As part of its campaign against UC Regent Ward Connerly’s Racial Privacy Initiative, the Santa Barbara County Human Relations Commission hosted a public forum yesterday at noon in the Santa Barbara Public Library.

The Coalition for an Informed California (CFIC) was formed specifically to lobby against the initiative. The Human Relations Commission, which is charged by the County Board of Supervisors with eliminating intolerance and discrimination in the county, held the forum as an attempt to educate the public about the initiative.

“We held the meeting to form a base in the community to lobby to have our assembly member oppose this,” County Administrator Keith Davis said.

The initiative – which will likely appear on the ballot next spring as the Classification by Race, Ethnicity, Color or National Origin – would prohibit all state and public agencies from classifying people by race. The initiative contains exemptions for law enforcement agencies and medical research patients, but opponents claim the wording of these exemptions does not fully protect the groups it was meant to.

Ed Lee, a representative of the CFIC, spoke at the meeting.

“With this initiative, law enforcement can use racial statistics, but they are not compelled to share this information, giving them a license to racially profile people,” Lee said.

Lee also said the initiative would hinder the state’s ability to track hate crimes.

At the meeting, there was discussion on how the initiative would impact the medical industry. Local attorney and California Coastal Commissioner Pedro Nava distributed a pamphlet of statistics from a speech Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante gave to the California Chamber of Commerce on April 9, 2003. The statistics described the different ways diseases impact different races.

Other topics mentioned were the impact of this initiative on hiring practices and the progress of minorities in school.

“Without statistical information that tracks how minority children are doing in school, information will be reduced to anecdotal rather than scientific evidence. This is anti-scientific,” Nava said.

Connerly, who seven years ago sponsored Propostition 209, which ended Affirmative Action, sponsors this initiative as an effort to create a colorblind society.

“The U.S. Census Bureau now has 63 categories for race,” Connerly said. “Are we still living in a society where we believe in racial purity?”

Some controversy has risen because Connerly has not released the names of all of his campaign donors. The recently deceased conservative brewer and businessman Joseph Coors made a contribution to the campaign before his death. In accordance with California law, as part of a political campaign Connerly must release the names of all donors who give $100 dollars or more. A rival campaign on the initiative is considering filing a lawsuit.

“That is a distraction, a red herring,” Connerly said. “Nobody on that side released the names of their donors.”