“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.” That’s what the Guardian wrote in August 2008, when we covered a draft report that the Mayor’s African American out-migration task force produced.
But despite the taskforce’s dire warnings, the Mayor’s Office didn’t hold a press conference when the final report was published in 2009. Instead, it was quietly posted on the Redevelopment Agency’s Website, where you can still find it today tucked into the bottom lefthand corner.
And despite the report’s numerous recommendations, taskforce members say that little funding had been made available to turn their ideas into realities.
So, it comes as no surprise that San Francisco’s black population continues to shrink while that of Asian Americans and Latinos make big gains.
According to newly released 2010 Census figures, San Francisco’s total population grew by 3.7 percent to 805,235 in the past decade, the Asian and Latino populations each swelled by 11 percent, the white population shrank by 12.5 percent—and the black population shrank by 22.6 percent.
This means, San Francisco now has 337,451 white residents (42 percent of total population), 265,700 Asian residents (33 percent of population), 121,774 Latinos (15.1 percent of the population), and 46,781 blacks (5.8 percent of population).
In 2009, the out-migration task force, which used 2005 US Census and state demographic data, placed the city's African American population at 1/16 of San Francisco's total population, compared to its two largest minorities, Asians and Hispanics, which made 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 AAOMTF’s 2009 report states.
(As it happens 6.5 percent of the population in 2005 translated into 46,779 black residents. So, while the black population appears to have grown by two people, when viewed as a share of the city’s entire population in 2010, it can be seen to have shrunk by 22.6 percent, reflecting a flight to the East Bay and other states.)
"That's not enough people to fill Candlestick Park," Fred Blackwell, executive director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, stated in 2008, during a presentation about the taskforce's draft report. He cited a lack of affordable housing and educational and economic opportunity, severe environmental injustice, an epidemic of violence, and lack of cultural and social pride, as the reasons blacks were leaving.
But sadly not much has changed, including the frustration of local black leaders.
"We could paper the walls of this building with reports that have been made on this issue," task force chair Aileen Hernandez said in 2008, pointing to similar studies that were done in 1995 and 1972, while fellow task force member Barbara Cohen said the draft recommendations "should have long ago been called the final recommendations."
Reached by phone today, AAOMTF task force member Sharen Hewitt recalled how she and London Breed called for the creation of the taskforce, only to see many crucial recommendations ignored.
“We called for the creation of the taskforce in face of an imminent threat to the sustained presence of African Americans in San Francisco, especially low-income residents,” Hewitt said. “The taskforce’s draft report did not capture 80 percent of the discussion.”
Hewitt says a key flaw was the absence of a “real plan to address the fate of African Americans who live in subsidized low-income housing.”
Fellow AAOMTF task force member Regina Davis, director of the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation, agrees that a lack of action didn’t help.
“Today’s numbers could have looked different based on actions,” Davis said.
She hopes that today’s increasingly dire financial system will be a call to action.
“Especially with the threat of the elimination of redevelopment agencies, because a lot of the housing for low-income folks is jeopardized in ways we haven’t experienced for three decades,” she said. “People are understanding that this is a market they haven’t seen before.”
Davis remains optimistic that the 2010 Census figures will galvanize folks.
“I’ve been mystified why people haven’t protested the war more,” she mused. “Maybe they will now that dollars they have taken for granted aren’t on the table. And maybe they’ll start to realize that tax cuts cost money. I don’t know where folks get the notion that tax cuts are free.”
Other AAOMTF members say the whole taskforce process was very discouraging for those who worked so diligently to find solutions.
”After all that intense work, we were all left with no notable action taken, (At least no action that I am aware of),” wrote AAOMTF member Larry Saxxon in an email. “At the least, the report should have been released to the general public for their review and feedback. It left me questioning the motives for the process from a political point of view.”
Saxxon said that because of feeling a great deal of dissatisfaction with the AAOMTF’s Education Committee’s findings, he and fellow taskforce member Barbara Cohen wrote a minority report on the needs for greater educational services for the African American community.
In their report, Cohen and Saxxon noted that there was a need to increase awareness and advocacy for African American students who are classified as special needs students.
And in his email, Saxxon noted that as an African American and an active advocate for the African immigrant community, he strongly suggested that AAOMTF include the presence of the African immigrant community in the final report as this was the only known incoming source of Blacks arriving in San Francisco.
“From the statistical data that we had access to, we know that the African immigrant comprises, at a minimum, of 10 percent of the overall African American presence in San Francisco. This 10 percent is only counting those that are documented. When we view the ratio of undocumented African immigrants… that number increases considerably! Sadly, that fact never manifested in the final report.”
“This is an issue that is very dear to my heart, as I too feel like an endangered species as an African American man and father trying to survive, and indeed thrive, in San Francisco,” he said. “The prospects seem to get dimmer as the months and years go by.”
Saxxon was pleased Mayor Ed Lee “did at least acknowledge the nature of
the problem and also by his alluding to the fact that some concerted action
needs to be taken.”
And it’s true that Lee has signaled a commitment to the African American community through his support for Sup. John Avalos’ local hire legislation, which kicks in March 25. (The AAOMTF identified jobs, as well as housing, education, economic development, cultural and social life, and public safety and quality of life as key policies and practices that can “help stem the outflow and even entire more African-Americans to make a home and establish roots in San Francisco, while making them feel like an integral part of the City’s stability and vibrancy.”)
But will Lee take other significant steps to stem the outflow in his ten remaining months in office (assuming he doesn’t throw his hat into the ring of the mayoral race, after all?) And will the plight of the city's African American community even become an issue in the 2011 mayoral race?