Civic

City Establishes Task Force to Address Diversity Issues

The San Marino City Council has unanimously approved the creation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force and will seek to contract with a specialist who can facilitate the panel.
The group’s establishment was enthusiastically approved at last Friday’s meeting, along with its price tag of up to $45,000. The decision came on the heels of a proclamation for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and a similar decree lauding the Chinese Club of San Marino for its work, council actions that also dealt with the theme of diversity.
Vice Mayor Susan Jakubowski had proposed exploring this issue at a prior meeting.
“This is a ‘big heavy’ that we are taking on,” Jakubowski said Friday. “As we all know from our life experiences, many times we avoid and fear those we don’t know. We are hesitant to learn more, to ask questions, and I think the end product we’re looking for is a way to bring us all together.”
San Marino’s commitment to a DEI reframing comes on the heels of a well-documented rise in hateful rhetoric and violence directed toward Asian and Pacific Islander Americans throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Much of this seems to be related to the virus’ apparent origins in China, and commentators often charged former President Donald Trump with fanning those flames by insisting on using phrases like “China virus” or “kung flu,” which often complemented his seeming political hostility to migrants.
As noted in the city’s report preceding the vote on the task force, around 60% of San Marino’s population is of AAPI heritage, with Taiwanese and Chinese being the dominant sub-groups among them. City, school and civic operations are generally well integrated with the community, with Mandarin translation offered at many events with help from the Chinese Club.
Still, as the report notes, some residents have reported experiencing hostility directed at them —sometimes by other local residents — because of their ethnicity.
Community Engagement Manager Amanda Fowler said she consulted with other entities in the area in approaching this issue — DEI initiatives have permeated Los Angeles County and other parts of the country in recent years, particularly after the nationwide protests demanding a racial reckoning last summer.
“The biggest takeaways from our conversation really were that this type of work, for it to be successful, needs to be community led but rooted in practicality, and we believe that’s why this approach would set us up to be as successful as possible,” Fowler said.
The advantages of task forces are that they are not subject to Brown Act rules governing public meetings and that their memberships can also be more fluid. Retaining a specialist who can coordinate this task force and prompt the difficult questions and discussions, she added, can help guide the group from an objective starting point.
In reaching the conclusion for this recommendation, Fowler said she often asked the other entities — cities and school districts — if they felt the expense was worthwhile.
“They said it was, because it’s a typically difficult topic to discuss and the path forward toward developing an actionable plan personalized to your city can feel daunting,” she said.
Council members were generally enthusiastic about the endeavor.
Councilman Steve Talt said he hoped to identify “the tools to deal with some aspects of our relationships with people who may not look the same” from the task force. He recollected how one of his children, when young, responded when another person identified a classmate as being Chinese — “No dad, they’re from San Marino,” he quoted.
“I wish that our attitude was more like our children,” Talt said.
Councilman Steven Huang thanked Jakubowski for her “brilliant idea.”
“We’re a big family and when you have siblings in the family, you don’t always get along,” Huang added. “I think we need this. I can support this.”
In other business, the council reviewed and approved the city’s budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
The proposed operating budget anticipated $31.4 million in revenues and $28.6 million in expenses — producing a net income of $2.8 million. The capital equipment and improvement budget is calling for spending $12.5 million, including about $2 million reallocated from unfinished projects approved for the current year.
Finance Director Paul Chung said he expects the city’s relatively strong position that endured throughout the pandemic to continue. Property tax revenues, of course, make up the majority of the city’s income and would not have been significantly affected (if at all) by the emergency.
“Obviously I or nobody can predict COVID or the resurgence that potentially might happen, but on the fiscal side … I feel that the city of San Marino is in very good fiscal health going into next year,” he said.
The budget was approved 3-1 (Huang had to leave early), with Councilwoman Gretchen Shepherd Romey opposing — she later told the Tribune that her nay vote was rooted in her continuing opposition to the San Marino Center renovation project and its costs, which have risen since it was initially proposed.
The approval also removed $40,000 from the city manager’s department for a communications initiative and an understanding that any changes made to the proposed fee schedule would be made effective after the fact.

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