Racist acts in Sonoma County and elsewhere continue. A new state law seeks to get rid of it

Black residents made up about 3,700 of the county’s voting-age population in 1957, though only a handful of families — three in Santa Rosa, one in Petaluma and one in Healdsburg — owned homes in Sonoma County, according to The report.

The report included specific instances of housing discrimination, including a time when a black woman named Mary Cleveland inquired about finding a home in Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa and was told by a real estate company that well that there were several houses available, they were located in a “very exclusive neighborhood where there were no minorities living and where there would be none.”

In another case, a county housing committee, called Housing for Everyone, found a man advertising lots in a leaflet on Petaluma Hill Road near Cotati as “restricted” in a San Francisco newspaper in 1959.

The report also highlighted instances of apparent discrimination in employment and education in Sonoma County, noting that there were significant numbers of black children enrolled in schools where neighborhoods have “been hospitable for their families, including the neighborhoods of Roseland, South Park and Bellevue. .

“Through reading this report, the interrelationships between the different discrimination issues begin to become evident,” the report says.

Stephen Menendian, deputy director of UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute, said there’s still a lot of unknowns about racial alliances.

Unlike redlining, a practice used by the federal government, as well as lenders, to restrict investment in neighborhoods based on demographics on a map, racial covenants remain buried in property titles. And the process of eradicating them takes a lot of time and money, said Menendian, who is also the institute’s research director.

Only in recent years have researchers been able to use geocoding technology to start large-scale projects related to race pacts, he added.

One such project came from the University of Minnesota.

Called “Mapping Prejudice,” it enlisted the help of more than 6,087 volunteers to sift through and transcribe more than 80,000 records, resulting in the creation of an interactive map of race alliances in Minnesota. So far, 26,000 race alliances have been located by the team in 33,000 hours.

Using this data, the researchers found that Minneapolis properties with racial covenants were worth, on average, 4% to 15% more than properties that were not covenants.

Menendian would have liked the California bill to include funding for such mapping projects.

“For 98% of the country, that (research) hasn’t been done yet,” he said. “That is my main criticism of this bill.”

A relic of legalized racism

Menendian also thinks the law will make such searches more expensive and time-consuming due to the amount of documents that will need to be re-filed and redacted in order to remove the restrictive covenants. This equates to more documents for researchers to sort through, he said.

“I think it focuses on white guilt. It makes no sense because these covenants are already unenforceable,” he said of the law. “The discomfort of having (alliances) there does not outweigh the ability of future scholars to compile this data.”

Cassidy Blackwell, who works in strategic communications at Airbnb, said she had mixed emotions after finding a covenant in the Forestville home she bought with her husband in 2020.

The couple found the wedding ring while going through the paperwork for a house on Green Valley Road, where they no longer live. Shocked by what she read, she said she started researching the practice to better understand its impact.

On the one hand, she felt empowered by the fact that she, a black woman, and her husband (her fiancé at the time) who is Jewish, were able to defy the restriction that once kept families like hers from to live on this earth.

But there was also the reality that she had just come face to face with a bitter relic from the days of legalized racism in America.

“For me to deal with this document and deal with this language was really traumatic as a black woman,” Blackwell said. “As a first-time owner, it forced me to acknowledge trauma.”

In Sonoma County, officials plan to rely on an outside character-recognition software company to search for the alliance language in approximately 24.2 million typed images containing information about acts of property, said Deva Proto, clerk, recorder, appraiser and registrar of Sonoma County. voters.

Handwritten documents will likely need manual review unless the county can identify software that can scan and search for specific text in handwritten files, Proto said. A county plan to track the requirements of the new law estimates that there are about 121,000 such images from 1899 or earlier.

A request for proposals seeking a supplier for the project is underway, Proto said.

The County Recorders Association of California is required to submit reports on the progress of each county’s engagement program to the state by January 1 and again two years later. A $2 registration fee authorized by the bill will help pay for additional work required by state law.

“It will be a significant amount of work, so this fee will help pay for vendor costs, staff time and county attorneys’ fees,” Proto said.

While the value of the law is debated, its impact on the real estate sector is already visible.

At First American Title in Petaluma, the state mandate resulted in notices to customers that explain their right to remove discriminatory language from deeds, said company spokesman Marcus Ginnaty. The company is the one that Santa Rosa owner Lindi says helped her through the final stages of buying her home.

No such form existed prior to arrival at AB 1466, Ginnaty said.

Lindi said she appreciates the advice, which has prompted questions about how such clauses have shaped her own neighborhood and the property values ​​of homes there, through the active exclusion of others.

“That stuff is just buried in our history,” Lindi said. “They’re integrated, and how much of that happens without notice or question? That’s a lot to root out.

You can contact editor Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or [email protected] On Twitter @nashellytweets.

About Stuart M. McFarland

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