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Santa Monica Explores Proposal to Bring Back Minority Families Displaced in the 1950s

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

April 3, 2019 -- Members of black and Latino families displaced generations ago by the Civic Center and 10 Freeway would be given priority for affordable housing under a proposal by Santa Monica Council member Kevin McKeown.

The Council last Tuesday voted unanimously to explore the "restorative justice" measure as a way to commemorate the Belmar Triangle neighborhood that was destroyed in the 1950s to pave the way for the Civic Auditorium.

The California Coastal Commission last month added commemorating the neighborhood as a condition for approval of an $8.6 million sports field at the Civic Center ("Coastal Commission Approves Civic Center Playing Field," March 7, 2019).

Inwell Bech in the 1920s
From left: Grace Williams, Albert Williams, Mary Mingleton, Willie Williams (no relation) in the segregated section of Santa Monica beach known as the Ink Well ca. 1926 (Shades of L.A. Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)

"Suggestions had been made that we name the new field after the neighborhood, BelMar, or after a former resident there, or that we create some historic/educational program so the people removed not be forgotten," McKeown told the Lookout.

"To me, those ideas seemed a bit underwhelming, given that an historic ethnic community was completely obliterated by government action," he said. "The new expansion of our City-prioritized affordable housing opportunities gave me the idea for restorative justice."

Under McKeown's proposal, Community Corporation, the city's largest affordable housing provider, would add a Santa Monica affordable housing priority for the families displaced by the Civic Center and freeway.

Currently, top priority is given to Santa Monicans who lose their rent controlled apartments under the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to get out of the rental housing market.

Since the State law was passed in 1986, 2,222 units have been removed from Santa Monica's rental market, according to the Rent Board's annual report.

Priority also is given to income-qualified persons who live or work in Santa Monica.

"The community has long been concerned that some of our affordable housing goes to people without previous ties to Santa Monica," McKeown said.

"If my idea can be made to work, we will be welcoming home families who have generational attachments to Santa Monica," he said.

McKeown noted that many of the displaced black families still attend churches in the city.

Bounded by Pico Boulevard and Main and Fourth streets, the Belmar Triangle was the heart of Santa Monica's African-American community in the first half of the 20th century.

Its businesses and homes were a few blocks from “the Inkwell,” as the stretch of beach where blacks congregated was known ("Frank Gruber to Shine Light on Lost Belmar Triangle," September 29, 2011).

In the 1950's, City leaders condemned the black-owned properties and destroyed them to build the Civic Auditorium, which became a legendary rock venue and home to the Academy Awards ("Residents Have Strong Ties to Santa Monica Civic's Past," June 6, 2013).

McKeown believes Santa Monica could become the first City to approve such a "restorative justice" housing measure.

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