The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to both pass a resolution in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and to approve a budget that sets aside nearly $1 million to purchase 310 new Tasers for the county Sheriff's Office.
Before both decisions, the supervisors heard hours of public comments, during which numerous community leaders and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement argued that to vote for both was to support conflicting goals.
The resolution states that "The Board of Supervisors acknowledges that over the course of the past few weeks, we have been again reminded that police brutality and general disregard for Black people's lives is prevalent within the United States" and that "racial inequity remains prevalent in San Mateo County." The Board of Supervisors "declares its support of the Black Lives Matter movement and will work to continue to address the root causes of racial inequity in our community."
Policy priorities of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the movement's website, are to reduce funding for law enforcement, reinvest those funds into Black communities and curb the use of violence by law enforcement officials against Black people.
Ever Rodriguez, chairman of the North Fair Oaks Community Council, said that the community expects the supervisors' resolution to be supported by actions, including limiting the purchase of weapons like Tasers.
"Police brutality doesn't have a place in our society," he said.
San Mateo County, community members pointed out in public comments, has a troubled history with the "nonlethal" electrical weapons in 2018, three people died after Tasers were used on them within county limits: Chinedu Okobi in Millbrae, Ramzi Saad in Redwood City and Warren Ragudo in Daly City.
County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos responded to the public concerns by arguing that systemic racism exists in all of the community's institutions, not just law enforcement, and said calls to defund the police were "a knee-jerk reaction."
The Sheriff's Office has adopted six of the "8 Can't Wait" policing policies that have gained momentum in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing by a Minneapolis police officer last month. The office also provides implicit bias training, and has recently developed a new use of force policy, he said. Tasers, he argued, are one of a number of tools that officers use instead of deadly force.
The supervisors did not discuss Taser funding publicly before approving the county's preliminary $3.2 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The board previously voted to approve the measure to spend $922,000 to buy 310 new Tasers at its May 5 meeting.
Adopting the Black Lives Matter resolution symbolized the supervisors' commitment to antiracist policies, board president Warren Slocum said.
"It's not possible to have equity for all until Black lives matter," he said.
He presented an idea to start a new Office of Equity and Social Justice within the county, and asked the County Manager's Office to develop a plan to fund and staff it. That plan is intended to be discussed when the budget is up for scheduled revisions in September.
The county's two-year budget doesn't take into account many of the changes that have happened since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to a statement from the county.
The county has already spent about $169 million on its response to the pandemic, according to County Manager Mike Callagy. That includes about $2 million per month being spent on putting up unhoused individuals in hotels, $10 million for testing and $58 million on its emergency operations center.
Some of those expenses are expected to be reimbursed by state and federal agencies. The county is also grappling with a shortfall of about $109 million in reduced revenue due to the pandemic's economic impacts, including reductions in property taxes and sales taxes.
The board will hold a series of discussions to talk about how to balance the budget moving forward.