When trees are considered 'racist'

Residents of a mostly black neighborhood whose land borders a Palm Springs public golf course want a stand of Tamarisk trees removed because they represent racism and segregation.

The residents claim that the trees were planted in the 1960s to deliberately block their view of the mountains and the golf course. 

Campus Reform:

At an informal meeting with neighborhood residents Sunday, Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon, council member J.R. Roberts and other city officials promised residents they would remove the tamarisk trees and a chain link fence along the Crossley Tract property lines as soon as possible.

Many longtime residents of the neighborhood previously told the (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun they believed the trees were planted for racist reasons in the 1960s, and remained a lasting remnant of the history of segregation in the city.  Residents said the invasive tamarisks, which block views of the Tahquitz Creek Golf Course and San Jacinto mountains, have artificially depressed property values and prevented black families from accumulating wealth in their property over the past half century.

Roberts apologized to the Crossley Tract residents for any wrongdoing by the city in the past and said he and the rest of the council wanted to make the necessary changes to ensure future generations didn't have to deal with the same problems current and past residents faced.

"You asked why it took us this long," Roberts told about 50 residents gathered for the meeting. "I can't answer that. But guess what? We're here now."

Moon said Sunday he and Roberts had only a combined four years on the council and the problems posed by the trees only recently came to their attention. Moon said after he became aware of the issue, he visited the neighborhood to get a first-hand idea of what residents' concerns were.

Both Moon and Roberts assured residents that the neighborhood had the support of the entire council.

"It's a new city council and a new time," Moon said.

Actually, the racial history of Palm Springs is troubled, to say the least.

Many of the original inhabitants of the neighborhood were families who had been forcibly removed from during the 1950s and 1960s. Now some of downtown Palm Springs' most lucrative real estate, the portion of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians' reservation hosting the convention center, casino and hotels was once home to thousands of black and Latino residents. They were evicted and their homes were bulldozed and burned when the city and the tribe agreed to clear the land for new development.

It's an open question whether the trees were put up deliberately to obstruct the view of black residents.  Just as likely, as with most urban golf courses, the trees were planted as an aesthetic enhancement for golfers who enjoy the illusion that they are playing outside the city. 

The homeowners' demands reflect the idea that they know they have the city over a barrel:

Residents, led by real estate agent Trae Daniel, who moved into the neighborhood 14 years ago, have made four demands of the city. They include: removing the trees; building a 6-foot privacy wall for residents who want it; installing netting or something similar to prevent errant golf balls from flying into residents' yards; and planting new trees similar to those seen along other parts of the course.

No doubt, residents will get what they want.

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