It’s hard to deny the complexities of the Section 14 issue, and there is no doubt that some of the problems could have been avoided by a more humane approach.
Unfortunately, the blame seekers took a simplistic approach by making Frank Bogert the villain, since he was the mayor at that time. They seemed to have ignored that the issue also heavily involved the tribe, which owns half of Palm Springs and has its own Tribal Council and chairman governing that territory. Also involved was the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), with its substantial influence over the tribe.
The Tribal Council can decide to give up some of its sovereignty to the city, as it did in 1978, when the tribe agreed to let the city do the planning and zoning of its lands, though it retained the power to veto city decisions.
Bogert could not just on his own make decisions regarding Section 14. On top of it all, the tribe was wretchedly poor, and in 1959 the federal government had just given them the right to lease land up to 99 years instead of five years, which was an accomplishment of tribal Chairwoman Vyola Ortner. All of this made Section 14 suddenly an important holding.
What actually happened is that the tribe issued the eviction notices, which were leniently enforced and often ignored. The follow-up clearing was somewhat selective as many buildings remained afterward. Somebody from the tribe had to point out which were to be left and which had to be cleared. The tribe had asked the city to take responsibility to help with the cleanup.
Since then, the tribe and its members have greatly benefitted from a federal law allowing Indian gambling in those states where gambling was already allowed. That law was signed by President Reagan in 1988. Since the California constitution did not allow gambling, except poker, the tribes went to the California voters who ultimately approved changing the state constitution to allow Indian gambling. Once approved, the casinos were governed by compacts drawn up by the governors of each state. Governor Gray Davis was very sympathetic to the tribes, and so the Agua Caliente tribe was allowed three successful casinos with a potential for even more.
The beneficial federal legislation was motivated by a desire to provide reparations for the treatment that Native Americans have suffered. Along with the casinos and the rising Palm Springs real estate market, this tribe has become very affluent.
Getting back to the Section 14 issues and efforts to provide reparations to the injured African American community, it seems that the tribe may also have a responsibility here. After all, they benefited most from the newly profitable Section 14 where the Spa Hotel once stood and now is home to the Spa Casino.
Perhaps Congressman Raul Ruiz should be involved in getting the feds to pony up 50%, leaving the tribe to perhaps pay 35%, and the city with a fairer 15%. After all, through the BIA, this was a federally led mishandling of a community of color.
Given all this, it makes sense to leave the Bogert statue alone.
Frank Tysen is a Fulbright Scholar, a Guggenheim Fellow and former professor of urban and regional planning USC. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Valley Voice: Feds, tribe also have roles to play in Section 14 reparations