City of Davis vows to defend against lawsuit claiming housing discrimination

JEREMY DANG / AGGIE

Council members vote to oppose civil rights lawsuit brought against West Davis Adult Active Community

The Davis City Council voted on Oct. 15 to defend against a civil rights lawsuit that claimed components of the planned West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC) constitute housing discrimination. The suit, Ignacio v. City of Davis et. al, claims provisions in the proposed development plan violate the Federal Fair Housing Act and exclude non-white buyers.

Mayor Brett Lee and city council members unanimously voted to oppose the lawsuit in mid-October, claiming that allegations of discrimination were unfounded. Lee read a short statement in a public council meeting following a closed session.

“The city has a long history of opposing discrimination in housing, and the city believes that the case is without merit,” Lee said. “Any program developed by West Davis Active Adult Community would be required to comply with fair housing laws.”

Davis voters gave the WDAAC the green light when the approval for the project appeared on the Nov. 6 ballot as Measure L. Prominently featured in developer’s plans is the Davis-Based Buyers Program — also known as the “Taking Care of Our Own” provision — which is the component the lawsuit takes issue with. This program reserves 90 percent of roughly 500 homes for buyers with a pre-existing relationship to the city of Davis. This includes current residents, close family members of current residents, former employees of Davis schools and those who have attended Davis schools in the past.

Samuel Ignacio, a Filipino-Hispanic senior from Sacramento, filed the action on behalf of himself and “all other similarly situated racial and ethnic minorities who desire to purchase residences in the proposed West Davis Active Adult Community,” according to a press release by his civil rights attorney Mark Merin. In addition to the City of Davis, the lawsuit also targets Binning Ranch Holding Company and J. David Taormino. Taormino and Binning Ranch are named as the developers of the WDAAC in the agreement with the city.

Merin argued that the “Taking Care of Our Own” provision constitutes de facto housing discrimination against non-white buyers. He believes that because Davis has a predominantly white senior population that the development plans inherently exclude minority purchasers from outside of Davis.

“The result of this ‘local resident’ restriction, as alleged in the civil rights complaint, is the continuation of a racially imbalanced community and the exclusion of minority would-be purchasers in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act,” Merin wrote in the press release.  

Specifically, Merin’s complaint argued that the project is in violation of Sections 804(a) and 805(a) of the Federal Fair Housing Act. These sections explicitly prohibit discrimination against buyers on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.”

Merin and other opponents of “Taking Care of Our Own” blame past discriminatory housing practices for Davis’ “racially unbalanced” senior populations.

“[Davis’] senior population is disproportionately ‘white’ as a result of historic racially restrictive covenants, red-lining practices, and previous University of California hiring practices,” Merin wrote.

The California Aggie reached out to Merin but did not receive a response before the time of publication. Alan Pryor, the chair of the Yolano Sierra Club Chapter, was also among those who opposed the project in the run-up to the Measure L vote. He clarified some of the claims of historical housing discrimination in Davis that appeared in Merin’s lawsuit.

“As late as the 1950s, 1960s, some new developments in Davis were put in that had actual deed restrictions on them, on the grant deeds to the house and on the title maps for the entire neighborhood, that these properties could not be sold to anyone who is non-Caucasian,” Pryor said.

Pryor appeared to be referring to property deeds that were recently retrieved by Rik Keller of the blog The Davisite from the Yolo County Clerk Office.

“No persons except those of the white Caucasian race shall use, occupy or reside upon any residential property in the tract of land hereinabove described, or any future subdivision thereof, except when employed as a servant or domestic in the household of a white Caucasian tenant or owner,” the property deeds in question read.

Pryor explained the history of hiring practices at UC Davis.

“This started out making Davis basically completely white to begin with,” Pryor said.  “The University’s hiring practices all the way through the ‘80s greatly favored white people. Now here we are, 40 years later, where all of these professors who came to town to purchase homes […] they are going to be the primary market for this new West Davis Adult Active Community.”

Pryor viewed the WDAAC as a continuation of Davis’ historical housing discrimination.

“[The Davis-Based Buyers Program is] clearly a racially discriminatory housing policy,” Pryor said. “It will have that disparate impact on perpetuating these demographic imbalances.”

Voters approved Measure L on Nov. 6, meaning that the progress on the WDAAC will move ahead as planned as will Merin’s lawsuit. Mike Webb, the city manager of Davis, confirmed in an email on Nov. 7 that the city would continue to defend against the lawsuit going forward, citing the mayor’s statement on Oct 16.

 

Written by: Tim Lalonde — city@theaggie.org