SCAG Drafts Equity Plan for ‘Communities of Concern’

April 7, 2021 Updated: April 7, 2021

The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) has drafted a plan that would incentivize private business owners to reflect more diversity in their companies to get city contracts.

SCAG, the nation’s largest metropolitan planning organization, has introduced a draft of a Racial Equity Early Action Plan to be voted on next month. It would reward contractors who conform to diverse hiring practices. Opponents have called the plan unnecessary and discriminatory.

Anaheim City Councilman Trevor O’Neil, a SCAG board member, told The Epoch Times that he opposes the idea of local governments meddling in the hiring practices of private companies because federal law already prohibits discrimination in the workplace.

“We don’t need a new plan or committee filled with politicians, as is being proposed. … These kinds of policies inherently create division within these communities, in direct conflict with the stated intent of ‘equity,’” O’Neil said via email.

“I support policies for hiring employees and contractors that provide access to everyone regardless of race, gender or other category. Vendors who want government contracts should ensure they are giving the best value for taxpayers and that they do not discriminate in their own hiring practices.”

SCAG is responsible for implementing state affordable housing mandates for 191 cities throughout the region. A spokesperson for SCAG, who requested not to be identified, told The Epoch Times that the inclusive contracting plan under discussion is “leveling the playing field.”

“Essentially, we’re working toward a practice of inclusive contracting” to create an environment “where businesses owned by people of color and/or women can participate … and compete fairly for government contracts,” the spokesperson said in an email.

‘Communities of Concern’

The overall plan calls for the appointment of officials to represent “Communities of Concern,” or disadvantaged communities, on SCAG committees. Communities of Concern are defined as those where more than 24 percent of households live in poverty, compared to 15 percent across the whole SCAG region, according to the SCAG spokesperson.

“People of color are far more likely to live in Communities of Concern, where on average 92 percent of the population are minorities. Additionally, these communities experience higher rates of exposure to a wide range of environmental hazards than the region as a whole,” the spokesperson stated.

Those hazards include higher concentrations of air and drinking water pollutants from various sources, including high traffic density, diesel emissions, and more toxic cleanup sites, she said. Minority and low-income populations are also more likely to experience the consequences of climate change, she said, including extreme heat and flooding because they have fewer resources such as air-conditioning or access to cooling centers and transportation options.

At its April 1 meeting, the SCAG Regional Council voted 62–3 in favor of a proposal to appoint representatives from “Communities of Concern” to SCAG policy committees.

SCAG represents six counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Imperial.

O’Neil, Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner, and La Habra City Councilman Tim Shaw voted against the proposal.

O’Neil said before the vote, “We’ve been talking a lot about equity lately, and the intention of this is to be an equity proposal, but I think this change would actually create an inequity, first by singling out Communities of Concern and giving them an additional seat on policy committees that will result in overrepresentation from those communities.”

He called the proposed change “insulting” because it suggests that current Regional Council representatives cannot adequately address their own jurisdictional issues.

Each of the Community of Concern representatives will get a seat and a vote at the policy committee level, but not at the Regional Council, where members vote to adopt official SCAG policies, according to O’Neil.

“So they won’t have a seat on the Regional Council, only the SCAG committees,” but the policy committees are where most of the issues are “deliberated and hashed out” before they are brought to Regional Council, he said.

The Plan

SCAG’s spokesperson said the Early Action Plan is “intended to guide and sustain SCAG’s regional leadership in service of equity and social justice.”

The plan lists four main goals:

  • Shift Organizational Culture to “focus SCAG’s internal work and practices on inclusion, diversity, equity and awareness.”
  • Center Racial Equity in Regional Planning & Policy to “bring equity into SCAG’s regional planning functions.”
  • Encourage Racial Equity in Local Planning Practices to “promote racial equity in efforts involving local elected officials and planning professionals;” and
  • Activate & Amplify to “communicate broadly SCAG’s commitment to racial equity and join with others in different fields and sectors to amplify impact.”

SCAG’s Regional Council has already adopted a resolution “acknowledging systemic racism as a human rights and public health crisis and affirming SCAG’s commitment to meaningfully advancing justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion,” the spokesperson said.

SCAG’s recent proposals for greater equity in hiring and public contracts have come under fire from groups such as Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER), who argue the plans would violate the California Constitution’s ban on race-based hiring practices.

CFER Executive Director Wenyuan Wu told The Epoch Times that her foundation “strongly condemns any attempt to encourage or promote racial preferences in public contracting and public employment.”

Wu said SCAG is trying to skirt constitutional law. “They’ve been very outspoken about their disappointment with the overwhelming defeat of Proposition 16, so they are trying every which way to … circumvent the legal implementation of Prop. 209.”

In November, California voters rejected Prop. 16, which sought to overturn Prop. 209, the law that bans discriminatory or preferential action programs in the state based on “race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin, in the operation of public employment, public education, and public contracting.”