Diversity among Bay Area elected officials improves, but disparities still exist

Racial diversity among Bay Area elected officials increased during the 2020 election cycle but new data shows wide disparities still exist across the region.

The proportion of people of color holding top local offices increased from 26 percent in 2018 to about 34 percent after the 2020 elections, according to a report released this week by the Bay Area Equity Atlas.

Despite this increase, however, people of color remain highly underrepresented since they make up 60 percent of the total population, according to the report.

The same data shows white people are still overrepresented in the halls of power, accounting for 66 percent of officials elected to the region’s city councils, boards of supervisors and mayoral and district attorney’s offices, while making up just 40 percent of the population.

“A huge part of the reason why we put out the report is that representation matters, especially with all these difficulties we’ve seen arise over the past 17 months — the over-policing of BIPOC, violence against Asian elders, working class people and renters being left behind during the pandemic” said Bay Area Equity Atlas associate Michelle Huang.

Huang, who co-authored the report with Bay Rising executive director Kimi Lee, said proportional representation doesn’t automatically lead to equitable policy making.

“But it is really important for local leadership to reflect the diversity of the community, especially communities that have been historically excluded from power,” she said.

In many cities and counties, however, the share of elected officials lags far behind population numbers.

For example, the share of Asian American elected officials has remained at about 10 percent for the past several years, but that’s far below the 26 percent of the Bay Area’s population who are Asian American.

Also, while Latinos now make up 13 percent of the region’s elected officials —up from 9 percent in 2018 — Latinos account for nearly 25 percent of the overall population, according to the report.

The report identifies 26 cities that still have zero people of color on their city councils and notes that while the proportion of Black elected officials increased from 6 percent to 8 percent across the region, 74 of 101 Bay Area municipalities still have no Black city councilmembers.

“Across the region it seems like Black representation is on par with Black residents, but as we found, vast numbers of cities don’t have any Black representation and that’s astounding,” Huang said.

The report mentions several policy solutions that its authors believe would help people of color overcome racist, systemic barriers to voting and political participation, including publicly funding political campaigns and developing leadership programs for people of color, among other things.

One idea that’s already being implemented in several Bay Area cities involves switching from city-wide elections to district-based contests.

Out of the 20 cities from which sufficient data could be collected, 12 saw an increased presence of candidates of color after switching to district-based elections, which are typically less expensive and more easily accessible than city-wide elections.

For example, Livermore went from having no candidates of color before 2020 to having 50 percent in the 2020 election.

In Redwood City, where 18 percent of candidates were people of color in the 2015 and 2018 elections, 56 percent were people of color in the 2020 election and Half Moon Bay went from having no candidates of color to over a third of its candidates being people of color, according to the report.

“The early results are really promising,” Huang said.

To read the report, people can visit https://bayareaequityatlas.org/Electeds2021.

Also, on Sept. 9, the By Area Equity Atlas and Bay Rising will host a public webinar and panel discussion on the report’s findings.

Panelists will include both authors as well as former Oakland Unified School District Board candidate Clarissa Doutherd, OUSD Board Director Shanthi Gonzales and Ellen Wu of Urban Habitat.

People can register for the Webinar at https://policylink.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_mA9yAd2nQbuN3uvI5lq-ig.

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