California Reparations Bills Miss Opportunity to Help Everybody

California Reparations Bills Miss Opportunity to Help Everybody

(L-R) State Sen. Steven Bradford, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, task force member Lisa Holder, and Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer hold up a final report of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans during a hearing in Sacramento, Calif., on June 29, 2023. (Haven Daley/AP Photo)

John Seiler

John Seiler


Updated: 2/8/2024

What a missed opportunity. The California Legislative Black Caucus just introduced its 2024 Reparations Priority Bill Package. It’s based on last year’s Full Final Report of the California Reparations Task Force, which I wrote about last July in “Real Reparations for Black Californians.” I suggested “8 Reforms for Black Californians,” such as “Institute universal school vouchers.” And, “Reform the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA),” which would sharply cut the cost of building new housing.
The key problem is that narrowly focusing on grievances over slavery prevents comprehensive systemic reforms to help black people—and everybody else at the same time. The reparations angle itself is a dead end for several reasons. Slavery was abolished in America in 1865, 159 years ago. The state of California never had slavery. And you would need extensive DNA tests to confirm who does and does not qualify, with the percentage of Sub-Saharan African ancestry to qualify arbitrarily determined.
One usual component of reparations the package didn’t propose was monetary compensation. That’s because the state enjoyed a $100 billion state budget surplus as the task force was being was set up by Assembly Bill 3121, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed in September 2020. But now the state suffers a deficit of at least $38 billion.
Let’s look at some of the reparations bills. There are two for education. Assembly Bill 1929 is by Assemblywoman Tina McKinnor (D-Inglewood). According to the bill, it focuses on: “Career technical education: grant program for descendants of slavery.” Technical education is also called STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But why not emphasize it for all students?
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Jan. 10 budget proposal for fiscal year 2024-25, which begins on July 1, includes spending an average of $23,519 per pupil. That comes to an incredible $705,570 for a class of 30. The problem is not the lack of money, or the need for AB 1929, but badly spending the ample money available.
According to the 2022 Smarter Balanced test results, just 17 percent of black students in the Los Angeles Unified School District met state math standards. More money wouldn’t help that. Comprehensive reform would.
A school within the Los Angeles Unified School District in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 8, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A school within the Los Angeles Unified School District in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 8, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Real Education Reforms

As I suggested in my Epoch Times article, real reforms would include Arizona-style universal school choice. That would give all parents in the state a voucher to be used for a traditional public school, a charter public school, a private school, or homeschooling.
Another suggestion was emulating Mississippi’s reforms, which I wrote about more extensively last June in, “California Should Copy the ‘Mississippi Miracle’ in Education.” Mississippi just a few years ago was ranked near the bottom of test scores, commonly even lower than California. But reforms pushed it up to the middle of the states.
I quoted Nicholas Kristof, a liberal New York Times columnist, who reported from the state, “With an all-out effort over the past decade to get all children to read by the end of third grade and by extensive reliance on research and metrics, Mississippi has shown that it is possible to raise standards even in a state ranked dead last in the country in child poverty and hunger and second highest in teen births.”
Mississippi is 38 percent black, compared to 7 percent for California. Why can’t the Golden State follow the Magnolia State’s model?
The second education bill is listed as, “Career Education Financial Aid for redlined communities.” It’s by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento). Redlining was a system of drawing “red lines” around some communities, such as for black or Latino residents, denying them home loans and insurance.
But redlining was banned by the 1968 federal Fair Housing Act. And since then, even communities hurt by it more than 56 years ago have seen their home values soar in recent years. It’s also worth remembering federal loan programs themselves contributed even more to redlining than did private programs.
Which brings us to reparations bills dealing with housing. There aren’t any. Again, as I suggested, this was a perfect opportunity to enact CEQA reform.
The closed Audacity Studio men's clothing store and barbershop on Slauson Avenue in Los Angeles on Nov. 24, 2020. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

The closed Audacity Studio men's clothing store and barbershop on Slauson Avenue in Los Angeles on Nov. 24, 2020. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Anti-Business Bills

A major way to help black Californians would be to make it easier to start and run a business in California. A top priority ought to be to reduce or eliminate the $800 fee imposed on every LLC—limited liability company—in the state. That’s a pittance for a large company, but a huge amount for someone starting a hair salon or opening a taco stand.
Instead, we get another bill proposal, “Address food injustice by requiring advance notification to community stakeholders prior to the closure of a grocery store in underserved or at-risk communities.” It’s by Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles). That would just be an added expense for such stores, discouraging them from opening in the first place.
The proposal also distracts from real reforms to promote businesses in “at-risk communities,” such as cutting taxes, reducing regulations, and fighting crime, especially shoplifting.
Then there’s another undeveloped idea, “Eliminate barriers to licensure for people with criminal records. Expansion of AB 2138 to prioritize African American applicants seeking occupational licenses, especially those who are descendants [of slaves].” It’s by Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Gardena).
Assembly Bill 2138 from 2020 reduced the limitations on granting licenses based on criminal convictions in certain professions. That was a good bill, as the state’s 41 professional licensing boards long have been too numerous and too strict. But any reforms should benefit everybody, not just one group.
The California State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif., on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The California State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif., on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A Good Bill—If Modified

Here’s one possibly good bill proposal—if it’s modified. “Property takings: Restore property taken during race-based uses of eminent domain to its original owners or provide another effective remedy where appropriate, such as restitution or compensation.” It’s by Sen. Steven Bradford (D-San Pedro).
Eminent domain is used to take private property for government use. It’s supposed to give “just compensation,” according to the Fifth Amendment. But often, governments shortchange payments, especially to poor people who can’t afford lawyers. And these “takings” sometime are used not for a school or a road, but to benefit private developers with political clout.
The problem with this bill is all people unjustly treated by eminent domain, not just those victims of “raced-based uses,” should be able to sue in court to get back their property, or their family’s property. Modifying this bill to make that easier for everybody, perhaps by setting up a special section in the state Department of Justice, would be beneficial.
But advancing only “race-based” compensation, especially decades after civil right bills banned abusing eminent domain based on race, is counterproductive.

Conclusion: We Need Healing, Not Division

Finally, what this highly diverse state needs is a healing of the suffering everyone has endured at the hands of faulty state policies: high taxes, ridiculous regulations, public-employee union control of the Legislature, rampant deficit spending, and a refusal to fix the schools through more competition.
The most effective solutions are those that advance the fortunes of everybody. As President Ronald Reagan, also a governor of this state, liked to put it, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
By contrast, this reparations package of bills looks to get rid of the water seeping into the boat by shooting holes in the boat’s bottom.
John Seiler

John Seiler


John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at and his email is

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