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A house overlayed with image of racially restrictive covenants, an advertisement from 1910 and the title that reads Restricted:
Tony Zuniga

The hidden history of racism in San Diego deeds

Speaker 1: (00:00)

We bring you the third and final part of our KPBS three part series on racial covenants, KPBS, race and equity reporter, Christina Kim examines, how people are reconciling the legacy of racial restrictions. Also why people are choosing to remove, or in some cases not removing the racial restrictions from their deeds.

Speaker 2: (00:23)

Everyone who has come into this house has had that moment where they walk in and they go, oh my God, it feels so good in here. Like, it feels like a sanctuary.

Speaker 3: (00:31)

And that's exactly what Kayana Beatty and Ken Zach's 1920 mission hill bungalow feels and smells like a sanctuary perfumed with Palo Santo and filled with plants and decorated and rich earth tones. But in 2019, they uncovered a hard truth about their dream home, a racially restrictive covenant attached to the original deed. It like so many other San Diego properties built in the early of 20 century barred nonwhite people from owning in their neighborhood

Speaker 4: (01:02)

At over this property. But this whole neighborhood has this restriction tied to it. But so to me, it was like

Speaker 3: (01:10)

Beatty is black and Zack is white. It felt wrong that the original deed to their shared home banned Beatty from living there, the U S Supreme court outlawed racially restrictive deeds in 1948. And there was an attachment to their deeds saying just that, but Batey and Zach wanted to take things a step further. They wanted any and all mentions of the restrictions struck from the document.

Speaker 4: (01:32)

I was a retired lawyer at the time. So I just Googled, um, you know, the, the statute and found it. And the statute is pretty clear on how you do it.

Speaker 3: (01:41)

The statute Zach is referring to is a law that was enacted in 2005. It gives California homeowners, the ability to cross out racially restrictive language from their deeds, Beatty, and Ken finish the process on the last day of 2020s, black history month, they immediately felt the difference.

Speaker 2: (01:59)

People might say, you know, oh, it's not enforceable. So what's the point in going through all the steps and doing this? Like, what does it really prove? And I like to say it felt like doing like the ultimate

Speaker 3: (02:09)

For them. It's not about forgetting, but creating a new foundation and future for their home. Not everyone in California. However, is eager to remove the racially restrictive covenants from their deeds.

Speaker 5: (02:19)

I want it to be last 20 years from now that this was a part of society and they say, be aware of history or forever be doomed.

Speaker 3: (02:28)

Michael, do you have El Sorito is a black homeowner who was one's mistaken for a gardener in his own El Sorito neighborhood. He's keeping the restrictive language on his deed and he's been able to use it to get his extended family, to talk about San Diego's racist history and the hurdles they faced. It's not been easy.

Speaker 5: (02:44)

You have to pull teeth to get your older relatives to talk about these things. And I think that's a piece of the trauma of it all. And it's like, rather than tackle it, head-on, we're just going to put it in the back.

Speaker 3: (02:56)

He understands why his grandfathers and family don't want to about it, but he also wants to make sure that the history is kept alive, especially as debates over suburbia, single family zoning and where to build affordable housing are once again, taking center stage at the local level. And as we saw during the 2020 presidential campaign at the national level,

Speaker 6: (03:17)

We will fight all of their lives to get into the suburbs and have a beautiful home. There will be no more low-income housing forced in to the suburbs,

Speaker 3: (03:27)

Racially, restrictive covenants, and other forms of housing discrimination are illegal now, but the ideas and language that normalize racial restrictions in the first place continue today.

Speaker 7: (03:38)

So a lot of NIMBY movements, not in my backyard movements, uh, where people are pushing back against changes that would make a neighborhood more accessible.

Speaker 3: (03:47)

That's Nancy, Kwak a UC San Diego historian. Often when local San Diegans talk about property values and their rights as homeowners. She hears the same logic that was used in the past to defend segregation

Speaker 7: (04:00)

Where I put my money and I saved my earnings. So therefore, this is something that I deserve.

Speaker 3: (04:07)

Quack says that while we no longer hear overt racist statements around housing, homeowners still feel it's their right to control who can, and can't live near them. That's why she and others emphasize the importance of seeing and understanding the connection between the racial covenants of last century and the housing issues of today. Could you speak at Kim KPBS news

Speaker 1: (04:30)

Last month, governor Newsome signed into law, new legislation that makes it even easier for Californians to find and redact racial restrictions. If you missed any part of KPBS is special three part series. You can catch up on kpbs.org.

Buried in the deeds of homes and subdivisions across San Diego County are racially restrictive covenants written in the early 20th Century that were meant to bar Black, Asian, Latino and Jewish people from homeownership.

The Supreme Court outlawed these covenants in 1948. But though the racist language is no longer enforceable, it still exists in many deeds in San Diego’s signature neighborhoods, including North Park, Mission Hills and La Jolla.

In this three-part series, KPBS follows the paper trail to help explain how the racism of our past created inequities that we still grapple with today.

Read the series:

Share your stories and original deeds in the form below or email KPBS Race and Equity reporter Cristina Kim directly at chkim@kpbs.org.

I cover racial justice and social equity issues – an expansive beat that includes housing, health, criminal justice, and education. I am interested in unpacking how systems reproduce inequalities and highlighting the ways communities of color are pushing for greater equity.