Mapping a Course for Equity in San Mateo

Many organizations have made statements about furthering equity, diversity, and inclusion.  But only a few engage in the hard work of committing to a meaningful, comprehensive framework that to core programs.  Kudos to the City/County Association of San Mateo (C/CAG) for recently completing a very practical Equity Framework.

The Framework includes 7 goals that will result in 14 outcomes and 36 specific actions across the $35 million in programs that C/CAG invests annually in transportation, stormwater, energy, climate, and general regional governance.


The plan was developed over the course of 20 months and included deep involvement from both the community and the board of directors. Central to these conversations were the members that represented groups and populations from Equity Focus Areas (EFAs), which were defined as areas with significant disparities. A draft of the Framework was also reviewed by a Peer Group of other public agency representatives from communities within and outside of California.

Identifying Community Context

One element of the Framework that demonstrates the attention to detail is the review of discrimination and racism over the history of the San Mateo County, including the construction of Highway 101 that isolated the less-affluent, racially diverse community of East Palo Alto.

Reviewing Agency Context

Another unique element of the Frameworks is a self-analysis of C/CAG’s strengths and weaknesses to be a county leader on equity.  On the strengths side was C/CAG’s role as a countywide funder and influencer that enjoyed broad public participation across the county. C/CAG had also led many projects that already incorporated elements of the framework.

But three main gaps were also identified. The first was related to the nature of the entity itself: that program funding was often intermittent and when received, was passed through to other agencies (making it more difficult to prioritize equity). Second, the advancement of equity within C/CAG’s programs, board, staff, and procurement was uneven.  Finally, several key groups  populations were under-represented populations on its C/CAG committees.

Equity Defined

The term equity was defined in the process as acknowledging historic and existing disparities. Race, class, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, or similar status should not determinative of economic, health, and quality of life outcomes. Different people have different starting points.  An equitable system entails removing systemic barriers and providing customized forms of engagement and support for affected communities to remedy past harms and underinvestment.

The Primary Framework

The Framework creates more inclusion and fairness into the C/CAG’s governance structure.  The Framework focuses on two main ideas: ensuring everyone has a say (process equity) and making sure the results benefit these communities (outcome equity).

  • Embed Equity. Embed equity in the scope, direction, and approach of each project, program or activity to achieve desired outcomes and metrics.  To assist, C/CAG adapted an equity assessment tool. (See Appendix VII)
  • Include voices from Equity Focus Areas. Within identified geographies and populations, work with community organizations and leaders at the beginning and throughout the process.
  • Identify potential inequities at the outset and review the benefits and burdens of the project and its alternatives.
  • Decision-Making. Finalize strategies based the equity goals, outcomes, and performance measures.
  • Listen, Reflect, Report, and Iterate. Obtain perspective from equity stakeholders for improvements, evaluate process and outcome effectiveness to develop lessons learned and report that information out.

This approach underscores C/CAG’s commitment to economic justice, community trust, and informed policymaking, marking a strategic emphasis on equity to better serve the county’s diverse populations.

A Benchmark

This Equity Framework is more than a set of policies; it’s a living guide for C/CAG’s efforts to foster a fairer San Mateo County.  As such, it’s poised to serve as a benchmark for others.

Action Plan Goals

  • Goal 1: Create and maintain internal equity reporting, feedback, coordination, and collaboration structures
  • Goal 2: Continually strengthen and maintain internal organizational understanding, resources, and capacity
  • Goal 3: Promote economic justice and shared prosperity through procurement opportunities
  • Goal 4: Infuse a pro-equity approach in projects, programs, plans, and funding calls to maximize benefits for Equity Focus Area geographics and demographics
  • Goal 5: Build and maintain trust, transparency, and lasting relationships with EFA CBOs and leaders and the populations they serve
  • Goal 6: Use data and mapping to track and help achieve goals and intended outcomes
  • Goal 7: Provide countywide leadership
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