Next steps in Alameda County’s effort for repair

Nearly two months after the Commission was proposed to start, Supervisor Miley hoped the effort would be further along. “I’m a little disappointed [the Commission] is somewhat behind when it could’ve started its work,” Miley told Oakland Voices in a phone interview. “I would’ve liked for the Commission to already have its first meeting, but because it took a while for all the Supervisors to make all their appointments, it’s kinda delayed. At this point, we’re about three to four months behind.” 

Supervisors are on recess from August 15 to September 19. According to Supervisor Miley, the Commission’s first meeting is scheduled for October 11 as a joint meeting with the Board’s Ad Hoc Committee on Reparations. The hybrid meeting will take place at the Alameda County Training Center in downtown Oakland and through Zoom. 

With the Commission in place, Miley is hopeful the Commission will be able to both increase awareness of reparations and gain useful feedback for the formation of the action plan. He hopes listening sessions will not only take place in cities like Oakland, Berkeley, and Hayward, but other areas in east, central, and south Alameda County as well. 

“This commission will be able to provide listening sessions and opportunities for the public throughout Alameda County to be more aware of the rationale for reparations for African American descendants of slavery,” he said. 

Miley hopes the Commission will develop a “substantial report” by October 2024.

Disclosure: The author of this story was recruited to apply for a District 3 appointed seat on the Reparations Commission. He participated in an interview process, but was not selected.

Black Voices in the Town’ is funded by The African American Response Circle Fund. In 2020, the Brotherhood of Elders Network in partnership with the East Bay Community Foundation established the fund in response to the impact of COVID-19 as a public health crisis for African Americans who live, work, and worship in Alameda County.

Author Profile

Rasheed Shabazz is a multimedia storyteller, urban planning historian, and youth development professional based in the Bay Area. He is co-director of Oakland Voices. He recently completed his Masters of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley. 

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