Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks podcast. This is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. Joining me on the show today is Soledad Ursúa. She's a Los Angeles resident. She works in finance, and she serves on the Venice Neighborhood Council. She's written a number of excellent pieces for City Journal, and her work has been featured in several additional outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, the American Mind, Fox News, and a variety of Los Angeles-area publications. Today we're going to discuss her essay, “Victimhood Forever,” which appears in our special California issue and details California's efforts to provide reparations to black residents. So Soledad, thank you very much for joining us.
Soledad Ursúa: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Brian Anderson: So two years ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom set up the Reparations Task Force, which was charged with developing a proposal to compensate the state's black residents for the injustice of slavery. And late last year, the task force released a preliminary report on its findings. As you note in your piece, there's a lot problematic with this. So why don't you describe a bit where things stand with the task force, and why you don't think this is such a great idea?
Soledad Ursúa: The initial reparations task force report has projected that descendants from slaves could earn as much as $223,000 in compensation for past injustice, and the projected total cost to California taxpayers, it could reach about $569 billion, and that's almost two and a half times the state's current budget. We do not have the final numbers. The final numbers should come out in June 2023, and the monetary payouts could be bigger because we're also looking at other areas such as mass incarceration, forced sterilization, and devaluation of black business. So we're still not quite sure what the total number will be. You also see at the same time that San Francisco has gone ahead with its own reparations recommendations. So the city of San Francisco is recommending a $5 million payout to every eligible black adult, the elimination of personal debt and tax burdens, a guaranteed annual income of $97,000 for 250 years, and the ability to purchase homes in San Francisco for just $1 a family. So what we see here is you have the state report going through, and we also have the city of San Francisco.
Brian Anderson: This just seems preposterous on the face of it from the standpoint of the state budget. What's the likelihood of the state passing something to the tune of more than a half trillion dollars, which as you note, is more than double the state's current budget?
Soledad Ursúa: It will be a tough sell, mostly because California is facing a $23 billion budget deficit this year, and the city of San Francisco is also facing a deficit of over 700 million.
Brian Anderson: So some of this just seems symbolic, but there there's a philosophical problem beyond that that goes beyond even the proposals for reparations in other places where slavery was a significant historical reality. California, as you know, wasn't a slave state, right?
Soledad Ursúa: That's right. So California entered into the union in 1850 after being acquired from Mexico, and Mexico had banned slavery in 1837. So what we see happening in California is that modern progressives are stretching the notions of reparations and they're rewriting history to fit their aggressive agenda.
Brian Anderson: Now, the task force focuses solely on black Californians. Yet, as you note in your essay, several other racial minority groups have suffered from discriminatory policies throughout California history. For instance, Mexican-Americans, up to 2 million of them, many of them, if not even half, I think were U.S. citizens. They were deported to Mexico on the argument that they were responsible for the poverty of the Great Depression, or they were aggravating the poverty of the Great Depression. And soon after, of course, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and confined to internment camps during World War II. So both Latinos and Asians are a bigger percentage of California's population than blacks are, and would seem to have at least comparable claims to reparations if we start going down this route, right?
Soledad Ursúa: That's correct. And slavery was distinctive to black Americans. But without a link to slavery in California, what the task force did was they looked at housing discrimination during a certain period, but you could make the argument that housing discrimination, every immigrant group, including Jews, have faced discrimination during that same time period.
Brian Anderson: Now, what about the attitudes toward this in California? How much support does this idea have among California residents?
Soledad Ursúa: Well, a recent poll indicated that about 30 percent of all Americans support financial reparations. But what we see is that it's heavily divided along racial lines. Seventy-seven percent of black adults approve of this, but only 18 percent of whites, 39 percent of Hispanics, and 33 percent of Asians agree. We see that it also skews heavily by political affiliation. Those who lean Democrat are pretty evenly split with 49 percent in favor and 48 percent in opposition. But 91 percent of voters who lean Republican are opposed to this concept.
Brian Anderson: It's often the case that what gets cooked up in California soon spreads to other parts of the country. And this is also the case with reparations, right? There are other states that are starting to develop similar plans. So that's why I think not just Californians need to be concerned about this development and paying attention to it.
