“The Black Lives Next Door” opinion piece in last Sunday’s New York Times attacked the city I love and in many ways unfairly. It also attacked the builder of our first home and the neighborhood where we once lived. But it also demanded a reckoning.

Sue Lempert

We moved to San Mateo in 1957 when I was pregnant with our first child. It was our first house. We selected San Mateo because it was diverse in race, in income. I didn’t want to live in a lily-white neighborhood where everyone was the same. The house was in the hills behind the Hillsdale Shopping Center, part of a Bohannon tract.


The reckoning: But my neighborhood was all white because almost all city neighborhoods were then redlined; except for North Central where most people of color lived. My two older children went to elementary schools where the student body was primarily white.


Years later, when looking at the kindergarten group photos, we were shocked to see no students of color. By then San Mateo had changed dramatically. The elementary district was the first to desegregate by busing students from North Central to other neighborhoods. My daughter who entered kindergarten in 1973 had Black and other students of color in her school. In 1960, the white population of San Mateo was 95%. By 2010 it had dropped to 46%. The article accuses San Mateo of perpetuating redlining in its housing policies but doesn’t acknowledge that there are no longer all white neighborhoods from the most expensive to the most affordable. In the schools the demographics are one-third Caucasian; one-third Asian and one-third Latino. The Black population dropped from 6% in 1960 to 1.96% today as part of a Black exodus from the Bay Area between 2000-2010.


We bought our Hillsdale house for $16,000 with a GI loan and a little help from my parents. The reckoning: There were many Black GI’s who moved to California after Word War II when housing was affordable. But they were redlined from many communities and did not have inherited resources, however small, which many white families had. Even without redlining it would have been difficult to buy homes in most neighborhoods because discrimination continued even when redlining became illegal. Segregation remains today even when those terrible laws no longer exist because economic disparities and racism continue.


The article doesn’t mention that there was no redlining in homes built by Eichler in two popular San Mateo neighborhoods, 19th Avenue Park and San Mateo Highlands. Eichler established a nondiscrimination policy and offered homes for sale to anyone of any religion or race. In 1958, he resigned from the National Association of Home Builders when they refused to support a nondiscrimination policy. Also, few Black families remained in North Central. Many worked for the school district, and bought homes in the new, then affordable, Foster City.


The reckoning: According to the opinion piece: “In our own time the city of San Mateo continues to perpetuate the segregation of many of its white neighborhoods by prohibiting construction of anything but single-family homes — no townhouses, duplexes or apartments affordable to teachers, firefighters, nurses, hotel and restaurant workers and others who serve the community but cannot afford to live in it.”

Single-family home neighborhoods have been protected by initiatives limiting heights and densities in most areas of the city — the original Measure H and now Measure P which is on the November ballot and a dueling initiative which would only allow increased density and heights near public transportation. There are no more all white neighborhoods. Immigration and evolving demographics have changed that.

No matter what initiative passes, the city has just approved two major housing developments with a total of 1,200 units. One, 100% affordable and seven story located in downtown that will set aside units for public employees. There will be a preference for those who work or live in San Mateo. The second is a 961 mixed-use development on the Concar shopping site with 880 market rate and 73 very-low income units.


The Bohannon organization is one of the prime backers of the dueling initiative which would allow greater density and height along the transportation corridor, including an endangered Hillsdale Shopping Center. It would provide more housing, some of it affordable, in the Hillsdale neighborhood attacked in the opinion piece and where I once called home.

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at sue@smdailyjournal.com.

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(15) comments


A quote from the NY Times:

The racial restriction was signed by officers of the American Trust Company, which financed its construction. David D. Bohannon, a developer who built the largest share of homes in Hillsdale, signed similar deed requirements for racial exclusion. Although the whites-only clauses are no longer enforceable, they remain in the deeds of Hillsdale homeowners.

Mr. Bohannon became one of the biggest developers of whites-only housing throughout the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-20th century, with significant responsibility for the segregated landscape that persists. Although many Black Americans flocked to the Bay Area to take jobs in war production during World War II, Mr. Bohannon barred nonwhites from his projects. Several Bohannon neighborhoods for workers in shipyards and supporting factories during the war were financed with loans guaranteed by the federal government from financial institutions like Bank of America and the American Trust Company, which didn’t resist the government’s policy of racial exclusion.

In 1955, when a developer attempted to create a racially integrated neighborhood in Milpitas, not far from San Mateo, Mr. Bohannon’s company sued and successfully lobbied the Milpitas City Council to raise sewer connection fees to an exorbitant level that made the project unfeasible, delaying it for years.

