City moving forward with Section 14 reparations discussion following meeting with direct survivors, Black community members this week

Palm Springs will join the state and national conversation on reparations next week, focusing on making amends for atrocities that occurred in the city more than 60 years ago.

Driving the news: Land belonging to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is spread out like a checkboard throughout the city, divided into one-square-mile sections. One of the sections — Section 14 — is in a prime downtown location and contains not only a sacred place for the tribe — hot water springs at the center of their culture — but resorts that provide vital tourism revenue to the city.

  • Prior to a 1959 leasing act, the tribe allowed working class families to lease property and build homes on the land. Most of the families were minorities, including a majority of the city’s Black community whose members were not allowed to rent or own homes elsewhere in the city.
  • White business owners, now allowed to secure 99-year leases, looked to develop Section 14. They created a system of court-appointed conservators to manage the finances of individual Agua Caliente tribal members, then set about terminating land leases for families and evicting them, often forcibly, from the land.
    • “[T]he City, acting upon the [eviction] permit, would burn down or destroy the dwelling in question any time it had received the permit without actually checking to see whether the time prescribed in the eviction notice had expired.” — Loren Miller Jr., assistant attorney general for the State of California

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Flash forward to 2021: Elected officials issued a formal apology and voted to move forward with removing the statue of the mayor at the time from in front of City Hall. They also asked staff to explore reparations for surviving members of families who were kicked out.

  • Reparations in Palm Springs are not directly associated with conversations happening at both the state and federal level.

What to do: City staff issued a report — available here — after meeting with representatives from the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood, an organization representing 120 known Section 14 descendants, and others on Monday.

  • In a letter sent Thursday, attorneys for the Section 14 descendants proposed that the city make payments to direct survivors, and build housing and access to education for descendants, as well as “the community at large.”
    • From the staff report: “During the conversation, the Community Group expressed a desire that the City focus its efforts on first providing direct payments to Relocatees (who actually lived on Section 14), as opposed to focusing on housing and other programs related to reparations.”
    • From the attorneys: “We believe that only an integrated and carefully structured program involving both concepts will truly remove this stain on the City’s history.”

Next steps: The City Council will discuss the issue at its next meeting on April 21 (it’s item 3A here) and is expected to direct staff how to proceed.

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