Part 3: Under Their Thumb
As I slowly got sucked into the Biker Gang Imbroglio, a contest between people protesting the death of three cyclists on the PV Peninsula and a small coterie of outraged residents who hated cyclists, the bad people began coming out of the woodwork. In addition to the “everyone knows who he is” anonymous troll, a handful of PV Estates residents, rather than hiding behind anonymity, publicly decried the presence of cyclists in their city and strongly opposed any steps to erect signs or to enforce laws protecting them.
One of the city’s most committed opponents to signage was the husband-wife team of Garrett and Cynthia Unno. At first I concluded that they simply disliked cyclists, didn’t want outsiders (black people) in their city, and had zero concern for the recent victims, one of whom, John Bacon, may have been murdered.
But the more I listened to their implacable opposition to the basic safety steps recommended by the city’s traffic safety committee and approved by the city council – decisions later rescinded thanks to anti-cycling anger – the stranger it seemed. Of all people, Garrett Unno should have been advocating for cyclist safety. Of all people, Garrett Unno should have been on the side of the weak and the harassed. Of all people, Garrett Unno should have been fighting for justice.
Why? Because he is apparently of Japanese descent.
To answer that resounding “So?” I had to dig a little bit more into Supreme Court history, because the segregation of communities like PV Estates didn’t stop with Buchanan v. Warley, and it wasn’t limited to blacks. In fact, after Justice Day struck down city ordinances banning the sale of property to blacks, communities like PV Estates, far from throwing in the towel, approached the goal of segregation even more aggressively than before.
And in California, where the object of white hate was every bit as intensely directed at Chinese and Japanese as it was at blacks, newly forming communities had a brutally racist and segregationist tool at the ready: A device called the racially restrictive covenant.
Thanks to the single most destructive decision by the Supreme Court ever directed at civil rights, aptly named The Civil Rights Cases, the Fourteenth Amendment was held in 1883 to apply only to state action. Private discrimination and segregation were and are still legal. PV Estates and almost every new community in California used this carte blanche to write restrictions into their founding documents that forbade ownership by certain people.
“Certain” had a specific meaning: “Negro,” “Of African Descent,” and “Asiatic.” Racially restrictive covenants eventually ran aground in 1948, when the Supreme Court ruled that although racist restrictions were legal, the Fourteenth Amendment forbade their enforcement by the state. The case was Shelley v. Kraemer, but it had little effect on desegregation because by 1948 communities like PV Estates were already lily white and the Federal Housing Administration had already been redlining California communities for ten years, a practice that made it impossible for blacks to buy property in “white only” areas as designated by the federal government’s housing agency.
As I read the Supreme Court decisions and sifted through the copious online information about FHA redlining, I started wondering about PV Estates. What did its original covenants, conditions, and restrictions – its CCRs – actually say? Were they really racist? And if they were, had they ever been amended? In other words, were people like Garrett Unno the specific target of racist exclusion from PV Estates? Were people like Garrett Unno, non-whites, still living under CCRs in PV Estates that technically forbade them from living there, even though such bans were unenforceable?
I began to doubt whether such restrictions had ever even existed. The more I searched the less I found. So I hired a title company to do a search on a property in PV Estates, hoping that the search would come up with the original CCRs, as well as pull all of the amendments that would show me that even if PV Estates had originally been a racist-zoned community, at some point in the enlightened future the residents would have amended them to strike out the offensive language, enforceable or not.
Since CCRs were given to all new homeowners in the city by the PV Homes Association, it was inconceivable that along with your purchase you would receive a shiny copy of regulations banning all blacks.
Then I heard back from the title guy, who said “It’s gonna take a while. And in the meantime you might check with the city clerk to see if they have a copy.”
I did, and they didn’t. But they referred me to the Homes Association, which happened to office next door to city hall. I called. “Can I get a copy of the city’s CCRs?” I asked.
“Sure!” the cheery woman said. “Just come down and pick up a copy.”
The next day I was sitting on my couch with copies of the original CCRs. Almost a hundred years old, printed on the highest quality paper, yellowed from age but still sturdier than any new book you’ll find at Barnes and Noble, this was the founding document that governed your residency in the city when you joined the community as a property owner in 2017. And what I found in it was incredible.