Section 14 group updates claim against city, estimating billions in damages should be awarded

The claim is significantly higher than an original filing earlier this year. Attorneys note that 250 direct survivors and 100 descendants have been found so far. That number is expected to grow.
A city firefighter douses flames at the scene of a house fire in Section 14 in the 1960s. Hundreds of homes belonging to minority families were demolished after the city sought to “clean up” the area for development.

A group of survivors and descendants of those forcibly removed from their homes in the heart of Palm Springs in the 1950s and 1960s have filed an updated claim against the city seeking what could amount to billions in damages, it was announced during a news conference in Los Angeles Tuesday.

With Palm Springs Councilmember Christy Holstege and other politicians standing behind them, representatives of the Section 14 Survivors group said the move is necessary in order to push the city into action it promised last year after issuing a formal apology and promising reparations for its part in what the state said was a “city-engineered Holocaust.” Both sides hope to avoid dragging the issue into court.

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“That’s not the number that we’re necessarily asking for; that’s the number we come to the table with,” economist Julianne Malveaux told a local TV station at the event. “We’re asking for Palm Springs to deal with us in good faith.”

Section 14 — a 1-square-mile section of the city owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians — was the primary residential area for minority residents of the city from 1930 to 1965. They built hundreds of homes on leased land. But when white developers sought long-term leases to build on the land they also sought to push out the owners of those homes.

The evictions, which often used city resources, began in late 1954 and continued for 12 years through 1966. Those who lived through them recall coming home to find their belongings on the street and their homes on fire.

Palm Springs councilmember Christy Holstege appears in the background during a televised news conference held by the Section 14 Survivors group Tuesday in Los Angeles.

The updated claim of up to $2 billion is significantly higher than the original filing earlier this year. It’s not necessarily what the city might need to come up with, but comes after Malveaux was able to calculate the scope of the damage done to those who suffered following the evictions. To date, the updated filing notes 250 direct survivors and 100 descendants have been found. That number is expected to increase.

“Claimants’ losses were and are caused directly by the city’s illegal forcible removal from Section 14 and by its decades of denying, concealing, and conspiracy to deny responsibility and make Claimants whole,” attorneys for the Section 14 group wrote. “The city’s actions in minimizing and denying the harm has caused the exacerbation of Claimants’ emotional distress, trauma, pain, suffering, anguish, fright, horror, grief, anguish, shock, humiliation, and shame.”

In a prepared statement, Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton again apologized for the events at Section 14 and urged patience as city officials go through the lengthy process of determining compensation for those impacted by the events. On Nov. 21, the city posted a request for proposals from qualified firms to help develop a reparations program for those affected by the evictions. The proposals are due by 2 p.m. Dec. 20.

“Over the past two years, the City Council and staff have set out on a course aimed at making right what happened during that period,” a statement from Middleton read. “While this process may seem to be taking longer than some might like, the city has an obligation, not only to those who were displaced, but also to its residents, businesses and taxpayers, to thoroughly investigate the history as it develops remedial programs that are fair to everyone.”

Holstege, who served as mayor at the time the apology was issued and helped drive the discussion around reparations, acknowledged the city could hardly absorb a settlement that could run into the billions of dollars. Still, she does see a possible path forward.

“The city of Palm Springs has a $220 million annual budget,” Holstege told reporter Jake Ingrassia. “I think lifting this up to the statewide level and discussing ways that the state might be able to help fund this effort would be helpful.”

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