California reparations panel says millions owed for slavery

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La May 8, 2023
Presented by UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute, Western States Petroleum Association, FIX PAGA: A Better, Fairer Way for Workers and Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership

California reparations panel says millions owed for slavery

After 15 public hearings and testimony from more than 100 expert witnesses and the public, the California Reparations Task Force approved calculations on Saturday that estimate as much as hundreds of millions of dollars owed to eligible Black residents.

Describing the emotional meeting as “one of the more rowdy hearings by the task force,” Wendy Fry from CalMatters’ California Divide team reports that its recommendations don’t include a final price tag for reparations. Rather, they model ways the state could calculate how much money eligible African Americans in California have lost since the state was established to when the panel was created — from 1850 through 2020. 

Calculations vary depending on the type of racial harm experienced (for example, losses stemming from mass incarceration or housing discrimination) and how long a person has lived in California. Based on the panel’s modeling, CalMatters has created a calculator to help figure out how much a person could be owed.

“For instance, a 19-year-old who moved to the state in 2018 would be owed at least $149,000 based on the calculations,” writes Wendy. “But a 71-year-old who has lived in California all their life could be owed about $1.2 million.”

Nearly 80% of California’s 2.6 million Black residents would be eligible for payment, according to one of the task force’s economists. But residents shouldn’t expect cash anytime soon. The task force did not identify funding sources, and it’s ultimately up to the Legislature and governor to adopt these recommendations and decide how much individuals could get paid.

  • U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Oakland: “Reparations are not a luxury, but a human right long overdue for millions of Americans. We are demanding that the government pay their tax.”

Besides looking into whether and how California should pay reparations for slavery, the state appointed the task force to address past racial inequities as well. It has recommended a few new policies to combat discrimination, most notably creating a centralized state agency that would provide oversight and implement the task force’s proposals. 

The task force is expected to hold a final meeting on June 29 in Sacramento, where it tentatively plans to hand its documents over to legislators. Its deadline to turn in its final recommendations to the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom is July 1.


Electric vehicle primer: New from our engagement team — a lesson-plan-ready version of our explainer on California’s electric vehicle transformation, especially made for teachers, libraries and community groups, as part of the CalMatters for Learning initiative. Topics already featured: Wage theft, water and state government.


1 A new leader for CalMatters

CalMatters' incoming Editor in Chief Kristen Go. Photo courtesy of Kristen Go
CalMatters’ incoming Editor in Chief Kristen Go. Photo courtesy of Kristen Go

Eight years into our mission of providing nonpartisan news and analysis for California, CalMatters is getting a new editor in chief — Kristen Go, now vice president and executive editor for news and initiatives at USA Today

“CalMatters has consistently played an important role in impacting the lives of Californians,” she said. “I’m thrilled to continue building on the great work, growing its presence around the state and working with our media partners to hold the powerful accountable and create a better California.”

Kristen will succeed founding editor Dave Lesher, who is staying at CalMatters and will lead a new effort to transform government accountability reporting

Kristen was born and raised in Stockton, graduated from the University of Nevada at Reno and has been a reporter and editor at major journalism organizations across the West. At the Denver Post, she was part of the newsroom that won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Columbine school massacre in 1999. She then worked at the Arizona Republic, San Francisco Chronicle, Common Sense Media and the UC Berkeley graduate school of journalism’s investigative reporting program.

At USA Today, where she is the first Asian journalist to be executive editor, Kristen worked with reporters on major projects, including ones on dangerous conditions at migrant detention centers, racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths and the roots and legacy of slavery

She lives in Walnut Creek with her husband and two children. She plans to start at CalMatters on May 30. Read more from our engagement team.

2 When a housing project is a CA unicorn

An excavator operates at the Quito Village Development Project in Saratoga on Apr. 13, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
An excavator operates at the Quito Village Development Project in Saratoga on Apr. 13, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Can California incentivize developers to build at a rate that would help solve our housing shortage — but also require them to reserve jobs for unionized construction workers at the same time?

As CalMatters’ housing reporter Ben Christopher explains, that’s the question at the center of a nondescript housing project in Saratoga. Known as Quito Village, the project kicked off in 2020 when its original developer agreed to follow a strict labor standard that favors the hiring of “skilled and trained” union workers. The standard was included in a 2017 law and aimed to speed up construction of dense housing

Construction began in 2022, after an Atlanta-based real estate company, PulteGroup, took over the project. To date, it’s the only known project in California that has broken ground under the law’s union-hiring rule. 

