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City Appts: Blacks, Whites Up; Asians, Latinos, Disabled Not So Much

by Larry Bush on 05/06/2011

in Empty Chairs

A 2009 survey of diversity in appointments to city boards and commissions will be updated in the next few months and will reveal whether city leaders are taking notice of the gap in representation by Asian-Pacific Islanders, Latinos and the Disabled.

The survey, undertake through the auspices of the Commission on the Status of Women, became a requirement under legislation authored by Board President David Chiu.

While the charter language long called for representation of the full diversity of the city in making appointments to boards and commissions, Chiu’s legislation created a first-ever system of tracking and reporting the results.

The 2009 survey revealed that San Francisco had made significant progress in appointing African Americans to city commissions, the result of several decades of community activism that raised issues of political inclusion.

While African Americans now are included in numbers that exceed their percentage of the population, Asian-Pacific Islanders, Latinos and the Disabled are significantly underrepresented in terms of their percentage of the city’s population.

Overall, 53 percent of appointees are white or undisclosed, compared to an overall population of 58%. African Americans comprise 14 percent of city appointments and make up seven percent of the population. Asian-Pacific Islanders make up 32 percent of the population but just 23% of the appointments, Latinos make up 14% of the population but just 10 percent of the appointments, and the disabled comprise 14 percent of the population and just four to five percent of the appointees.

“The chief goal of my ordinance was to remove barriers to access to appointments for all San Franciscans – which will in turn increase the diversity of these important policy bodies,” Chiu told CitiReport.

“Currently, if a San Franciscan is interested in serving, there is no single source of information or pathway for him or her to discover how to do so. Soon, this information will be easily accessible on the main page of the City’s website,” noted Chiu.

“To my knowledge, San Francisco will be the first city in the country that will provide such an appointments database that is public and searchable,” said Chiu.

That follows on the recommendation of the Commission on the Status of Women that notes the lack of information on vacancies creates an obstacle.

“The City must expand the transparency of seat vacancies. Currently, vacancy announcements for seats appointed by the Board of Supervisors are listed on the Board of Supervisors website, but are not regularly or consistently updated. Vacancies for Mayoral appointments are not widely announced. Qualified applicants who reflect demographics of San Francisco are not able to apply for vacancies unless they know such positions exist.”

The report is an excellent review of the 2009 picture of appointments, including categorizing based on the budget authority of the commission and its authority. The data is provided on a voluntary basis, but the Commission made repeated calls to other city boards and commissions to press for a response to the survey. Most did respond.

Meanwhile, it is unclear whether the city’s diverse neighborhoods will be taken into consideration, either in reporting or in an outreach effort. The city’s reliance on district elections has made it more critical that residents across the city have an opportunity to learn the ropes by sitting on a commission or board.

The current Board of Supervisors includes one new member who noted that his first day as a Board member was also his first time to enter the Board of Supervisors chambers. Given the complexity of issues, from pension reform to police procedures, that may not turn out to be quite the asset in office that it appeared to be on the campaign trail.

Chiu told CitiReport that the issue of neighborhood diversity had not been raised in the earlier discussions of city board and commission appointments, but said he would talk to neighborhood leaders about their interest in broadening information to include reporting on neighborhood representation.

One place where this is likely to be of importance will be the appointments to the 2010 Census Redistricting Task Force that will draw lines for supervisors’ districts for the next decade. While nine appointees means that all eleven districts will not have a member on the Redistricting Task Force, it is unlikely that it will be well received by the public if the majority of members come from just one or two neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, since 2009, city voters have placed an increased number of Asian Pacific Islanders into key positions, including three Board of Supervisor seats and the interim mayor, and two Latinos – John Avalos and David Campos – also serve on the Board of Supervisors.

The Commission on the Status of Women’s report drills the data down to provide a view of which commissions have significant minority representation, and which are still dominated by white men.

The recognition that not all commissions are equal is well established, and community sensitivity has been a factor in decisions such as ensuring that the Police Commission includes an LGBT representative.

The city’s use of citizen commissions helps balance the influence of city residents whose voices can be overwhelmed by non-resident special interest groups. For example, the fact that 100 percent of Fire Commission members contrasts sharply with the low percent of firefighters who live in the City.

The same is true in almost all aspects of city policy because San Francisco is a hub city whose population more than doubles every day from commuters who come into the City for jobs, and whose political campaigns are often bankrolled by special interests whose leaders do not live in the city.

“The idea for this database came from leaders within the women’s community,” said Chiu. “They correctly saw that the black box of appointments is one of the biggest barriers to increasing diversity across gender, ethnicity and even geography. I believe that ultimately the transparency of the appointment information will lead to a healthier and more diverse political culture in San Francisco.”

Under Chiu’s legislation, reports on diversity are compiled and released during the second and fourth year of a mayoral term. The previous report was issued in August 2009.


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