First published in the Oct. 13 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
The conversation regarding a historic agenda to impose race restrictions aimed at keeping people of color from owning property in La Cañada Flintridge continued Sunday at the local Congregational Church, which seems to be reckoning with its own history.
Pastor Kyle Sears expanded on the presentation recently held at the Lanterman House, which explored racial segregation in the area, and hosted a meal and discussion about race, housing and history in LCF on Sunday to “expose ourselves” to difficult conversations surrounding the topic.
“From a religious leader standpoint, I have seen, especially within the past year, just a lot of rhetoric that didn’t seem to be willing to listen to other people’s experiences, especially the experiences of minority people,” Sears told the Outlook Valley Sun on Tuesday. “All of the Facebook and online conversations don’t really get anywhere. Let’s listen and ask questions and hopefully have our minds stretched a little bit and open our hearts to others’ experiences.”
A seemingly curious Sears — who is white and grew up in rural east Texas with a single mother and four siblings in a trailer park inhabited mostly by Mexican immigrants — has opened himself up to the conversation about race in LCF. He hasn’t shied away from his church’s own association with Frank D. Lanterman, who’s family was a founding member of the church and donated the land it was built on.
“[We have a] very deep relationship with [the Lantermans],” Sears said of the church’s history. “Their fingerprints are all through the church.”
As was presented by a historian at the Lanterman House on Oct. 2, former president of the La Cañada Valley Chamber of Commerce Frank D. Lanterman spearheaded a campaign in the 1940s that called on homeowners to renew or add racially restrictive clauses to housing deeds that prohibited people of color from purchasing a home in the city, a practice that was happening throughout Los Angeles County at the time.
Aware of that history and the damaging repercussions it has caused, Sears believes that acknowledging the past and any mistakes is essential in moving forward as a community.
“One of the principles of the Christian faith is confession and forgiveness, and we can lead in that, but also one of our foundations is doing justice, making wrongs into rights,” Sears said.
Nearly two dozen people attended the church’s meal and discussion on Sunday, including students from La Cañada High School. Sears said he hoped to personalize the experiences of people living in LCF and that he was encouraged by the community members’ open minds and willingness to listen.
“The reality is we live in a diverse and diversifying world, and our kids benefit from exposure from different cultures and different ways of thinking,” said Sears, who is planning to host another discussion on Nov. 13.
Kim Hershman, who is Black and a longtime local resident, attended the event and spoke about her experience, which she referred to as “pretty bad.” She also brought up the intersecting practice of the racial covenants and how it influenced LCF as a “sundown town,” a term that refers to Black, Asian or Latino people only allowed on properties as workers and expected to leave before dark.
Another real estate method, Hershman added, was the use of “love letters,” a practice in which prospective home buyers write a letter — and at times include a photograph — to the seller with the hopes that it sways them to accept their offer. However, such submissions are now discouraged by the California Association of Realtors due to the potential violation of the Fair Housing Act and the possibility of a seller showing bias.
Hershman was open about the discrimination she has experienced over the years while living in La Cañada, but also hopeful with the events such as the one hosted by the Congregational Church, seen as shedding a light on the issue of race and housing in the city and allowing community members to find commonality.
“I think that’s the whole thing, is that people have so much fear,” Hershman said. “It’s because we don’t know the ‘other.’ We don’t sit down, and we don’t have these conversations. And then we’re like, what are we looking for? We’re looking for our kids to be safe, to go to school, to have fun, to have friends. I think we’re all looking for the same thing.”
Glendale resident Carol McGrath also shared her stories and urged LCF residents to take proper action in addressing racism. Earlier this year, Glendale took such a step in becoming the first city in California to apologize for its history as a sundown town.
“You all got to start doing that here because even though they say they don’t enforce it, they do by attitude,” McGrath said. “I was born in the 40s, and it almost feels like not much has changed.”
Practicing what he preaches and taking action is what’s next for Sears, who attended the City Council meeting on Sept. 12 to address the lack of affordable housing and diversity in the area.
“The state is asking every municipality to make efforts toward providing homes to those who otherwise may not have a place, and I think to that end because we are La Cañada, we should take that charge seriously,” Sears told council members. “The reality is that there are far too many people in our community who are built into the fabric and yet are not able to own homes here, who are not able to live here. … Their inclusion into the fabric of this community will enrich it as the presence of doctors and scientists and artists that have made this community one of the best places to live in California.”
The Rev. Amy Pringle of St. George’s Episcopal Church shared Sears’ sentiment, asking the city leaders to consider housing equity in LCF because “people who work here do deserve to live here.”
Sears said there is some “energy behind” possibly taking steps forward in addressing deed restrictions and fair housing after having private conversations with council members and hearing from Los Angeles County officials that software is being developed to help homeowners remove any racial covenants. He believes La Cañada Flintridge can be proactive in such issues by addressing it in the housing element.
“There are other communities, not only locally but across America that have begun taking steps toward setting some things right,” Sears said. “There are small things that we can do. I’m ready for La Cañada to lead in this. We put robots on Mars. We can do this.”