David Bohannon’s race policy did not make him a pariah in the home-building industry. Quite the contrary. In 1942, as he was creating Hillsdale, Mr. Bohannon served as president of what is now called the National Association of Home Builders. His contribution to racial segregation went unmentioned in 1958 when he was elected national president of the influential research group for planners, the Urban Land Institute, which praised him as “one of the West Coast’s most successful land developers and community builders.” In 1986, Mr. Bohannon was added to the California Homebuilding Foundation’s Hall of Fame for having “enriched the homebuilding industry through innovation, public service, and philanthropy,” which apparently did not extend to remedying the segregation he had enforced.

The Bohannon company continues to operate. Adjacent to its San Mateo development, it created the Hillsdale mall (open for business again after pandemic-induced closures), anchored by Macy’s and Nordstrom, and filled with upscale shops. While malls nationwide have been struggling, the Bohannon firm recently invested several hundred million dollars in the Hillsdale mall’s renovation and in the development of a nearby office park.

Michael B. Reiner, PhD

Thank you for providing needed context and history to the discussion.


Michael B. Reiner, PhD, is a higher education consultant and educational researcher. Previously, he was a professor of psychology and college administrator at City University of New York (CUNY), Miami Dade College, the Riverside Community College District, and the San Mateo County Community College District. mreiner32205@gmail.com  LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-b-reiner-phd-14057551/


Says Bohannon "continues to operate." What was the company's reaction? Questioning authority is taught in Journalism 101 - or was. Looks like today mass media itself is the "authority."

Michael B. Reiner, PhD

“Lies, dam* lies, and statistics,” is a phrase popularized by Mark Twain. I’m concerned with the latter and its implications for the former (I’ll forgo damning anyone’s falsehoods).

In Ms. Lempert's article, "The reckoning: San Mateo then and now," the data and its implications raise questions.

About San Mateo County she stated, "The Black population dropped from 6% in 1960 to 1.96% today as part of a Black exodus from the Bay Area between 2000-2010." I went to the U.S. Census and compared data from 1960 versus 2019.

In 2019, the Black population in the county was 2.8%; in 1960, the Negro population (the term used in the census) totaled 2.4%. During this time, the Black population actually increased from 1,691 to 21,464.

Next, the Black population percentage decline slightly in the Bay Area over six decades from 8.6% to 7.0%. But that was not due to a mass exodus; in fact, the number of Blacks increased by about 100,000. While the overall Bay Area population exploded in six decades by 2 million, the Black population was fairly stable.

The mass exodus was among Whites; almost a half million left (a decline from 88% to 39%). That is huge.

Asians and Hispanics, while totaling less that 100,000 in 1960, are now over 2 million. This influx is the demographic supernova changing the face of the Bay Area. These groups now comprise half of the population.

These are the facts from the U.S. Census. Are they lies, dam* lies, or statistics?


In the past I have seldom had a problem with Sue Lempert's articles, however, If Christopher Conway is in 100% agreement with her there must be something wrong with her that I am missing.

Newell Post

Here is a link to the NYT article, but you might need a subscription to read it. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/14/opinion/sunday/blm-residential-segregation.html?searchResultPosition=2


People need to understand that there's a difference between having benefited from racism, and being a racist.

Sue, you most definitely benefited from racism, and pretending otherwise is not a good look. Accept it, and figure out what you want to _do_ about it.

When you moved into a nice neighborhood in San Mateo, the rising White middle class was being given _huge_ subsidies by the federal government, to promote exactly the kind of wealth-building and investment that you took part in. I don't think reasonable people blame you for that. But it's important to recognize that not everyone was given the same opportunity, and that their children and grandchildren are, as a result, starting from a different position than yours.

It's not like it was just a couple decades in the '50s and '60s where this kind of difference in opportunity and wealth-building applied. It's the entire history of our nation. And that adds up to the _enormous_ wealth gap we see today. A Black citizen could be just as smart and industrious as a White peer, but the White kid's parents are starting from a position where, say, they inherited a house in a nice neighborhood near good schools, as well as a few hundred thousand in home value, while the Black.kid's parents, after having been renters for years, finally tried to buy at one point, but got wiped out in 2008 due to abusive lending practices. ( https://prospect.org/special-report/sub-prime-black-catastrophe/ ) The Black kid lives in a neighborhood where air quality and summer heat are worse, and that makes it harder to concentrate on school work. ( https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/24/climate/racism-redlining-cities-global-warming.html )

The existence of a lucky few who've risen above these problems does not make up for the big picture. People like to say they favor "equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome", but the reality is that the opportunities you're offered are determined, to a huge degree, by how well you pick your parents. At this point it is probably fair to say that wealth matters more than skin color, and that interventions to create more _economically_ diverse neighborhoods -- where poor kids would benefit from the knowledge of rich parents about how to hold public officials accountable to provide good public services, including good schools -- would be almost as effective, or perhaps even more effective, than racially-targeted policies. This is why I'm a big fan of Cory Booker's "baby bonds" or "universal basic wealth" concept, which provides an investment account that starts accumulating value at birth, and then receives an annual contribution that's larger if your parents are poorer, and becomes available when you're an adult, to spend on education, housing, or starting a small business. ( https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/10/22/17999558/cory-booker-baby-bonds )


"The opportunities you're offered are determined, to a huge degree, by how well you pick your parents..." Amen to that. Better loving, working class parents who stay together than selfish rich ones who are serial parents.

