County Spends Funds on Building Equity Culture, Other Initiatives

Santa Barbara Supervisors Wrestle with How to Distribute Remaining $270,800

ONE YEAR LATER: Nearly half of the county’s $500,000 in equity funds has been spent since last year’s Black Lives Matter protests. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Nearly a year after the Board of Supervisors set aside $500,000 to advance and support equity in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and subsequent protests calling for racial justice, it heard on Tuesday how the funds have so far been allocated.

From the initial set-aside, $94,200 was allocated to the Community Services Department and $135,000 was allocated to County Human Resources. Human Resources used the money to fund an initiative called JOIN, an acronym for Join Hands, Open Hearts and Minds, Ignite Action, and Navigate Change. The first two phases, Join Hands and Open Hearts and Minds, were meant to establish a shared vocabulary and open a continuous dialogue about race equity work.

“Building a race-equity and inclusive culture is not a linear path,” said Maria Elena De Guevara, director of county Human Resources, about JOIN. “To drive equity deep into systems and structures takes focused work, resources, both human and financial, and time, lots of time. Culture change requires a ton of support from all levels of the organization.”

The first two phases cost about $43,000, leaving about $90,000 for the next two phases, which are meant to fully integrate race equity in every aspect of county operations and programs. Some of the key aspects of the next phases include steps such as organizing county operations in an integrated and balanced way to support race equity and separating certain data points by race to better hold the county accountable.

The Community Services Department has also started equity initiatives of its own. For one, it hired two student interns to inventory historic monuments, markers, and plaques on county-owned properties in partnership with local colleges and universities. They are working to integrate the inventory of cultural assets with a mapping initiative produced by the Santa Barbara Public Library and CAUSE (Central Coast United for a Sustainable Economy). The initiative cost $25,000 of the $500,000 set-aside.

They also built a diverse coalition, known as the Equity Advisory and Outreach Committee (EAOC), with $19,200 of the dollars. It was established by the County Sustainability Division to increase awareness, participation, guidance, and feedback on various planning efforts across the county. Committee members who represent marginalized and vulnerable communities are eligible to receive compensation through a regular stipend of $100 per hour of attendance at committee meetings.

“With equity at the forefront, and guidance from members of the EAOC, our goal is to ensure that no one feels like an afterthought, that everyone is equally and deeply integrated in planning our community’s future,” said Michelle Sevilla, chair of the EAOC.

There is also the $30,000 Listen, Learn, and Share initiative that “seeks to develop greater cross-cultural understanding, support, and respectful communication practices by listening to and learning from Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color within the County.” Healing Justice of Santa Barbara will be contracted and former city poet laureate Sojourner Kincaid Rolle will help to facilitate dialogue between artists. Lastly, the Community Services Department presented a $20,000 initiative to support local communities of color through art.

To read through these initiatives in more detail, click here.

The question the supervisors faced Tuesday was how to distribute the remaining $270,800 in equity funds. There were three options: Contract with the Fund for Santa Barbara to administer a county equity support program and distribute equity funds, develop an internal county process led by staff to distribute equity funds, or a hybrid option that combines both.

Initially, most supervisors seemed to be happy with the first option, though 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart warned that the county should eventually develop its own capacity to maintain its equity commitment.

It was 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson who was the most put off by it. Born and raised in Orcutt, a conservative community that falls in his district, Nelson said he’d like to see an option for a “less partisan” group to contract with. He said the Fund for Santa Barbara supported the defund the police movement and that the rest of the county’s values don’t necessarily align with it.

As a compromise, the board unanimously agreed on the hybrid option to distribute the remaining funds.


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