The law will expire in 2026 and is up for renewal. But Democrat lawmakers are debating whether to nix the “skilled and trained” requirement, arguing that it’s too heavy a burden for developers — and point to Quito Village as evidence.

  • Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, Oakland Democrat and chairperson of the housing committee: “So that’s one in five years. That to me kind of says it all.”

To complicate matters, it’s not entirely clear that PulteGroup is even satisfying the union-hiring requirement. When it took over Quito Village, its legal team attested that the law does not mandate the company to abide by the hiring standard imposed on mixed-income projects. The city of Saratoga disagrees and notes that PulteGroup has not been submitting monthly reports that would prove it’s complying with the rule.

So the true number of projects that have resulted under the law might not be one, but zero.

One possible explanation for this: Syntax. The text of the law gives certain exemptions for projects “located within a jurisdiction located in a coastal or bay county with a population of 225,000 or more.” Saratoga is located in Santa Clara County, which has a population of nearly 2 million and is considered a bay county. Saratoga itself, on the other hand, has only 30,000 residents. Does the 225,000 threshold apply to the county or the city? 

If the threshold applies to Saratoga, PulteGroup would be exempt from the “skilled and trained” obligation. It would also mean that under this standard, only 12 cities out of California’s 482 would meet the law’s requirement.

3 Meet Assemblymember Joe Patterson

Assemblymember Joe Patterson speaks during a press conference at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Dec. 5, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters
Assemblymember Joe Patterson speaks during a press conference at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Dec. 5, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

In my second installment of interviewing first-term California legislators, I sat down with Assemblymember Joe Patterson, a Granite Bay Republican. Patterson grew up in Napa, was a legislative staffer from 2005 to 2011 and served as Rocklin mayor in 2019. Though he didn’t plan to run for the Legislature, he changed his mind after redistricting and after Kevin Kiley, the district’s representative, ran for Congress, successfully.

We discussed what it’s like being part of the minority party, the state’s fentanyl crisis and more. Here are some of our conversation highlights, condensed for clarity and length.

What part of your upbringing do you believe most impacts how you view policy and your priorities?

It’s interesting because my mom’s a Democrat and my stepdad, who has been my stepdad since I was five years old, is a Mexican immigrant. I think a lot of people might typically think, ‘This guy’s going to be a Democrat.’ Both of my parents, and including my real father, worked really hard to provide for their family. That kind of set a standard for me on a fiscal basis.

How do you feel facing an uphill battle to pass legislation as a freshman Republican?

Sometimes I think things happen to Republicans that would never happen to a Democrat here in the California Legislature. I’ve had some pieces of legislation held, not even given a hearing. And in one case, not even controversial.

The other thing that is very frustrating is that every person in this building represents roughly the same number of people. And I have to be responsive to my constituents: Democrats, Republicans and everything in between. Not to be able to get that fair shot to make an argument on behalf of my constituents, I don’t think that’s right. 

What do you think of the Legislature’s approach to the fentanyl issue?

I would give up any of my fentanyl bills today, if it meant that legitimate policy reform on fentanyl could pass through this place. I believe fentanyl is a three-pronged approach: Treatment, education and holding people accountable. I don’t think it really works without all three. This place has been pretty consistent on passing two of those things, but not the third.

My cousin died of fentanyl poisoning. I actually didn’t know he had died of fentanyl until I got into this role and I started advocating for this, for my neighbor who passed away.

You’re an active user on Twitter. What do you like about it and how do you feel about some of the partisan rhetoric?

There’s probably about 10 people from the left that wake up in the morning thinking, ‘What kind of nasty thing can I say to Joe Patterson?’ But that’s fine, I welcome any engagement. I constantly get comments from policymakers and lobbyists that read what I’m saying, so I keep that in mind. But not always — I should probably be a little bit more judicious.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California politicians tend to make decisions in the here and now, without fully exploring long-term consequences of their decrees.

Legislators should pass a bill that would prevent children from being tried as adults for violence crime against their abuser, write Jarrett Harper, founder of Better Days, and Sara Kruzan, a fellow at Human Rights for Kids.


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