Reparations Task Force to Recommend ‘Down Payments’


PUBLISHED MAY 2, 2023 3:59 P.M.
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Reparations task force members listen during the public comment portion of a December 14, 2022 meeting in Oakland.

Reparations task force members listen during the public comment portion of a December 14, 2022 meeting in Oakland.   Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

BY WENDY FRY, CalMatters

The California Reparations Task Force published documents Monday indicating it plans to recommend the state apologize for racism and slavery and consider “down payments” of varying amounts to eligible African American residents. 

The documents, numbering more than 500 pages, do not contain an overall price tag for reparations, but they do include ways the state could calculate how much money African Americans in California have lost since 1850, when the state was established, through today due to certain government practices. 

The loss calculations would vary depending on type of racial harm and how long a person has lived in California. The loss estimates range from $2,300 per person per year of residence for the over-policing of Black communities, to $77,000 total per person for Black-owned business losses and devaluations over the years. 

The state-appointed task force faces a July 1 deadline to make reparations recommendations to the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom. Task force leaders have said they expect the Legislature to come up with actual reparations amounts.

The task force also is recommending a variety of policy changes to counteract discrimination. 

“It is critical that we compensate, but not just compensate. We also need to evaluate policy that continues to hold us back,” said Monica Montgomery Steppe, a San Diego city council member who is on the task force. She spoke at a “listening session” in San Diego Saturday. 

Who would get reparations?

The task force documents discuss two kinds of reparations: those arising from particular instances of discrimination or harm that require an individual to file a claim, and those that involve distributing money or benefits to all eligible Black Californians for racial harm the entire community experienced. 

A recent example of an individual claim was Bruce’s Beach, a beachfront property and resort that the city of Manhattan Beach seized from a Black family nearly 100 years ago. Recently, partly because of the task force, government leaders returned the land deed to descendants of the Bruce family, who re-sold it to Los Angeles County for $20 million.

It is one of the few times a Black family was restored property taken by a local government.

Eligibility for reparations continues to be a controversy. The task force in March 2022 voted to limit potential compensation to descendants of free and enslaved Black people who were in the United States in the 19th century. The group narrowly rejected a proposal to include all Black people, including recent immigrants, regardless of lineage.

Everyone in the eligible class should be compensated, the task force report says, even if they can’t prove they suffered a specific harm. 

“The State of California created laws and policies discriminating against and subjugating free and enslaved African Americans and their descendants,” the report says. “In doing so, these discriminatory policies made no distinctions between these individuals; the compensatory remedy must do the same.” 

The final report, much like the task force’s previous interim report, lays out the history of systemic racism and ongoing injustices in California.

Read moreCalifornia reparations task force to recommend ‘down payments’ for slavery, racism’ on CalMatters.

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