During this unprecedented moment in history, Tracy Zhu has been thinking a lot about what it means to be a public servant and what she can do for San Francisco and the Bay Area at this inflection point.
On a normal day, Zhu, Social Impact Partnership (SIP) Manager, is part of the SFPUC’s External Affairs team and spearheads the agency’s SIP program to build healthy and vibrant communities through internship at the social impact firm’s job sites, scholarships for academic enrichment, and programs that remove barriers to employment in the trades. The program focuses on creating effective partnerships so that SFPUC consultants and contractors can help meet the needs of schools and nonprofit organizations. Zhu also coordinates SFPUC’s involvement with the City’s Office of Racial Equity initiatives to advance that racial equity and inclusion from a department level.
Zhu recently supported the racial equity and inclusion work at the City’s emergency operations center (EOC). Zhu shared that the EOC has been activated and scaled even higher than the City’s response to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. She said that for the first time, a new team has been developed at the EOC: Equity Officer and Equity Team.
“This is the first time ever that there’s been an Equity Officer at the EOC,” she shared. “Since we are building the bike as we go, Shakirah Simley [also the first Director of the City’s Office of Racial Equity] has us identify equity gaps that have been lifted up by communities and document policies and recommendations that have been passed or that we are advocating for to be able to share with policymakers across the country.”
Zhu shared she believes San Francisco is at the leading edge and other cities and states are close behind asking for recommendations in this area. “The role of the Equity Team in an emergency situation is absolutely crucial because the EOC can easily replicate the racial inequitable behavior that we see in our current government,” said Zhu. “Our role is to observe, assess, and identify gaps in order to make recommendations for systems change, especially for populations that are considered vulnerable.” In addition to COVID-19 positive individuals, other vulnerable populations include elders, limited English proficiency populations, people who live in congregate or cramped settings, unsheltered people, Asian, African American, Latinx and Samoan communities.
Zhu shared that to create sustainability and systems change, the Equity Team’s job is to facilitate functions within the EOC on solutions that would work for the most vulnerable. Equity Team team members bring with them a multitude of community connections, language abilities, policy competencies and lived experiences. Zhu said that team members are not speaking on behalf of the community, but they act as a resource to ground-truth what is being said about the community through their connections with community-based organizations.
Zhu reflected that she has had the opportunity to work with colleagues from across the City and County of San Francisco along with talented team members from the SFPUC. “These colleagues have contributed to the City’s response in this crisis,” she shared. She looks forward to working with others that will continue to rise to the occasion and serve the City, especially the most vulnerable.