A nonprofit organization that works with the descendants of families whose land was wrongly taken is partnering with the local Section 14 Survivors group to formally call for reparations from the city for the forced evictions of Section 14 in the 1950s and 1960s. The organization, Where Is My Land, successfully helped descendants of the Bruce family reclaim their land and gain restitution for the piece of Manhattan Beach that the city seized by eminent domain in the 1920s.
At the center of the issue in Palm Springs is the forced removal of many minority families from a one-square-mile section of land in the heart of the city — known as Section 14 — following a 1959 federal act that allowed tribes to enter into 99-year leases. Business owners here sought those leases to develop the land and had court-appointed conservators manage the finances of individual tribal members. They then set about terminating land leases for families and evicting them from the land, often with little notice, if any.
Last year, Palm Springs elected and appointed officials issued a formal apology and voted to remove 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. Last week, city officials and representatives of the Section 14 Survivors and the city’s Black community met to discuss what those reparations will look like following the issuance of a staff report available here.
In a news release announcing the partnership Monday, Where Is My Land acknowledged the formal apology the city made last year, calling it long overdue. Still, they said, it will take far greater efforts to make full restitution to families who lost their homes in what a state official once called “a city-engineered Holocaust.”
“Representatives for the city of Palm Springs mentioned on a call last week that they’d like to be trailblazers as it relates to restorative justice for Section 14 Survivors,” said Kavon Ward, CEO of Where Is My Land. “If they’d really like to be trailblazers, they would pay the survivors the monetary restitution they are asking for. Instead they are trying to dictate and force upon the survivors what they deem to be reparations, questioning whether those survivors who have relocated, should be included in any settlement, despite the fact they were forced out.”
Pearl Devers, who helped form the Section 14 Survivors, said Monday that the survivors resent language in the staff report that appears to paint anyone who lived in Section 14 but has since left the city as outsiders.
“Give the people what they’ve been asking for,” she said by phone. “Stop trying to exclude those who were most impacted.”
The City Council will discuss the issue of reparations at its regular meeting this Thursday, and members of the Section 14 Survivors group will be in attendance. Ward expressed concerns that the mostly white City Council will dominate the conversation instead of listening to survivors and descendants.
“I have some words of wisdom for the city manager and the 99% white Palm Springs City Council,” Ward said. “Trying to stuff your version of redress down the survivors throats is not trailblazing. Instead, it perpetuates the typical hollow response in the long-standing, deep rooted harm done to so many Blacks across America.”
More information: The public is encouraged to sign up to make a public comment at Thursday’s meeting. Complete information on how to do that and how to attend or watch the meeting, is available here.