San Francisco Public Press / September 30, 2021
In the ethnically and racially diverse Bay Area, local politicians have long been disproportionately white. Research shows that while more people of color have been running for and winning seats, they make up only slightly more than a third of the region’s elected officials. Some city councils are entirely white.
The pattern has been evident, but not always well documented, said Kimi Lee, director of a coalition of regional activist groups known as Bay Rising.
“It’s one of those things where you kind of see it, and you’re like, ‘Hmm, there’s a lot of white people on that council,’” she said. “And then thinking about, well, has anyone checked? Like, is there actual data to support that kind of anecdotal thing that we see a lot of times?”
Absent a usable dataset, Bay Rising and the Bay Area Equity Atlas set out to make one. Since 2018, the Bay Area Equity Atlas has been tracking the region’s municipal officials, noting and verifying the racial identities of mayors, city council members, supervisors and district attorneys. In that time, the portion of top elected officials in the Bay Area who are people of color has gone from 26% to about 34%. Sixty percent of the region’s residents are people of color.
When previously underrepresented groups do win office, Lee said, “you see a difference in what is talked about in these meetings.”
She pointed to Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas as an example, saying Bas has made a particular effort to involve community members in the process of governing through events like multi-lingual sessions in a public park to help determine budget priorities.