Posted on April 12, 2023

Discrimination Forever?

Diane Yap, City Journal, April 2023

It is generally accepted that government policies that exclude potential beneficiaries based on characteristics such as skin color are morally indefensible. Then why do such policies proliferate in San Francisco, a supposed paragon of social justice? The city’s efforts range from the use of obscure racial proxies to open discussion in advisory meetings on how to circumvent Proposition 209, a state law banning discrimination in public employment, education, and contracting. Subtle—and not-so-subtle—discrimination is determining which San Franciscans benefit from preferences in public education, home loans, and government grants.

An example of what we could call modern-day redlining is the Clean Cars for All program (begun in 2018), which encourages low-income Californians to retire older gas-driven vehicles. The program offers grants of up to $9,500 to buy electric cars or to pay for public transportation. While the program imposes an income limit for all participants, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, charged with distributing the grants, implemented a zip-code restriction last year—possibly because its board found that the program “has faced challenges with participant diversity” and aims to “increase participation in underserved communities, particularly in Black and Latinx communities.” Given the zip-code restrictions it follows, Clean Cars for All now excludes 86 percent of white San Franciscans. Meantime, 42 percent of black San Franciscans live in qualifying zip codes, two to three times more than any other group in “designated disadvantaged communities.” {snip}

Another example of modern redlining affects every family applying to the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). The district assigned students to neighborhood schools before 1969, when the NAACP sued to desegregate, resulting in court-mandated caps per race and ethnicity at each school. Chinese families then sued SFUSD in 1994 because the caps meant that Chinese students had to score higher than students of other races to gain admission at selective Lowell High. A 1999 settlement prohibited the district from using race in admissions decisions, but instead of abiding by the spirit of the settlement, SFUSD leadership adopted a race proxy known as the “census tract integration preference,” which gave priority to students living in an area where the average student scores in the bottom 20 percent on statewide math and literacy exams. Given that the achievement gap between white and Asian students, on one hand, and black and Hispanic students, on the other, is larger in San Francisco than in any other California public school district, it should not be surprising which groups were most likely to benefit from this preference.


Though California was never a slave state, last year San Francisco authorized an African American Reparations Advisory Committee, whose Economic Empowerment Subcommittee recently released its draft recommendations — among them a $5 million payment for each qualifying black person, debt forgiveness (including all credit-card debt), and a $500,000 grant toward home-buying, with no income limit. The subcommittee recommended repealing Prop. 209 because the antidiscrimination law “created a dynamic that prevents legislators from crafting policy that directly addresses issues that specifically affect certain racial groups.” {snip}