Women Representation in Local Government and Leadership Positions in Contra Costa County, California

The mission of the Contra Costa County Women's Commission (CCCW) is to “improve the economic status, social welfare, and overall quality of life of women in Contra Costa County.” In addition to the five elected officials of the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, six other key county leaders who hold department head positions are elected through countywide elections. It is clear that representation matters when it comes to race or gender determining whether an elected official will promote racial or gender justice. In three counties (San Mateo, Sonoma, and Marin), the entire Board of Supervisors (plus the DA) is white, although whites represent 40 percent of San Mateo County, 64 percent of Sonoma County, and 71 percent of Marin County. This means that, in a region of 7.8 million people, nearly 330,000 people of color live in cities or towns that lack elected officials of color to represent their interests.

The most substantial changes in political representation occurred at the municipal level, including several changes in cities with the highest overrepresentation of whites and the greatest underrepresentation of Latinos, APIs, and blacks. In Sonoma County, where there are also a quarter of Latinos, there are no Latinos in the county's top elected offices. The CCCW was created to educate the community and advise the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on issues related to the changing social and economic conditions of women in the county, with special emphasis on economically disadvantaged people. Santa Clara elected a South Asian city council member (immigrant) (Raj Chahal in the district and Sunnyvale elected a Chinese-born American city council member (Mason Fong in the third seat, believed to be the youngest person ever elected to the council at 27), but whites are still very overrepresented on both councils (representing six out of seven members) in cities that are only 33 percent white.

Bay Area funders and policy makers must address these barriers and promote changes in policies and programs that result in more candidates from underrepresented communities being elected to elected office in cities and counties, especially in communities where people of color are highly underrepresented. To ensure that the region's diversity is truly reflected in local elected offices, it is necessary to reform campaign and election funding, invest in programs that help people of color run for elected office, and increase initiatives to achieve voter participation. The city of Pittsburgh, in eastern Contra Costa County, has more black representation than any other city in the Bay Area. As the diversity of the Bay Area continues to grow and APIs and Latinos constitute an increasing majority of the population, greater inclusion in local government is critical to democratic and responsive governance.

Keep in mind that in this analysis we focused on notable changes in the offices elected by cities, while in the Atlas, the data for cities includes elected officials from municipalities and counties (supervisors and district directors), since elected officials from the respective counties also represent residents of the municipalities of those respective counties. In western Contra Costa, for example, the city of Hercules is almost majority (48 percent) API but only the mayor is API. And when marginalized communities gain representation in the corridors of power, they can feel less abandoned, gain trust in government, and have a greater sense of belonging. It is evident that having more people from diverse backgrounds represented in public office is essential for creating equitable policies.

To achieve this goal it is necessary to reform campaign and election funding as well as invest in programs that help people from underrepresented communities run for office. Additionally initiatives should be taken to increase voter participation so that everyone's voice can be heard. It is only through these measures that true representation can be achieved.

Myrtle Seen
Myrtle Seen

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