SCAG’s Inclusive Economic Recovery Strategy

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

December 20, 2022

You can’t know which direction you’re going if you don’t know where you are. That was the context underlying the development of the Racial Equity Early Action Plan (REEAP) by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). In pursuit of the Plan, the agency developed its Inclusive Economic Recovery Strategy (IERS), which established a blueprint of recommendations to guide the acquisition of resources needed to alleviate the injustices that are so pervasive in its six SoCal counties.

 

REEAP Examined

In mid-July 2020, SCAG’s Regional Council affirmed its commitment to advancing DEI and justice initiatives throughout the six counties within its jurisdiction. At the time, the COVID-19 pandemic was exposing serious inequities embedded within numerous social systems. SCAG appointed a special Equity & Social Justice Committee to assess that current status and hypothesize how best to address those challenges. Populated by nonprofit and private sector representatives, elected officials, and university partners, the group represented the leadership and constituent interests of the SCAG’s six counties.

The tasks assigned to the Committee included reviewing and offering feedback on four fundamental agency elements. Their findings and conclusions would then help SCAG shape its understanding of the realities of the current situation and develop appropriate responses to those adverse and unfair situations:

Clarify an agency-wide definition of “equity” to ensure that all participants were working toward achieving the same community goal.

Assess existing DEI-related activities in the agencies and departments that populate the SCAG.

Create a preliminary framework for the action plan, including an overarching statement of its goals, activities to be undertaken in pursuit of those goals, and identifying the resources needed to achieve success.

Create an inclusive economic recovery strategy that encompasses both the DEI remediation initiatives and a plausible path to recovery after the economic chaos caused by the coronavirus.

In May 2021, the Committee issued its report, summarizing its factual findings on these issues and offering a preliminary schematic as a structure for the racial equity initiative. Of particular interest is the equity inventory undertaken by the Committee, which established a preliminary baseline assessment of inequities found within the geographical region. That assessment provided data on 26 “equity indicators” grouped into the goal sets of the “Connect SoCal” plan:

economy,

healthy and complete communities,

mobility, and

environment.

These indicators illuminate opportunities within the agencies to consult with their constituents and create partnerships designed to alleviate the racial disparities in their local communities.

The Framework suggested by the Committee advances four overarching goals, all of which are encompassed within three operational strategies:

Listen & Learn. To understand the shared history of discrimination, all stakeholders must be willing to hear and accept those uncomfortable realities.

Engage & Co-power. Every voice has value at this table. The Committee urged creating across the SCAG an environment that includes and respects the opinions and experiences of all its constituencies.

Integrate & Institutionalize. Change must happen at the system level, so all levels of agency effort must centralize racial equity as their primary focus. This strategy incorporates both internal and external systems.

Utilizing these strategies, each agency was encouraged to work toward achieving the Framework’s four goals:

Shift department and agency cultures to escalate awareness and embrace diversity, inclusion, and equity principles.

Put racial equity at the heart of regional policy and planning mandates. Policies and procedures designed to eradicate discrimination and empower success for all populations should be embedded into the fundamental practices of each regional governmental system and its public and private partners.

Regional leadership can promote equity initiatives to local governments and encourage their partnership in developing fair and just social systems on all levels of government.

Share the equity and justice intentions with the broader community while activating the practices and procedures designed to achieve those goals.

 

IERS Launched

The inclusive economic recovery strategy also included an assessment of resources that identified the current economic development and funding efforts designed to achieve equitable outcomes for all community members. The Committee organized these resources into four broad categories:

economic development initiatives,

state funding references,

federal funding references, and

a literature review of relevant sources of information and insight.

Further, each resource category was also parsed into four distinct subcategories, each of which focused on the resources available for expenditure toward a particular equity concern:

housing production and preservation,

transportation and infrastructure,

sector-based (industries and businesses), and

human capital (labor and workforce).

The IERP’s resources include both a brief summary of their content and a listing of the conclusions they offer. Entities, both private and public, can access these resources to discover new pathways to equitable success, best practices to engage in those processes, and possible optimal outcomes that can clarify local, county, and regional goals. For example, the literature review of “human capital” resources includes an analysis of projects written or presented by the American Jobs Project, the American “Build Back Better” plan, the Brookings Institute, and many more think tanks and economic and workforce development experts.

The resources provide invaluable information that encompasses, in broad strokes and with finite detail, the issues and challenges arising from each concern and offer conclusions and suggestions on possible ways to address them.

 

The REEAP and the IERP demonstrate the SCAG’s dedication to remediating unfair discrimination from the public and private systems supporting its six-county jurisdiction. Each initiative addresses unique and complex challenges by identifying those realities and offering suggestions and practices that can be applied to reduce them. The work of this agency is helping all of its individual counties and their local governments to uncover and eliminate the scourge of racial inequity so that all their residents can achieve personal success.

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