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Black Apology Fails to Deliver, Racial Justice Advocates Say


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By Jorge Casuso

February 26, 2024 -- Black History month has been celebrated in Santa Monica this year with food trucks and dancing, proclamations and special events at the Promenade and Pier.

That the City is not funding the community events is indicative of an underlying problem. According to racial justice advocates, the City's support has been more talk than action.

Since adopting a statement apologizing to Santa Monica's Black residents in November 2022, critics say the Council has failed to commit to the "programs, policies and investments" called for in the statement.

"What's happened to date is not satisfactory at all," said Committee for Racial Justice (CRJ) member Tara Barauskas, speaking on behalf of the group. "It really is not meaningful if there is no action."

"It sounds all good and well on paper," said CRJ member Craig Ali, "but I'm not seeing how we're going to benefit.

"When the City makes statements and it doesn't follow through, it erodes trust and deepens the harm," Ali said.

In January, the Committee announced it would launch a series of workshops that focus "on specific actions that could be taken to show that the Black Apology was not just empty words."

The CRJ's announcement came after the group was unable to obtain "the list of actions taken in the first year of the Black Apology that is said by city staff to exist."

In responses to a request for the list by The Lookout, City spokesperson Tati Simonian sent of copy of a list summarizing "important steps" the City has taken to "create internal programs and advance community initiatives focused on racial equity."

"We are making progress in the areas of housing, public art, staff training and city planning and zoning," Simonian wrote.

The list includes and an arts program commemorating the history of the Belmar community razed in the 1950s and 60s to make way for urban development and a pilot program giving “historically displaced households” and their descendants priority for affordable housing units.

The list also includes more than 800 hours of "implicit bias training" for more than 200 City employees and an ongoing grants program for minority residents

Racial justice leaders note that those programs were in place before the Black apology statement was approved by the Council on November 15, 2022.

"Very little or nothing has been done since the Black apology," Barauskas said.

The only programs initiated since November 2022 are a cannabis social equity program the Council approved last October and a study launched this year "to find ways to welcome diverse entities to doing business with the City."

The cannabis social equity program will "help ensure that the communities most impacted by federal and state cannabis enforcement policies are provided an opportunity to benefit from the cannabis industry," according to the list of accomplishments.

Barauskas said it "is almost offensive to list" the cannabis program,
but noted that the disparity study that will identify barriers to hiring minority contractors is a good step.

"CRJ keeps hearing, 'There's no money, there's no money,'" Barauskas said. "But there are things that can be done with no money."

They include earmarking some of the revenues from the possible lease of the Civic Auditorium, that sits on land that was once at the heart of the Belmar community.

This month the City Council took steps to "acknowledge the one-year anniversary of City Council’s adoption" of the Statement of Apology.

It agreed to "read the Statement at the beginning of the first City Council meeting every November" and directed the City Manager to explore the installation of the Statement outside City Hall.

It also agreed to allocate $10,000 in City Council discretionary funds to the Santa Monica High School Black Student Union and "direct the City Manager to survey reparations efforts in other jurisdictions."

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