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Reparations Efforts in Alameda County Stumble and Try to Pick Themselves Up

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Nate Miley, president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and author of the resolution that created its Reparations Commission, speaks during a California Reparations Listening Session at the California Ballroom in Oakland on May 28, 2022. The California Reparations Task Force sponsors the listening session and hosted by the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California (CJEC). (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

An Alameda County commission designed to study anti-Black racism and come up with a plan to compensate harmed residents was expected to complete its work by this July. Instead, it has hardly started.

Created in March 2023, the 15-member body is now asking for two more years and $5 million in funding to get the job done.

Though county government moves slowly in a normal year, decisions kicked down the road during the COVID-19 pandemic and months spent handling the recall of the Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price have slowed the county’s decision-making process to a crawl, according to Nate Miley, president of the Board of Supervisors and author of the resolution that created the Reparations Commission.


This resulted in glacial progress on some of the county’s most highly anticipated initiatives, including the launch of its Elections Commission, the creation of civilian oversight of the county sheriff and its Reparations Commission. For instance, it took nine months for county supervisors to appoint the reparations commissioners.

“I didn’t think it would take as long to get people appointed,” Miley told KQED. “We do want to have a sense of urgency, and that’s why I was kind of looking at a year and a half, but maybe I might have been a bit ambitious.”

The commission was borne out of two Board of Supervisors resolutions — in 2011 and 2020 — that apologized for the enslavement and racial segregation of Black Americans. The second vowed the county would examine the role it played in perpetuating discrimination against Black residents and come up with a plan to compensate them.

Alameda County wasn’t the only one to take up the idea of reparations at that time, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota. Its commission was designed to be a local facsimile of the statewide reparations task force, which studied the history of state-sanctioned discrimination against Black residents for two years and submitted a plan including over 100 policy proposals to the state Legislature last June. When the Alameda County commissioners began meeting in December 2023, one of their first actions was to study the landscape of reparations efforts nationwide and define their scope within it.

“We are trying not to recreate the wheel,” Debra Gore-Mann, president and CEO of Oakland racial justice organization the Greenlining Institute, told KQED.

In looking at other reparations projects, Gore-Mann said the Alameda County Commission quickly realized it didn’t have sufficient support or time.

At a meeting on May 30, Gore-Mann asked supervisors for a dedicated staff, approval to make formal partnerships with Bay Area institutions, and a new deadline of June 30, 2026, to complete their work.

The commission also asked for a budget of about $5 million, dwarfing the initial budget allocation of approximately $51,000. The requested budget would support research, public outreach and community listening sessions over the next two years. Commission members currently receive a $50 stipend for each meeting they attend.

“I think $5 million is a hefty amount of funding,” Miley said, pointing to the county’s budget deficit, projected to reach between $70 million to $100 million this year. He added that getting a board response to budget and other support requests could take months.

In the meantime, Gore-Mann is concerned the commission will lose its progress so far as faith in the county’s commitment to reparations falters.

“Without a sense of what resources might be available, it’s hard to keep commissioners engaged,” Gore-Mann said at the May meeting, adding the timeline extension alone might cause commissioners to drop off.

Those concerned about the waning urgency for racial justice initiatives need only look as far as the Alameda County city of Hayward.

A mural at A Street and Maple Court in Hayward on Dec. 2, 2021, pays tribute to Russell City. Mural artists are Joshua Powell, assisted by Wythe Bowart, Nicole Pierret and Brent McHugh. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

There, the Russell City Reparative Justice Project steering committee set out to study the local government’s role in the destruction of Russell City — a bayside enclave of mostly Black and Latino residents who were forced from their homes in the 1960s using eminent domain. In March, the committee delivered a 26-part plan for reparations to the city council, including guaranteed basic income for surviving former residents.

Since then, there’s been little movement toward making those recommendations a reality. At a meeting on May 20, some former Russell City residents expressed concern that compensation from the city may not be found in their lifetimes.

Steering committee chair Aisha Knowles is more optimistic. She said the committee may have disbanded, but their work is far from done.

“Of course, people are going to be frustrated,” Knowles, whose father grew up in Russell City, told KQED. “But it also means people are listening. If nobody was saying anything, I would wonder what was going on. But because people are expressing joy, frustration, confusion, it means that work is in progress.”

Knowles said she hopes the county commission might partner with Hayward to move the Russell City reparations project forward. If the pace of the Alameda County Commission’s work so far is any indication, she and Russell City’s former residents might be waiting a long time.

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