UC Berkeley project publishes list of Bay Area cities ranked by severity of segregation

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Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
The report found that East Palo Alto is the most segregated city in the Bay Area, followed by white suburbs, particularly those in Marin and San Mateo counties.

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The UC Berkeley Othering and Belonging Institute recently published a report ranking 101 Bay Area cities from most to least segregated.

The report, titled “The Most Segregated (and Integrated) Cities in the SF Bay Area,” is an addendum to the Racial Segregation in the San Francisco Bay Area project, a recently completed five-part series examining residential segregation within the Bay Area.

Launched in 2018, the project was conducted by Othering and Belonging Institute director of research Stephen Menendian, program manager Samir Gambhir, and fair housing coordinator Arthur Gailes.

“Our immediate purpose in this brief is to illustrate vividly patterns of segregation within the Bay Area utilizing compelling maps and data analysis, thereby drawing greater and more detailed attention to a problem that has remained stubbornly persistent,” the report states.

There are many forms of segregation that can affect communities, Menendian said. In the South, segregation was historically focused on public accommodations, such as bathrooms and bus seats. Segregation in the North, on the other hand, was predominantly residential. California has followed the North in this regard, he noted.

“California didn’t explicitly segregate parks and pools, but it used mechanisms to achieve the same result,” Menendian said. “Redlining prohibited African Americans from moving into certain neighborhoods, and that led to residential segregation.”

“The Most Segregated (and Integrated) Cities in the SF Bay Area” uses the “divergence index” to rank cities by their level of segregation. The divergence index measures segregation by comparing a local geography to a larger geography, Menendian said. 

East Palo Alto is the most segregated city in the region, the report found. According to Menendian, this is because redlining has prevented Black families from living in the surrounding suburbs, forcing them to settle in East Palo Alto. East Palo Alto eventually also experienced an influx of Hispanic residents, he added.

“It is now predominantly Hispanic, but still has a significant African American population, but it’s the most segregated city in the Bay Area because of its history — its racial history,” Menendian said.

Other than East Palo Alto, white suburbs are primarily the most segregated cities in the Bay Area with a heavy concentration in Marin and San Mateo counties, Menendian said.

The upper middle of the list significantly consists of “affluent exclusionary white suburbs” in counties such as Contra Costa and Alameda, he added.

According to Menendian, residential segregation is one of the root causes of racial inequity. Where people live determines the quality of their schools, their access to employment and their proximity to public transit. It also determines exposure to pollution and disease, he noted.

Menendian said he believes that, although residential segregation is a key component of racial inequality, it has been sidelined in conversations around race and equity.

“No matter how much we reform the police or health care, we will never achieve racial justice in a segregated society — and that’s true for the Bay Area as well,” Menendian said.

Contact Kelly Suth at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @kellyannesuth.