TAKOMA PARK — After residents voiced concerns about the potential impact of a proposed development in Takoma Park on the City’s minority community, Mayor Kate Stewart said she is still committed to racial equity as the City Council weighs the issue.
Introduced in April 2017 and sponsored by Council member Jarrett Smith (Ward 5), the Racial Equity Lens establishes that the Council consider the impact each project or resolution would have on minority groups in the city by including a Racial Equity Impact Statement on all agenda items discussed by the Council.
“We are committed as a city to work on racial equity and to apply a racial equity framework to the work we are doing in the city,” Stewart told the Sentinel.
Over the course of the City Council’s meetings on May 16 and May 23, numerous residents voiced their concerns that the council did not undertake a thorough-enough study examining the impact of the Takoma Junction Redevelopment, a proposed development.
“Typically, a racial equity assessment runs to 20 pages or more … Here’s what needs to happen, historical research, patterns of land use and property ownership, statistical surveys, how exactly citizens of color navigate the city, where people live, where they work … and how they socialize … and lastly, targeted outreach.” said Dara Orenstein, a Ward 2 resident and American Studies professor at George Washington University.
During the May 16 meeting, Stewart, who is serving her second term since first being elected mayor in 2015, suggested that she and the other council members consider “leaving off” the Racial Equity Impact Statement from the agenda items, saying council members may have “gotten ahead” of themselves.
“We as a council decided to move forward with it because we said it was so important for us at each of our meetings when we’re discussing an issue to have top of mind who we are serving and who is left behind,” Stewart said. “That was the big question this Racial Equity Statement, not study, was to do.”
A week later, at the May 23 meeting, Cynthia Mariel, a Takoma Park resident, responded, saying she was “astounded” at Stewart’s comments and asking if it was legal for the council to “pick and choose” which resolutions would fall under the Racial Equity Impact Statement.
During the same meeting, the mayor echoed her commitment to the Racial Equity Lens and issued an apology, saying: “If I misspoke last week, I apologize … I, in no way, meant to say we were abandoning this.”
“What I meant to say was I heard very clearly how we missed the mark on the statement we had prepared on Takoma Junction and that, given how difficult this work is, I wanted to make sure, if we needed to, took a step back and re-thought how in this case we were applying the Racial Equity Framework that we have put in place,” she added.
Stewart explained that she and the City Council went through a training program on racial equity with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) on how to implement a Racial Equity Lens on city legislation, adding Friday that, “We knew that it would take us time to implement and that we would need to, at various points, step back reevaluate how we’re doing the work.”
The mayor added that since the “Racial Equity Statement is not a study but a statement and has scarce data, the initiative would also have limitations.
“Given the size of our city and the data that are available, we sometimes don’t have everything we wish we had in order to fully inform the Racial Equity Impact statement.”
According to GARE, 109 counties and municipalities across the United States have adopted Racial Equity Lens resolutions.