In Deed

Marina Camacho will be sworn in as Monterey County’s next assessor/clerk-recorder. “Times have changed in terms of diversity and ownership of property,” she says of the need to update outdated, restrictive, racist language. “It’s a very important project.”

For years, racist housing deeds and covenants explicitly banned people of color from living in certain housing tracts and certain neighborhoods all over the country, including in Monterey County.

Assistant County Planner Taylor Price says housing deeds found in places like Salinas, Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach explicitly banned Chinese and Japanese people from living in certain neighborhoods. A sample deed from Pacific Grove the Weekly reported on in 2013 read, “The premises herein described… shall not be in any manner used or occupied by Asiatics or Negroes;… [buyers] agree not to sell or lease the said property… excepting to persons belonging to the Caucasian race; and agree not to lease, sell… to any person born in the Turkish empire, nor to any lineal descendant… except that persons of said races may be employed as household servants.”

While discriminatory language like this is now illegal, in many places, it is still on the books. Passed into law last year, California Assembly Bill 1466 seeks to rectify that by requiring local governments to remove racist language from housing deeds and property records.

On Oct. 4, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors agreed to take a step beyond the new law’s requirements, and to work toward creating an educational project that will outline the history of housing covenants and segregated housing in the county.

“It’s really important because residents oftentimes don’t realize that these covenants affected communities and how they look,” Price says. “Awareness is one of those first steps to get people to make significant changes to their lives.”

Price expects that it will take the county’s Recorder’s Office about four to five years to locate racist language used in deeds stretching back to the 1860s across the county. For historical purposes, the original unedited copies will be kept on file, as well as the updated editions.

Price is part of a multi-agency county group – including the Clerk/Recorder’s Office, the Housing and Community Development Department and the County Health Department – that is now working on a project to research the history of racist housing covenants and segregated housing in Monterey County. Beyond developing that work, a critical step will be sharing it with the public in order to not just educate, but to “keep us on a more equitable course going forward,” Melanie Beretti, the principal planner for the county, told the board before they voted on Oct. 4.

Price and other members of the group were inspired by Marin County’s Restrictive Covenant Project, that county’s response to AB 1466, which pulled research from multiple county agencies to create a history of discriminatory housing practices in Marin County. That includes an interactive map that shows the location of subdivisions which had racist housing covenants.

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Marin County’s project goes beyond just reflecting on the past and goes on to address the effects of those housing covenants on contemporary housing inequity issues in the county, including the lack of affordable housing, generational wealth inequities and zoning issues.

“It’s kind of the long-lasting effects of red-lining from 80 to 90 years ago. It’s amazing what resides with us in terms of policy from that long ago,” says Jodi Olson, the chief deputy recorder-county clerk for Marin County.

Price says Monterey County’s project could potentially include similar information to Marin’s, but since the effort is just beginning, they haven’t gotten that far.

Explicitly racist housing covenants that prevent people of certain ethnicities from living in certain housing have been banned by federal law for decades. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1948 ruled in the case Shelly v. Kraemer that housing covenants banning people of a certain race were unenforceable. Then the Civil Rights Act of 1968 forbade property owners from refusing to sell or rent housing to people based on their race, color, religion or place of national origin. More recent regulations include bans on explicitly discriminating against LGBTQ+ people.

Even with prohibitions on exclusionary language, effects of the past still linger today.

“Who you are and where you live matters in terms of your overall health. Things that happened decades ago, we’re still seeing the results of it,” says Vicente Lara, the Health In All Policies director for the county Health Department. “The way communities developed over time, the built environment, was really laid decades ago and we’re still seeing the results of the disproportionate allocation of resources to those communities’ health.”

Lara hopes that the project will help people realize that these disparities didn’t just pop up overnight, and that county leaders can look to the group’s work to understand and address the current housing crisis by understanding its historical roots.

“As local leaders make decisions as to how to address the housing crisis, I think it’s important they have this information to inform them about how to make housing more equitable,” Lara says. “Hopefully this can add to the conversation so we don’t continue with some of these disparities that we’ve seen.”

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