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SLO finalizes Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force

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A dozen local residents were selected on Sept. 1 to serve as members of the city of San Luis Obispo's new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force, which will meet over the next few months to brainstorm policies and programs to support underrepresented community members.

EQUITY A newly assembled SLO city taskforce will begin discussing diversity, inclusion, and equity issues this month. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • EQUITY A newly assembled SLO city taskforce will begin discussing diversity, inclusion, and equity issues this month.

A SLO City Council steering committee of Mayor Heidi Harmon and Councilmember Erica Stewart reviewed 95 applications between July 13 and Aug. 3, conducted Zoom interviews, and pared the taskforce down to 12 members (plus Stewart).

Their list was unanimously approved by the council on Sept. 1.

"We're not going to solve racism in a couple of months," Stewart said at the meeting. "But I do hope we get to talk about how we can have anti-racist behavior here."

The task force includes eight SLO city residents—Amman Fasil Asfaw, Dusty Colyer-Worth, Katherine Soule, Matthew Melendrez, Maxine Kozler Koven, Oscar Velasco-Vargas, Renoda Campbell, and Vanessa Parsons—and four Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande residents—Jenell Navarro, M'Lynn Martin, Michael Boyer, and Noha Kolkailah.

Harmon said that SLO opened the process to the county in the spirit of inclusiveness, and that the members represent as much "depth and breadth of lived experiences as possible."

"It was definitely difficult to pare it down," Harmon told New Times. "It was a really great process. People were already sharing some great ideas."

The applications and interviews brought out a variety of personal experiences of racism in SLO County, Harmon said, which revealed just how much work the community has to do.

"It shouldn't be surprising that there's a significant amount of racism in our community and in our county, but that really makes it real," Harmon said. "We've heard a lot of comments lately, not just from the sheriff, but on social media, that there is no such thing as racism here. And we keep hearing that that's not the case."

The city first announced the task force in early June at the start of protests against police racism, setting aside $160,000 for diversity and inclusion in its 2020-21 budget. Since then, the call for local action amplified after the July arrest of Black protester Tianna Arata, who could face up to five felonies for alleged misconduct at a protest in the city.

Funded through January 2021, SLO's task force will make recommendations how to best use the allocated city funds and will set "target areas and priorities" for additional grant opportunities. It also could set the agenda for programs that the city could adopt if it makes diversity and inclusion a "major city goal" in its next budget cycle—something Harmon said she supports.

"All of the ideas shared and gathered in the context of this task force will not go unheard in that they will inform policy moving forward," Harmon said. Δ

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