EJS and Proposition 16—The Repeal of Prop. 209

EJS has been fighting for what would become Proposition 16 for almost two decades.

In 2005, we helped lead one of the first efforts to consider repealing Proposition 209 through a statewide coalition of civil rights advocates, community organizations, research centers, academics, scholars and students assessing the impact of Proposition 209 on individuals, society, and the economy of California.

The coalition included Impact Fund/Discrimination Research Center, UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UC Davis, Hastings College of Law, Power PAC, National Economic Development & Law Center, Chinese for Affirmative Action, The Applied Research Center, the Greenlining Institute, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and AGENDA L.A.

EJS coordinated convenings in 2006 of the statewide coalition in Berkeley and Los Angeles and a labor and employment symposium on Prop. 209 at UCLA in 2007, followed by polling research in 2009 by Lake Research Partners and Westen Strategies. In 2010, we convened an exploratory committee for a potential repeal of Prop. 209 on the 2012 ballot.

We helped secure a victory in 2013 for business owners of color by beating back a lawsuit by Associated General Contractors seeking to invalidate the California Department of Transportation’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program​. We battled Ward Connerly’s claims in 2012 that the new California Citizens Redistricting Commission ​violated Prop. 209.

In 2015, we worked with Assemblymember David Chiu and others on a legislative hearing on the impact of Prop. 209 on California MWBEs (Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises), based on an EJS report revealing that MWBEs lost an estimated one billion dollars annually because of Prop. 209. In 2014, then-Senator Ed Hernandez introduced SCA 5 to partially repeal Prop. 209 – a legislative effort derailed by opposition led by fringe conservative​ Asian American organizations.

EJS laid the foundation for the current effort to repeal Prop. 209 in February 2019 when the San Francisco Foundation’s CEO Fred Blackwell and Judith Bell indicated the interest of the foundation to fund polling on affirmative action. After conducting polling in the summer showing there was a pathway to repealing Prop. 209, we reached out to Assemblymember Shirley Weber and partnered with her to bring the issue of the repeal to the legislature.  We were also approached by Maureen Simmons from the University of California Student Association and learned that UC students were also working to repeal Prop. 209.

With Assemblymember Weber’s strong commitment and favorable polling data, EJS began to assemble the elements needed to place a repeal of Prop. 209 on the ballot for the November 2020 election. At that time, we were met with intense skepticism that the California electorate was ready to confront systemic racism at the ballot box. We did not have time to put this on the ballot through a signature gathering campaign, so we took the more arduous path of getting a two-thirds vote from the California Assembly and Senate. We were repeatedly told that this could never be accomplished. We persisted.

EJS started discussions with the Black, Latino, and Asian American legislative caucuses. We enrolled allies in the cause and started building the team necessary for such a significant undertaking, starting with Vincent Pan of Chinese for Affirmative Action​, 50+1 Strategies LLC, James C. Harrison of Olson Remcho​​, and Annie Eagan Consulting.

Fueled only by the vision of success, EJS funded all the costs associated with ramping up what would become the grassroots campaign to pass ACA 5, the bill authored by Assemblymembers Weber, Gipson and Santiago, and co-authored by Assemblymembers Burke, Cooper, Gonzalez, Holden, Jones-Sawyer, Kamlager, Kalra, McCarty, Stone, Wicks, and Senators Bradford, Mitchell, Hueso, and Skinner.

At the time ACA 5 was announced in early March, we could not have foreseen the magnitude of events about to happen with the COVID-19 pandemic and the May 25 horrific murder of George Floyd.

Through numerous hearings in both houses of the state Legislature, the campaign continued to grow thanks to the leadership of co-chairs Eva Paterson and Vincent Pan; ballot committee board members Quinn Delaney and Walter Wilson; coalition steering committee members Paul Guerrero, Lisa Holder, Parshan Khosravi, Salih Muhammad, Schenae Rourk, Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, Dr. Elisha Smith Arrillaga, Julie M. Waters, Assemblymember Weber, Joey Williams, BOE Member Malia Cohen, Andy Wong; and the team at 50+1 Strategies LLC.

ACA 5 was endorsed by more than 500 organizations and leaders, including California Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, California Governor Gavin Newsom, California Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis, U.S. Representative Karen Bass, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee, California State Board of Equalization Member Malia Cohen, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, California State Controller Betty Yee, former California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, Insurance Commissioner of California Ricardo Lara, and Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs.

The bill was also endorsed by groups including: SEIU California, ACLU of California, United Farm Workers (UFW), AFSCME Local 3299, San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council, Cesar Chavez Foundation, Dolores Huerta Foundation, California Black Chamber of Commerce, California Climate Change & Agriculture Network, California Federation of Teachers, California Labor Federation, California Teachers Association, California National Organization for Women, California/Hawaii State Conference NAACP, Chinese for Affirmative Action, Equal Justice Society, The Education Trust – West, and the University of California Student Association.

The Assembly passed ACA 5 on a bipartisan 60-14 vote.

The Senate passed the bill on a bipartisan 30-10 vote.

The Secretary of State qualified the ballot measure as Proposition 16 on July 1.

The Equal Justice Society has been working on Proposition 16 for almost two decades. It has been a long and grueling battle, and we need your help to reinstate affirmative action and end systemic racism here in California? Add your name right now to join the fight.​​​​​