Michael B. Reiner, PhD

Your comments are right on target. One of the biggest factors in individual success is the zip code into which their parents live upon the child's birth. Wealth-building through inheritance can be justified, as parents often work hard to leave for their progeny, but those born with a silver-spoon in their mouth (or even a nutritious meal) have an advantage that makes the playing field inequitable. Aristocracy passed down wealth and power via genetics; while our system provides more opportunity to rise above your rank, it's hard with a hand tied behind your back. --

Michael B. Reiner, PhD, is a higher education consultant and educational researcher. Previously, he was a professor of psychology and college administrator at City University of New York (CUNY), Miami Dade College, the Riverside Community College District, and the San Mateo County Community College District. mreiner32205@gmail.com  LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-b-reiner-phd-14057551/

Cindy Cornell

Has the Daily Journal provided a reprint of the New York Times article? It is apparent that Mr. Conway has not read it. As for why Black people have left the area, why not ask the few who are left in North Central? Black people have always been the first to be forced out of cities and suburbs when gentrification arrives. San Mateo became too expensive for regular white people to afford, so they started buying up the homes from elder Black people in North Central. Yet many Black people return on Sundays to attend the churches they grew up with, many from as far away as Antioch and Brentwood. Take a look at the Bayview and Fillmore districts in SF. Want an answer about the displacement? Ask the displaced.


"Regular white people" are leaving the area as well. Housing is not a white or black issue - it is a green issue. Green as in money.

Michael B. Reiner, PhD

Dear Ms. Cornell, It is always good to ask the people being affected to determine their lived experience. And "gentrification" has been a significant issue in urban areas. Given your comments, I decided to compare the Census for 2019 to 1960 in San Mateo. The results were interesting.

In 2019, the population was 39% White, 2.8% Black, 31% Asian (including Filipino), 24% Hispanic, and 1.5% Pacific Islander.

In 1960, over sixty years ago, the population was 93% White, 2.4% Negro (the term used in the census), 3.8% Asian, 0.2% Filipino, and 0.1% "other."

Therefore, to my great surprise, there has been no change in the percentage of Blacks in the county! Rather than Blacks moving out, the BIG demographic trend has been Hispanics, Asians, and Filipinos moving in. This was counterintuitive to me, but the data is the data.

Hispanics were not even on the census map in the county back in 1960.

As for displacement, if you were to ask me, I will tell you that I moved from CA to FL because I could not afford the cost of living in a beautiful, but way too costly state.

Christopher Conway

I don't read the New York Times Cindy. I do appreciate Sue on referring us to this article in the NYT. I now have read an article in this newspaper.

Michael B. Reiner, PhD

"The Black population dropped from 6% in 1960 to 1.96% today as part of a Black exodus from the Bay Area between 2000-2010."

When I was an administrator at the San Mateo County Community College District (SMCCCD), I was unable to reconcile the disproportionate time, attention, and money devoted to Black students as they composed only 2% of the student population. About the same as Pacific Islanders, though few programs focused on the barriers to their achievement. In contrast, Hispanics, Filipino, and Asian students were large percentages. My questioning the conventional wisdom about our students and political orthodoxy of the administration with data was not welcome.

Why were Blacks only 2% of the student population? I later discovered the census data as reported by Ms. Lempert - African Americans were only 1.96% in the county's population. Therefore, as measured by proportions, there was equity between the county and the college population.

In this article, I learned that there has been a Black exodus from the Bay Area since 2000.

Why? Is it racism? Is it economics? It no doubt is a combination of many complex factors. I would be eager to learn about this diaspora.


Michael B. Reiner, PhD, is a higher education consultant and educational researcher. Previously, he was a professor of psychology and college administrator at City University of New York (CUNY), Miami Dade College, the Riverside Community College District, and the San Mateo County Community College District. mreiner32205@gmail.com  LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-b-reiner-phd-14057551/

Christopher Conway

Thank you Sue for defending our city from these Social Justice Warriors who are using race to divide our city. San Mateo was 95% white in 1960, it is now 46%. That is all you have to know about the huge demographic change that happened in our city and the welcoming atmosphere long time residents have held out for foreigners from different countries and people of all races. This has got to stop and that is why it is important to make sure Amourence Lee is not elected to the San Mateo city council this November. If anyone wants to govern over San Mateo and leads with racial equity and social justice, make sure they are sent back under the rock in which they came. Sue, it is so refreshing to see someone who has been in this area so long stand up and defend her, I finally get to say that I agree with you 100%.

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