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California reparations bills clear first state Senate hearings. 'It's what is owed'

Darrell Smith, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO — Reparations bills to fund reparations policy and tackle past racially motivated eminent domain that took property from and displaced Black Californians sailed through their first hearings this week at the state Capitol.

The bills are part of the historic 2024 Reparations Priority Bill Package introduced in February by the California Legislative Black Caucus.

“This is a debt that is owed to the people who helped build this country. Reparations is a debt owed to the descendants of slavery,” said the bills’ author, state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, vice chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus.

Bradford also sat on the first-in-the-nation California Reparations Task Force to advance the case for reparations to California descendants of enslaved Black people.

“This is not a handout or a charity of any sort,” Bradford said Tuesday. “It’s what is owed, what is promised, what is 160 years overdue.”

The historic toll of eminent domain — government’s taking of private property for public use — on California’s Black communities and Black Californians’ generational wealth is behind Bradford’s Senate Bill 1050, which passed with a 6-1 vote in the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

 

The bill creates a pathway to return land or provide restitution to Californians who have had their land or property taken by the state or local government for racially motivated reasons, Bradford said. It will also create a way for the state to review claims of abuse and determine whether compensation is warranted.

“The power of eminent domain has been repeatedly used to move Black and brown people off their land, to destroy homes and to devastate the opportunity for families to build generational wealth,” Bradford said.

Between 1949 and 1973, as America’s white middle class had taken flight, 992 cities displaced 1 million people through eminent domain, according to Eminent Domain and African Americans, a 2007 report for the Institute for Justice. Two-thirds were Black.

“How do we heal harm like that? We provide compensation and we give land back,” testified Kavon Ward, founder of Los Angeles-based Where Is My Land?, an organization that supports Black people in their quest to reclaim land taken through eminent domain and other racially motivated policy.

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