The city is in the process of updating its comprehensive plan, the document that regulates and guides the city’s approach to everything from transportation to public safety and housing.

City leaders, for the first time, are intent on incorporating safeguards against cultural bias into the comprehensive plan, which is poised to drive policy in Roswell through 2040.

At an Oct. 26 meeting, the City Council discussed the prospect of expanding the plan to include a full-scale examination process known as a racial equity impact assessment.   

“I am so proud to see the city moving forward with actually doing the work to end systemic racism rather than just paying it lip service,” Sandra Sidhom, a former Roswell mayoral candidate now living in Alpharetta, told council members. “We’re going to be highlighting and looking at these issues through a racial lens. We’re going to make sure that everybody has a voice, and everybody’s needs are considered, especially people of color.”

Updating the comprehensive plan is an extensive, multi-phased process that Roswell undergoes every five years. The last update came in 2016. The City Council must adopt the newest tweaks to the  plan by October 2021, according to state regulations.

This time around, an aspect of the updates will focus on staving off racial inequalities. That will come by virtue of analyzing proposed policies, programs, planning and budgetary decisions.

Zoning and land use regulations have historically been trouble spots where discriminatory practices flourished, according to city documents. Redlining was used as a tool to section off neighborhoods from certain ethnic groups. Meanwhile, a major drawback of fair housing is that regulations all but eliminate housing choice from the process for residents.

Sonja Trauss, executive director of a San Francisco-based nonprofit that focuses on making fair and affordable housing more accessible, told council members part of her mission includes integrating communities. She thanked the city investing in a policy initiative built to thwart discrimination.

“It really is a wonderful practice and it’s really wonderful that Roswell is doing this because you don’t have to,” she said. “It really does show a commitment to trying to make the world a better place.”

The city defined its proposed racial equity impact assessments as “a systematic examination of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by a proposed action or decision.”

Roswell plans to deploy the analyses as a tool to sniff out and minimize institutional practices that have unintended consequences that are detrimental to minority communities.

The first phase calls for reviewing the city’s comprehensive plan to identify racial or cultural bias and possibly adding new policies to foster equality. Phase two will be a diagnostic study of the city’s development codes to detect discriminatory language there. It will cost about $18,000 to implement those first two phases, which are short-term initiatives slated to be part of the updates for the 2040 comprehensive plan.

The final phase is a long-term goal. The city intends to develop a framework to conduct racial equity impact assessments on all future policy decisions.

Council members reached a consensus to set in motion phase one and two during a Sept. 30 Community Development and Transportation Committee meeting.

But during the Oct. 26 meeting, Councilman Marcelo Zapata proposed that the city start with phase three of the initiative.

“The frame goes first,” Zapata said. “If you don’t have a frame, how do you build a house? If you don’t have a frame, how do you build a car?”

Mayor Lori Henry said phase one has already been funded and is already underway.

Councilman Michael Palermo said the racial and cultural policy assessments can provide the city a “clear scope” and “big picture” perspective for their decisions.

“It sounds like every single person wants to make sure that this is step one and really making sure that we have that right first step so that we’re setting ourselves up for success in those next steps,” he said.

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