Like many cities across the country, the City of Santa Monica is attempting to right the wrongs of the past and it’s looking for local residents to help determine how by completing an online survey.
City leaders are calling on the community to give their input about the possibility of adding a new “Right to Return” criteria to the city’s Below Market Housing program, which is a local initiative that provides Santa Monica residents and workers with apartments in the private sector at a rent that is lower than market rate.
“There are about six questions on the survey but the key question that’s driving this policy is the first question, and that question is how do you think historically displaced residents, their parents, legal guardians, or grandparents should be prioritized in the current setup,” said Natasha Guest Kingscote, a Human Services Administrator who is overseeing the survey efforts.
If approved by council in the future, Kingscote added, a new Right to Return criteria would give prioritization to former Santa Monica residents who were displaced from the Bel Mar and 10 Freeway-Pico Corridor areas in the 1950s and 1960s.
From the 1880s to post-World War II, many African Americans came from southern states to Santa Monica in an effort to escape Jim Crow-era racial restrictions. Lured by advertisements promoting the benefits of Southern California: employment, good climate, health, beautiful landscapes and a more liberated lifestyle, some migrated west and found themselves in the Westside, specifically Santa Monica’s Belmar Triangle.
The area is believed to have been the oldest African-American settlement of any seaside community in the region, according to local historians, and it was a haven of fun since the heart of the community was just blocks away from the Bay Street Beach, which is where Black people could enjoy the sand and sun with minimal racial harassment.
“The African-American neighborhood thrived in the Belmar Triangle until the 1950s when it literally went up in smoke in the name of urban renewal,” the Santa Monica Conversancy’s website states, adding: “The land was taken away by eminent domain to make way for the City’s new Civic Center and auditorium. The City burned down this once vibrant community of black-owned businesses and homes, many of them shotgun houses.”
In the decades since, Santa Monica and surrounding Westside communities have grappled with racial inequities. Recently, Santa Monica City Council passed a Black Agenda that includes a number of recommendations related to racial justice, but Kingscote said the right to return efforts began back in 2017.
Since 2017, the City of Santa Monica has been a member of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a national network of government entities working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all. Last year, City Council considered a staff report that included the Government Alliance on Race and Equity’s Operational Plan.
“That was part of how the first flag was placed in the sand. Council said it was something to consider, so we have since picked up this community input process that we’re in the middle of now to get feedback and to see what residents would like us to do,” said Kingscote, who noted the city’s current BHM priorities are listed online with the survey information at https://www.santamonica.gov/righttoreturn so residents can see where other BHM applicants would fall in the prioritization efforts.
The Community Input Period is expected to remain open until Feb. 6 and a presentation to City Council is expected to occur Feb. 23.