Hundreds of Black and Mexican Families File Racial Reparations Claim Against City of Palms Springs

Hundreds of Black and Mexican Families File Racial Reparations Claim Against City of Palms Springs

On: November 30, 2022

Palm Springs has a problem.

A square mile east of downtown Palm Springs is an area known as Section 14. While it is presently owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and its members, it was for decades the only place Black and Mexican Americans could build homes due to racially restrictive covenants prohibiting people of color from living in white neighborhoods.

But over a 10-year span from the late 1950s through 1967 as the city of Palm Springs sought to secure the prime downtown real estate, officials hatched a plan to demolish Section 14 for the purposes of developing it into more lucrative commercial enterprises.

In carrying out the plan, evictions were issued, and the city hired contractors to bulldoze the privately-owned houses, often with personal property and belongings inside, and then the city sent the Palm Springs Fire Department to burn the destruction. Black and Mexican residents were often forced to flee Section 14 with only what they could carry.

This week in Los Angeles, hundreds of Black and Mexican families forcibly and illegally evicted by the City of Palm Springs from their privately-owned houses in the Section 14 neighborhood in the 1950s and 1960s, announced the filing of an amended claim that asserts Palm Springs caused up to $2 billion in harm to the families.

The action comes 14 months after the city formally apologized to the survivors for its horrific behavior – apologized but remained silent and largely disengaged.

“This was an atrocity,” said attorney Areva Martin, who represents the Section 14 families. “Until now it has largely been a shameful secret confined to the city limits of Palm Springs, but “Section 14” should be mentioned alongside Tulsa, Rosewood, and Bruce’s Beach. Palm Springs literally bulldozed and burned out its Black and Latino residents because it wanted the land where they lived.

Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton has publicly stated that the city had an obligation to those who were displaced, “but” she added, “also to its residents, businesses and taxpayers, to thoroughly investigate the history as it develops remedial programs that are fair to everyone.”

The Section 14 families retained renown reparations expert, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, noted economist, Cal State LA Dean of Ethnic Studies, author, and president emeritus of Bennett College, to conduct a preliminary harm assessment on their behalf. Her calculations estimate the damages caused by the city of Palm Springs to survivors and their descendants to fall between $400 million to $2 billion dollars. To reach this figure, Dr. Malveaux utilized a model widely employed by economists when calculating destruction to communities caused by natural disasters such as wildfires, neighborhoods and tornados, or other calamities that have obliterated entire neighborhoods.

Just last week the city posted a request for proposals to research the historical context of the displaced residents and assist the city in developing a reparations program to address those affected. That process alone was estimated to take a year.

“To be clear: there has been no restitution, no assistance, no help – only fear, intimidation and fire,” Martin said. “These facts are not in dispute. So, it is unconscionable that Palm Springs is not engaging with all its energy on making these families whole. How much longer should they wait? Many of the survivors of these events are in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. They can’t wait.”

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