Caption

‘Racist’ trees separating a black neighborhood from a golf course will come down

PALM SPRINGS, Calif — Palm Springs will remove a row of trees blocking a historically African-American neighborhood from a city-owned golf course.         

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.

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Most read

  1. 1 White golf course owners said five African-American women played too s
  2. 2 Atlanta City Hall: Former mayor doled out over $518K in bonuses
  3. 3 Atlanta rapper accused of organizing cross-country drug operation

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.

City manager David Ready said the tree removal wouldn’t be immediate because the full city council would have to approve the matter. Arborists also would have to be consulted, and the project — like any requiring significant city funds — would have to be put out to bid, Ready said. He estimated the trees could be down within three months.         

Ready previously said estimates the city had received for removing the trees were about $169,000. Approval of expenditures more than $20,000 have to go to the city council for the thumbs up, and city officials also have to figure out where, in a city budget stretched thin by rising public safety costs and hundreds of millions of unfunded pension liabilities and retiree healthcare costs, that money will be allocated from.         

“It’s not about a price to pay, it’s about finding the money,” Roberts said at the neighborhood meeting.

Christopher Williams rakes the needles of the tamarisk trees that dominate his backyard and other homes in the Crossley Tract neighborhood of Palm Springs, Calif. The trees form a physical barrier between the historically black neighborhood and the Tahquitz Creek Golf Course.

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.         

Roberts said taking out the trees was the first step and after that had been taken care of, they would meet with residents to discuss what should be done next.         

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.         

The Crossley Tract was founded by Lawrence Crossley, Palm Springs’ first African American resident, in 1956. Crossley intended the 20-acre tract, which at the time was outside city limits, to be a place where black families who worked in Palm Springs but were barred from living there could live. City records indicate the area was incorporated into the city about a decade later, after Crossley’s death.         

At the same time, residential golf resorts were popping up all over the city. In 1958, work started on the Tahquitz Creek Golf Course, which was purchased by the city the following year when the developer ran into financial issues. Luxury condo developments were built-up around the course, and in the mid 1960s the trees were planted along the east side of the 14th fairway, blocking Crossley Tract residents' views of the course and the mountains and hiding the neighborhood from view from the course.   

More from AJC