It seems that our nation is finally trying to face generational consequences created by the Jim Crow-era institutionalization of systemic racism. As we know, Santa Monica has its own “ghosts in the closet,” while California cities such as Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, San Jose, and Redwood City find themselves also contending with shared racist histories. Past wrongs include exclusionary practices against “non-whites” often resulting in destroying communities, redlining neighborhoods, and supporting “sundown towns.” Blacks were warned to stay away from sundown towns following sunset or face the wrath of unspeakable discriminatory acts. During the early 19th Century, Santa Monica initially presented great opportunities for African American-owned businesses such as La Bonita Bathhouse, Thurman’s Rest A While Apartments, The Dew Drop Inn, and Café for Inkwell beachgoers. However, all of that changed during the 1920s when local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan sought to prevent “non-whites” from thriving in Santa Monica. Ultimately, the city enforced a “Caucasian Clause” with systemic policies preventing African American residents from owning businesses or homes by the beach. Yes, all of this took place prior to displacing those by the Bel Mar and 10 Freeway-Pico Corridor areas in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to implementing “Right to Return” policies, our City Council should also issue a Formal Apology by way of an official resolution acknowledging deep-seated racial injustices committed in Santa Monica. This Formal Apology MUST and SHOULD address ALL racial inequities inflicted upon Santa Monica’s diverse residents.

Racially-charged discriminatory practices extended to all “non-white” Santa Monicans, thereby prohibiting the selling, transferring, or leasing of property to “persons of the African or Negro, Japanese, Chinese, Jewish or Hebrew races, or their descendants.” Let’s be clear, despite the Supreme Court declaring restrictive covenants unconstitutional in 1948, Santa Monica formally implemented far-reaching discriminatory policies during the 1950s and 1960s. Racist tactics included harsh discrimination toward Japanese American Santa Monicans returning from internment camps – with countless unable to reclaim lost homes and worldly possessions. Jewish American residents also experienced redlining and covenant restrictions when attempting to purchase homes and run businesses outside of the Pico area. To this day, in a city where 32% of the land is zoned for single-family homes, few Black and Brown people live in R1 zones. A fact attributed to single-family zoning or R1, which prohibits apartments of multi-family housing – dwellings that are sorely needed for Santa Monica’s low-income residents. How can providing a “Right to Return” policy fairly compensate for decades of injustice? How will we ensure diversity and inclusion are maintained and thereby prevent further generational pain and suffering?

In good conscience, Santa Monica MUST and SHOULD acknowledge and formally pass a resolution that apologizes for its racist past and continued harm against people of color and marginalized communities. Commitment to systemic change begins at the point of awareness. Santa Monica should publicly take ownership for contributions toward its erroneous ways. October of 2020 saw the city of Glendale publicly apologize and pass a resolution to address its history as a “sundown town” and prevalent systemic issues. This past October, San Jose instituted a similar apology for enforcing anti-Chinese policies, including the destruction of the 2nd Market Street Chinatown. Will Santa Monica publicly apologize for its racist past? Is a Formal Apology from Santa Monica’s City Council needed? Reimagining an inclusive Santa Monica begins with acknowledging and submitting a Formal Apology for decades of prevalent racial injustice and discrimination against not just Black/African Americans, but also Indigenous Americans, Latino/x Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Jewish Americans, and the LGBTQ community. A Formal Apology, a resolution of this magnitude, intentionally acknowledges, accepts, and commits to righting the wrongs of the past by ensuring a more diverse and inclusive Santa Monica.

Committee for Racial Justice Steering Committee, Joanne Berlin, Robbie Jones, Janet McKeithen, Angela Scott.