Black exodus emergency

A task force's plan to stop African American depopulation finally gets a hearing
A recent Bayview protest
Photo by Charles Russo

San Francisco is losing its black population faster than any other large city in the United States — and the trend is unlikely to stop unless the city takes immediate action.

So says a draft report from an African American out-migration task force put together by the Mayor's Office last year. It wasn't published in final form early enough to have an impact on the June 3 election, when voters green-lighted Lennar Corp.'s plan to develop thousands of luxury condos in Bayview/Candlestick Point, one of the few remaining African American neighborhoods in San Francisco.

Task force members didn't get to present their draft recommendations, which include preserving and improving existing housing and producing new affordable housing, until an Aug. 7 public hearing called by Sup. Chris Daly.

The out-migration task force, which used 2005 US Census and state demographic data, places the city's African American population at 1/16 of San Francisco's total population in 2005, compared to its two largest minorities, Asians and Hispanics, which make up 1/3 and 1/8, respectively.

"We saw that the African American population has declined by 40.8 percent since 1990, and as a share of the population decreased from 10.9 percent in 1990 to 6.5 percent in 2005," the report states.

"That's not enough people to fill Candlestick Park," observed Fred Blackwell, executive director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, which has been faulted for deliberately displacing blacks from the Fillmore District during the 1960s and for not doing enough to protect blacks in its Bayview-Hunters Point redevelopment plans.

The task force further projects that the city's black community will continue to decline to 32,300 in 2050, or 4.6 percent of the total population.

Blackwell cited the lack of affordable housing, as well as a lack of educational and economic opportunity, severe environmental injustice, an epidemic of violence, and lack of cultural and social pride, as the reasons blacks are leaving, or not moving to, San Francisco.

"A lot of people mentioned the notion of being an outsider looking in," Blackwell said. "People can see a Chinatown and a Little Italy, but there wasn't an area of town that seemed to celebrate the African American community."

The findings were not exactly news to the task force or the black community.

"We could paper the walls of this building with reports that have been made on this issue," said task force chair Aileen Hernandez, citing similar studies in 1995 and 1972.

Fellow task force member Barbara Cohen said the draft recommendations "should have long ago been called the final recommendations."

The Rev. Amos Brown accused Daly of not bonding with the black community. "I'd like to see you coming to church on Sunday, to NAACP meetings, to be down in the trenches, walking arm-in-arm," Brown said.