The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has given final approval to the “mission, vision and values” of the county’s Office of Equity, first formed in 2020.

The mission of the Office of Equity is to work in partnership with Black, Indigenous and other communities of color, as well as members of the community that are “impacted by systemic inequalities,” the county said.

Supervisor James Gore, chair of the Office of Equity, says he is proud of the progress the body is making.

“This vital work is the start of looking at our day-to-day work through an equity lens and centering community at the heart,” he said.

“Equity” is defined by the county as “an outcome whereby you can’t tell the difference in critical markers of health, well-being and wealth by race or ethnicity, and a process whereby we explicitly value the voices of people of color, low income and other underrepresented and underserved communities who identify solutions to achieve that outcome.”

According to U.S. Census numbers from 2021, Sonoma County is 2 percent Black, 5 percent Asian, 28 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 61 percent white (4 percent other).

The county acknowledges that broader equity issues involve gender, sexual orientation and ability, but they will expand to those concentrations next, according to a strategic plan created by the county.

The Human Development Index

A report produced in 2021 from the Measure of America of the Social Science Research Council, a national nonprofit research initiative that collects human development data, further breaks down the demographics of Sonoma County.

The report classified its data by mapping it in what it calls a Human Development Index (HDI), which measures earnings, education levels and life expectancy (health) and ranks the findings from zero to 10, with 10 being the best outcomes or rankings.

“Measure of America’s HDI calculations provide a snapshot of community well-being, reveal inequalities between groups, allow for tracking change over time and provide a tool for holding elected officials accountable,” reads the report.

Equity is an outcome whereby you can’t tell the difference in critical markers of health, well-being, and wealth by race or ethnicity, and a process whereby we explicitly value the voices of people of color, low income, and other underrepresented and underserved communities who identify solutions to achieve that outcome.

Sonoma County Strategic Plan

Sonoma County’s overall HDI score is 6.19, up from 5.42 in 2012. This score is “well above” the national HDI of 5.33, the report said, and California’s overall score of 5.85. Sonoma’s higher scores are due to high health scores, a median earning of $40,531, and “high school, college and graduate school degrees at higher rates than is typical in California.”

Data in the report starts to shift, however, when race and ethnicity is examined. Latino residents of Sonoma County have an HDI of 4.93, which is actually up from 2014’s 4.27. For Black residents, the HDI number is 3.99, “an alarming drop” from the 4.68 in the 2014 report.

“Black residents of Sonoma have lower levels of well-being than Black residents of the state as a whole,” reads the report. “Black residents of Sonoma live over three years fewer, on average, than Black Californians.”

In addition, Black children and young adults in Sonoma County are enrolled in school at a rate 6 percentage points lower than the Black statewide average. Sixty-nine percent of Black children and young adults are enrolled in school in Sonoma County, versus 77 percent of Latino youth, 80 percent of white youth, and 89 percent of Asian youth.

Changing the trajectory

So far, the Office of Equity in Sonoma County has created an Equity Core Team of 57 county employees across 15 departments and agencies, the county said. Team members have been trained to apply racial equity concepts to their jobs.

A Racial and Social Justice Pillar is part of the county’s five-year strategic plan. The county chose to tackle racial equity first, as opposed to socio-economic equity, because “If Sonoma County wants to start closing those gaps, we have to start there,” according to the strategic plan. “Research and best practices nationally show that successful equity programs begin with a focus on race.”

“Without defining and understanding institutional racism and what it looks like on a day-to-day basis in service provision and employment at the County, we cannot proceed to address those actions correctly and dismantle inequalities that have persisted for too long,” said Alegria De La Cruz, director of the Office of Equity. “The Board and staff commitment to proceeding with this crucial and difficult work can change the trajectory of treatment of those historically impacted communities for generations to come.”