July 5, 2007

City of San Leandro and Housing Discrimination

On May 31, 2007, the San Leandro City Council's Human Relations Committee released a draft document entitled, "Chronology of City of San Leandro’s Efforts to End to [sic] Housing Discrimination and Promote Community Diversity." The document details the city's attempts to address the discrimination and segregation that became synonymous with San Leandro from the 1950s to the 1970s. According to a June 2, 2007, article in the Daily Review, the document was prompted in part by San Leandro resident Brian Copeland's memoir "Not a Genuine Black Man," which chronicles Copeland's experiences as a child growing up in a city where black people were unwelcome.

The earliest city action in the document is July 8, 1968, when the City Council adopted a policy on Community Relations and Responsibilities. However, as detailed in American Babylon, San Leandro actively became a segregated community after World War II:

Immediately after the war, San Leandro residents erected a figurative white wall along the city's border with Oakland. M. C. Friel and Associates, a Hayward real estate firm with expertise in racial covenants, became the East Bay's leading consultant on shoring up segregation. In 1947 Friel developed a plan to place as much of San Leandro's residential property under restrictive covenants as possible, limiting future property sales to "members of the Caucasian race."

If there is any documented complicity by the City of San Leandro in establishing discriminatory policies, it remains well-hidden today. However, the actions of the business leaders and residents of the time are documented:

The San Leandro News-Observer reported in the autumn of 1947 that Friel outlined his "plan for protecting property values" in an address "before the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce," which concluded with "the board giving its approval of the program and authorizing that a letter of approval of his program be furnished Friel." In undisguised language the News-Observer announced that the "sudden increase in the East Bay Negro population" meant that "local neighborhoods are spontaneously moving to protect their property values and calling upon Friel's company to assist them."...These restrictions enjoyed official local support through the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce and city council...

Many homeowners associations, few of which are thriving today, were a part of the effort to seal off San Leandro's borders to African Americans:

Already known in the East Bay for designing racial covenants that could survive close legal scrutiny, Friel responded to the Court's landmark decision by reconfiguring San Leandro's covenant agreements into "neighborhood protective associations," pseudo-corporations of homeowners that could legally select acceptable home buyers through "corporation contract agreements" as long as "race and creed" were not taken into account.

As noted by Copeland in the Daily Review article, the chronology developed by the City fails to include any information about its complicity in the housing discrimination that was implemented in San Leandro after World War II.

Some of this history still struggles to be told. At the September 20, 2005, meeting of the San Leandro Library-Historical Commission, Library Services Director David Bohne announced, "I just met this afternoon with the City Manager at my office. We're going to move ahead with a book on San Leandro history.... Hopefully it will done around June of next year and kind of tie in a little bit too with our celebration of 100 years." A writer was contracted to write an outline for the book, but when the writer submitted an outline that included a section on housing discrimination in San Leandro, the project was canceled.

Despite its history of housing discrimination, according to the 2000 census, San Leandro is now a diverse community, with whites comprising just over 50% of the population, Asians 23%, Hispanics 20% and African Americans 10%.

Posted by Mike Katz-Lacabe at July 5, 2007 6:37 PM | TrackBack
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