The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today voted unanimously to approve the creation of an Office of Equity for the county with instruction to immediately focus on issues related to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Latinx and indigenous communities in the region.
The creation of the independent Office of Equity follows years of strategic county initiatives in collaboration with local nonprofits and community leaders who have come together to elevate the need to address racial inequities within Sonoma County.
“Recent natural disasters including the fires of October 2017 and the COVID-19 pandemic have served to underscore the disproportionate challenges communities of color face on a daily basis,” said Susan Gorin, Chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. “Meanwhile, we’re in the midst of a national awakening of the need to address social and racial inequities at all levels. The urgency is real. The time to show that this is a top priority for Sonoma County is now.”
The Board of Supervisors took a key step in that direction in January when, during a strategic planning session, the Board committed to making “Racial Equity and Social Justice” one of the pillars for its revised Strategic Plan. County staff, including SoCo REAL (Sonoma County Racial Equity Alliance and Leadership), SoCo LERN (Sonoma County Latinx Employee Resource Network), and the Human Resources Department, reviewed different government models to elevate equity work within our county structure. The recommendation for the creation of the Office of Equity has also been supported by the Board’s Equity Office Ad Hoc Committee, which includes Chair Gorin and Supervisor James Gore.
Modeled after independent Offices of Equity in Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, the Sonoma County office will serve “as the backbone entity to propel the County’s equity efforts forward and the central hub to connect County departments and the County’s overall efforts to evaluate its policies, programs, and services,” according to the county staff report.
Among its responsibilities, the Office of Equity will:
- Work with multiple county departments to identify policies and practices that could result in inequity and disparities.
- Make policy recommendations aimed at closing gaps related to disparities.
- Build a county infrastructure to ensure policy decisions are evaluated through a racial equity lens to create equitable access to County programs and services.
- Provide leadership and vision to ensure the development and management of innovative and effective strategies to achieve racial equity for Sonoma County residents.
- Implement “institutional change management principles and practices around racial equity,” the staff report said.
The new office will be overseen by an Equity Officer, who will serve as a department head reporting to the Board of Supervisors. The Board is anticipating appointing a qualified interim Equity Officer at its July 14 meeting. Staff is expected to come back before the Board on Aug. 4 with a plan to launch a full recruitment for a permanent director.