Saying it will bring together and expand upon years of advances in county departments guided by social justice principles, Contra Costa County supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved forming the Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice.

This office, which will come under the County Administrator’s office, will be crafted over the next six months through a community planning process that will heavily involve the county’s communities of color.

The office’s main tasks will be to better coordinate, strengthen and expand the county’s existing work on equity and inclusion, and to partner with community organizations and leaders, cities and school districts to turn that work into action where it matters most — in guiding county government policy and funding decisions that support such policy.

Policies would include addressing structural and institutional racism and systemic violence against Black residents of Contra Costa, and improve health coverage for all communities of color.

“We want to put things into place, but we need movement, we need results,” said Supervisor Federal Glover. Glover and Supervisor John Gioia were the primary board backers for this new office.

Four years in the making

The equity office has been four years in the planning. Contra Costa County’s Government Alliance on Race and Equity Cohort in 2017 developed a proposal for an “Office of Human Rights & Equity,” and in 2019 developed a comprehensive Racial Equity Action Plan, which at that time recommended establishing an “Office of Equity and Immigrant Inclusion.”

Glover and Gioia helped raise $250,000 through the philanthropic San Francisco Foundation that will pay for work to assemble the new equity office, separate from county budgets.

“We really have to lean into this to make it work. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable.”

Mariana Moore, equity advocate

“We strongly believe this office needs to have deep community involvement if it has any hope of achieving its ambitious goals,” Myra Chow, a San Francisco Foundation senior director, told supervisors Tuesday.

Representatives of several community organizations and county government departments — all partner groups in forming the new office — called in to Tuesday’s supervisors meeting to praise its formation and to pledge support. This is only the beginning of solving problems of inequity, they said.

“We really have to lean into this to make it work,” said Mariana Moore, director of the Ensuring Opportunity Campaign to End Poverty in Contra Costa. “We have to be willing to be uncomfortable.”

Looking to a spring launch

Supervisors said an example of the kind of equity work they want to see more of happened last Saturday in San Pablo, where Contra Costa Health Services held a daylong COVID-19 testing event aimed primarily at that city’s Latinx community.

The timeline is for a specific plan for starting and operating the office to come back to the board in May. The supervisors will have direct oversight of the new office.

In a related move, the board on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in Contra Costa County. County Health Director Anna Roth said racism is a “daily disaster” that affects health and wellness in communities of color. “The data is undeniable,” she said.

Oakland established its Department of Race and Equity in 2016, and San Francisco its Office of Racial Equity in July 2019. The city of Martinez on Nov. 4 formally created its Anti-Racism and Discrimination and Pro-Inclusion and Diversity Task Force, aimed in part at helping that local government serve its residents through a lens of equity.