Soledad Ursúa: That's right. States such as Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon have tried to introduce proposals, but only California has advanced this. And what we see here is that the timing is quite beneficial for Democrats. Democrats have very few policy issues to run on in 2024. We have an unstable economy, an open border crisis, and in major cities you're dealing with spiraling crime. So perhaps the concept of financial reparations will become a 2024 top-of-ticket issue for the Democratic Party.
Brian Anderson: Interesting. Now, as you analyze in your essay, the task force report does point out some real issues. Perhaps the most important is what's happening with black kids in public schools in California. Could you respond a bit to that argument as you develop it in the piece?
Soledad Ursúa: The report calls out the state's failing public education system, and this is a real civil rights issue that deserves far greater outreach. When we look at reading, 77 percent of black kids and 64 percent of Hispanic kids do not meet state reading standards. And it's worse when it comes to math. Eighty-four percent of black children and 79 percent of Hispanic children do not meet state math standards. So this is something that is a real civil rights issue, and what many of the critics say is that California just needs more money. But money is not the answer because California spends nearly $16,000 per student, and we rank 19 out of 50 states in terms of spending. But educationally, we rank 44th out of 50 academically. So this is a real failure here, and without education, there is no future for minority children. Education is destiny and it's your ticket out of the hood.
Brian Anderson: Yeah. Now, what does the reparations task force say about improving academic performance among minorities in California? Is it just throw more money at it, or do they have a more nuanced argument?
Soledad Ursúa: Currently in California, where you live determines where you go to school. So this is a form of redlining by your zip code. So poor kids end up going to failing schools. So what the task force is calling for is porous school district boundaries, so it allows you to be able to go to different schools, interdistrict transfers. And these recommendations would perhaps make the biggest impact on not just black children, but all minority children in California. And this is a step that could be done immediately without any reparations needed. And what we find is that minorities often support school choice. And one thing that Governor Newsom could do immediately is overhaul the schools. If he wanted to better the lives of non-white children, he could support opportunity scholarships, vouchers, charter schools. So there's a lot that he can do without going down this route of financial reparation.
Brian Anderson: And so the reports due in June, right?
Soledad Ursúa: That's correct. We'll receive the final numbers then.
Brian Anderson: Yeah, it'll be interesting to see what kind of response it gets and where it goes from there. Another area you've covered for City Journal and have written quite a bit about is the homelessness problem in your own backyard, in Venice. Recently, as you know, I was out in LA and spent some time in Venice. It was the first time I had been out there since the beginning of the pandemic. And I have to say, the parts of Venice I went to seemed better when it came to homelessness than they did when I was last out there. So I wonder what's your take on it, is as someone who's seeing this on a daily basis, and what's the state of play?
Soledad Ursúa: Well, in Venice Beach, we elected a new council member, someone who is much more moderate. Our prior council member was a progressive who believed that the homeless had the right to camp anywhere. He did not believe in private property. So with this new election, we've had a moderate Democrat who's worked very well with our mayor Karen Bass, but what they've done is they've used state housing vouchers to put people up temporarily in hotels. So it's not really solving the problem. We've pushed it off into a different area, but that's something that we see all the time, where people go into housing, they fall out of housing, back on the street. So it's this cycle that will continually perpetuate until real action is taken.
Brian Anderson: And what's the general approach long-term to this persistent problem? It's not like you can snap your fingers and solve it in a place like LA or San Francisco where it's a lot easier to live outside for homeless people, but what kind of creative proposals are circulating, if any?
Soledad Ursúa: There really aren’t any, because the underlying problem here is that the state is looking at this as a housing crisis. This is not a housing crisis. It is a crisis of drug addiction and mental illness. And so the state keeps moving forward just pushing housing, and that will never solve the problem.
Brian Anderson: Right. Okay. Well, thank you very much, Soledad. Don't forget to check out Soledad Ursúa's work on the City Journal website. That's at www.city-journal.org. We'll link to her author page in the description, and you can also find her on Twitter @SoledadUrsua. You can also find City Journal on Twitter @CityJournal and on Instagram @CityJournal_MI. As usual, I say that if you like what you've heard on this podcast, please give us a five-star rating on iTunes. Soledad, great to talk with you, and thanks very much for coming on 10 Blocks.
Soledad Ursúa: Thank you.