New Study Shows Lack Of Diversity Among San Diego's Decision Makers
There are plenty of boards and commissions and councils in the San Diego region made up of people either appointed or elected to their posts. But how well do the members of those bodies reflect the diversity of San Diego now. Very well according to a new study conducted by the nonprofit Center on policy initiatives. An in-depth look at five local boards and commissions finds most of the members are white male and economically well-off. The question is can a governing board that does not look like San Diego make good decisions for San Diego. Joining me by Skype is Kira Green who authored the report. She is the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Policy Initiatives which advocates for the working poor. And Carol welcome to the show. Thank you for having me. What were the five local entities you studied. We looked at the county San Diego County Board of Supervisors. MT Yes the city's planning commission the Port Commission and the Escondido Union High School District. And how did you select those particular groups. So we actually did this report with a coalition called the San Diego leaders which is made up of nonprofit organizations that do leadership development programs to try to increase diversity and representation on boards and commissions so that body actually selected the set of boards and commissions that we looked at and they selected them based on a desire to have a cross-section that represented the diversity of types of boards and commissions from things that are elected to ones that are appointed as well as looking at boards that have a very broad geographic places that they're working in as well as ones that are more or that are smaller like the Escondido Unified School District. OK so the Escondido Union High School District and the County Board of Supervisors were the least diverse. What is the makeup of those boards and how do they compare to their constituencies. So what was most stark about both of those is they were both jurisdictions where the majority of the constituents are people of color. And yet all of the board members were white. There was gender diversity on the board. But there were no people of color there and that was particularly stark in the Escondido Union School District where over the last 10 to 15 years the district has switched from one where the majority of students were white. Now the majority of students are Latino. And yet the board has remained. Did you get any input from the County Board of Supervisors at all during the study. We were not able to talk to members of the Board of Supervisors and that's one thing that struck us about the report overall. It was often very difficult to get elected and appointed officials just to return phone calls and e-mails. And we were using the same channels that their constituents would use and in some cases were lucky that we know folks who served before have connections in the community. And even when we tried to activate those channels it was sometimes difficult to get a response back. So on the flip side in your report what were the most diverse boards you looked at the most diverse boards both. We saw changes in both the court and at Mt yes. One thing that's interesting about MTA in particular is that that's a board that's made up of elected officials who are appointed through some process and there are cities that selects who serves on the board. And so that was also a sign of that there seemed to be increasing diversity if not of the city councils themselves at least of the folks who were being selected to represent the cities on empty yes. What are some of the other institutional and structural barriers that you found that limit more diverse participation in these boards especially ones that that citizens can just join. One structural issue is that many of these boards and commissions regardless of the amount of time commitment they require do not provide compensation for folks to do them. They also structurally often meet at a time that is very difficult for average working people to do so if a border commission meets during the week during the workday a typical workday between 9 and 5 that can be really challenging for most people to accommodate in their schedules. And there was often a reliance on connections to industries that were related to it and so that meant that there was a certain kind of focus on professionals even when there was a lot of impacts on members of the community. So for instance something like a port commission where there's a great deal of local community impacts. But there's there's not clear opportunity for low income residents who would be impacted by poor activity to serve on the commission. What kind of perspective is being left out in the way that these boards consider the future for all of San Diego. One of the things that really struck me in the quote in the report where someone's responding to this challenge around diversity on the boards and commissions and they say you know the people who serve on boards and pressures they're mostly good people but they just don't have the lived experiences of being low income or middle income even in some cases they have not been women they are not people of color. So just the whole wealth of diversity is that we tend to think about are underrepresented in these spaces and we know that those lived experiences changed the way that people interact in the workplace in their everyday lives and with government institutions. How do you see this report being used in the future. What I see this report being really important to doing is raising the conversation one around the question of diversity but I also hope to have a conversation where people whom should be serving on these boards and commissions who would represent some increasing diversity on them will also become aware of this opportunity that these boards and commissions exist. And also aware of these organizations that provide trainings and ways of connecting people to opportunities to serve on boards and commissions. I've been speaking with here a Green executive director of the non-profit Center for Policy initiatives here. Thank you. Thank you so much.
Boards and commissions in the San Diego region make decisions about everything from your housing to how your tax dollars are spent. The policies created directly impact social, economic and racial equality. But a study released Tuesday by San Diego Leaders and the Center on Policy Initiatives says the vast majority of San Diego’s decision makers are white, male and economically advantaged.
The Community Representation Report focused on five public entities: The City of San Diego Planning Commission, the Port Commission, the Escondido Union High School District Board, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit District Board of Directors.
“On too many of the boards, folks just don't look like the community at all," said CPI Executive Director Kyra Greene.
She pointed to the Board of Supervisors as an example.
"They all are economically advantaged compared to the people who live here, and they have to make decisions about social services and where to locate them, but they really don't have experiences that help inform them,” Greene said.
The report says if decision-makers don’t share similar life experiences with the residents they represent, they can’t meet the needs of those residents.
The study notes that the Port Commission and MTS board have become more diverse in recent years. It also highlights several structural issues that stand in the way of diversity on many governing boards in the region. Those issues include social networks, industry preferences and even unpaid boards that create a barrier for low-income working people.
The Center on Policy Initiatives suggests restructuring the boards and commissions so underrepresented people are included in the decision making process.
San Diego Leaders plans a series of town halls to get community input on how to make local leadership more diverse. The first town hall will take place Wednesday, August 15 from 5:30 - 8 p.m. at the East African Cultural Center, at 4061 Fairmount Avenue in City Heights. The event is free and open to the public.