Redlining, the practice of limiting where ethnic minorities could live and own property in local communities, has been a stain on Fresno’s history for decades.
Now, Fresno County Assessor-Recorder Paul Dictos wants to stamp out the remnants of the discriminatory practice in official records.
In some cases, documents called covenants still contain language barring nearly all nonwhites from owning or living in specific homes across Fresno County, Dictos said.
Although such restrictions have been unenforceable for decades, they remain on the books. Dictos is seeking authority from the Board of Supervisors to strike them once and for all.
“It is an affront to me as an elected official to have them there, while I’m elected. And I think that there’s a way to wipe them out,” Dictos said.
Thousands of Documents Likely
“It is an affront to me as an elected official to have them there, while I’m elected. And I think that there’s a way to wipe them out.” — Fresno County Assessor-Recorder Paul Dictos
Dictos said there are thousands of documents to research, although he believes the last covenants were filed in 1962. He has noticed the same language in the covenants he’s seen.
A covenant is a document filed by a developer that mandates what is and not allowed in a new neighborhood. It may include restrictions on farm animals at a residential property or specify what color of house paint is allowed.
Discriminatory housing has been outlawed since the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. Local historians and housing rights attorneys GV Wire℠ spoke with do not believe any local ordinances were ever passed to specifically outlaw the practice.
Dictos said when a home is purchased, there is usually a reference in the sales contract to covenants on file with his office.
The assessor-recorder is responsible for determining property values, recording property ownership and changes, as well as maintaining certain vital records such as birth certificates.
One Neighborhood Example
Dictos shared one example of a restrictive covenant, filed in 1947 for the development at the southwest corner of Chestnut and Holland avenues, south of Fresno State.
Paragraphs 7 and 8 read:
“No part of said subdivision, nor any building thereon, shall be sold, conveyed or leased, by Deed or otherwise, to any Negro, Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, Armenian, Malayan, Asiatic, or Native of the Turkish Empire, or any person not of the Caucasian race, or any descendent of any one or more of said persons.
“Neither said real property nor any part thereof, nor any lot nor part thereof, shall be used or occupied in any manner whatsoever by any Negro, Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, Amenain [sic], Malayan, Asiatic or Native of the Turkish Empire, or any person not of the Caucasian Race, or any descendent of any one or more of said persons; provided, however, that such person may be employed as a servant by a resident upon such property.”
Born of Greek descent, Dictos said the covenant would apply to him as well.
“I shouldn’t be here. I’m a native of the former Turkish Empire,” Dictos said.
About Developer Hubert Richert
The area was known as the Richert Tract, for its developers, Hubert C. Richert and his wife at the time, Willetta A. Richert (newspaper archives reports them divorcing in 1950).
Fresno County librarians believe Richert Avenue in Fresno was named after Hubert.
According to his 1989 obituary, Richert was an innovator in processing dates. He moved to Indio, where he picked up the name “The Date King of Coachella Valley.”
Richert graduated from Fresno State and was active in alumnus activities. There are at least two current scholarships in the Media, Communications and Journalism department that he founded.
Housing Groups Support
Prentice Milrod, executive director of Central California Legal Services, applauds Dictos taking interest.
“As a resident of Fresno County, I’m grateful to know our County officials are making our property records comply with our laws and reflect the values we claim. This is a first step toward ensuring we can all choose to live in neighborhoods of opportunity; I hope the other branches of our local governments are prepared to match his effort with actions of their own to guarantee fair housing,” Milrod said via email.
M.J. Borelli, executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Central California wondered what took so long.
“They should have already purged these things. I mean, this has been in place for decades,” Borelli said. “If our office were to discover those kinds of documents, it would be well within our jurisdiction to try to see those documents purged.”
Supervisor Looking Forward to Dictos Ideas
At least one supervisor is eager to hear his proposal.
“I am open to review any proposals Paul would bring forward,” Supervisor Nathan Magsig said.
Nothing has been submitted yet.