In 1924, the first modern apartment houses were built in Mountain View by the Minton Lumber Company. The group develops an exclusionary subdivision in town, Palmita Park, where “only very desirable people will be allowed to purchase homes,” it states at the time.
In 1938, a restrictive covenant for Sierra Avenue in Mountain View states that “sold property shall not be occupied by any one not of the Caucasian Race, except in the capacity of a servant.”
By 1954, suburban housing development is flourishing in Mountain View, but Black Americans are excluded from the opportunity to become homeowners. Builders who do try to develop integrated communities are met with opposition from Mountain View officials and cannot obtain federally insured financing.
Racial covenants like the one from 1938 are made unenforceable in 1948 and void in 1968, yet still remain in thousands of property records today.
As of July 1, 2022, California state law requires counties to purge their records of racist restrictive covenants. Until this happens, real estate agents must disclose these covenants to prospective buyers. Most pre-1948 deeds in Santa Clara County are not searchable in digital archives, though, and no mechanism exists to fix these deeds.
These dates, which represent just a few key notches on the timeline of Mountain View’s housing history, were compiled by members of Mountain View’s Human Relations Commission (HRC) and the Mountain View Historical Association for a civility roundtable held on July 26 called “Understanding the History of Housing in Mountain View: Stories of Racism, Anti-Discrimination, and Movement Towards Inclusion,” an event three years in the making.
Vice Chair IdaRose Sylvester said it was the most attended HRC meeting to date, with about 100 community members present.
“In 2019, I stumbled upon the work of a man named Richard Rothstein, whose groundbreaking work (The Color of Law) on historical racial segregation – that was enabled by local governments, real estate agents, banks and the communities themselves – shook up the scene and made us start to look at our own history,” Sylvester said as she addressed the crowd July 26.
As Sylvester continued her research, she heard about an event held in Menlo Park by housing advocates who “taught me their lessons about how they researched and contextualized their local housing history,” she said. She later met Michael Kahan, a historian and Stanford University professor, who shared Sylvester’s interest in uncovering the often racist history of housing in Mountain View.
The HRC, Mountain View Historical Association and Kahan joined forces, devoting hours of research to put together the roundtable event. They also interviewed 25 community members to hear their stories of past and present. The full body of research is set to soon be posted on a page on the city’s website.
As people arrived at the Mountain View Community Center, they were encouraged to spend time perusing the Gallery Walk. Composed of 63 pieces of printer paper plastered to the wall of the community center’s banquet hall, each included a year along with photos and historical context about how racism was impacting people of color who were seeking housing in Mountain View at that time. A PDF of the Gallery Walk can be found here in English, Spanish, Chinese and Russian.
Attendees were encouraged to use sticky notes to mark the parts of the timeline that stood out to them. By the end of the night, every page in the timeline – which included dates from the 18th century to present – was covered with colorful notes.
“We live in a very diverse community in a lot of ways,” said Kahan, a 20-year Mountain View resident who led the presentation at the meeting. “But you’ll also notice there are patterns to the way that diversity is distributed. There are parts of the city that are predominantly white and Asian. … There are parts of the community that have a very significant Latino presence. And there are relatively few African Americans and Native Americans present in the community.”
How did the community come to be this way? Kahan said a lot of it comes back to a history of racism and exclusion in Mountain View’s housing.
“It’s not a simple story,” he said. “It’s one that has many sides to it.”
Kahan’s presentation connected the key moments in Mountain View’s housing history: restrictive racial covenants that explicitly barred people of color from occupying homes in the 1930s and 40s; the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during WWII that forced Mountain View residents of Japanese ancestry to leave their homes and businesses; the construction of Shoreline Boulevard in 1969, which tore up a Latino community; city planners pushing for more progressive, multi-use zoning and affordable housing, only for banks to refuse to give them loans, a practice known as redlining.
“Over the last 50 years, the issue of affordability has become more and more central to the community’s ability to remain inclusive,” Kahan said.
Community members also shared their own stories. Guadalupe Rosas, a Mountain View mobile home resident who attended the meeting, questioned what the city means when it says it's building affordable housing, such as the units promised in the Google Middlefield Park plan.
“To be able to have a job of $150,000 a year is not very likely for us, to have that kind of salary,” Rosas said in an interview with the Voice. “People who work at Google have those kinds of salaries. And the housing they’re building, we believe it’s mainly for them, not for people who live in Mountain View.”
“That’s the word they use, ‘affordable,’” Rosas said. “But affordable to whom?”
The HRC is continuing to conduct interviews with community members for the History of Housing project, which will eventually have a permanent webpage on the city’s website. Anyone interested in sharing a story is asked to email [email protected] by Aug. 19.