OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | Details of Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks’ proposal to create a new city department related to race and equity will be offered at a committee hearing later this month.
“We have an opportunity to do something profound in the City of Oakland,” Brooks told the city council’s rules committee last week. “We need to address the systemic issues that are happening in this city and in this country and the only way we can do it are looking at it headlong.”
Brooks has not yet offered any specifics on the proposed formation of the department other than it would focus on applying a voice for racial equity in the decision-making process for every other city department.
The proposal is scheduled to be heard Feb. 24 at the Oakland City Council Finance Committee, in addition, to the Life Enrichment Committee.
Brooks urged for the item to be agendized for this month, rather than later, to gain greater consideration among the council as it begins to hash out a new city budget over the next few months. “We need to move yesterday,” added Brooks.
Funding for a new city department is likely to be a main sticking point following reports the city's budget shortfall for the next fiscal year is nearly $30 million.
The progressive proposal has grown during a time when national attention has been renewed over persistent racial and social inequities, highlighted by a number of cases involving police killings of black men seemingly without repercussions.
“It’s a great idea whose time has come,” said Dan Siegel, the Oakland civil rights attorney who finished fourth in last November’s mayoral race.
A similar department exists within the city bureaucracy in Portland, Ore., named the Office of Equity and Human Rights. Portland’s office was created by its city council in 2011 and is run by a staff of nine, according to its website. Brooks referenced Portland's office last week.
Its mission statement says the department “provides education and technical support to City staff and elected officials, leading to recognition and removal of systemic barriers to fair and just distribution of resources, access and opportunity, starting with issues of race and disability.”
Similar to Oakland last December, demonstrators in Portland shutdown its downtown in protest of police brutality. Willamette Week reported Jan. 26 that Portland's office of equity's response was to schedule three luncheons to discuss the matter. The meetings, however, included only staff and not demonstrators.