The Palm Springs City Council voted 5-0 Wednesday evening to start the legal process for the removal and relocation of the Frank Bogert monument in front of City Hall and moved forward with an official apology for the forced evictions of low-income people of color decades ago.
The Council also asked city staff to develop proposals for economic investments as reparation for the destruction of the one-square-mile block of property in downtown Palm Springs referred to as Section 14.
The moves came at the end of a five-hour virtual joint meeting with the city’s Human Rights Commission, which adopted a resolution earlier this year recommending the statue of Bogert on horseback be removed. More than 130 people attended the meeting via Zoom. Dozens offered public testimony.
The vote will not bring the immediate removal of the statue and makes no mention of where it might go once removed. Instead, it simply moves the process of relocation forward. The city’s Historic Site Preservation Board is expected to next discuss details of the removal. A coalition of community members is expected to be formed to provide recommendations on a new location for the statue.
At the center of debate was whether it was right to honor Bogert on city property. Bogert, who died in 2009, was an actor who served as mayor twice, including during one of the ugliest periods in city history in the late 1950s through the mid-1960s.
The resolution adopted by the Human Rights Commission was considered but ultimately not adopted by the City Council. It states that Black, indigenous, and other people of color were forced out of their homes in Section 14 when business owners, who were primarily white, sought to develop the property following the 1959 Indian Leasing Act that allowed tribes to enter into long-term leases.
The resolution uses language similar to that found in a 1968 State Attorney General report. That report was critical of the city’s treatment of Section 14 residents but concluded that no criminal activity occurred. The resolution calls out Bogert, specifically, alleging he played a key role in what the Attorney General’s office labeled “a city-engineered Holocaust.”
Council members shied away from singling out Bogert for the actions at Section 14. Instead, they chose to focus on all city leadership at the time.
“The city of Palm Springs was responsible for forcibly moving over 200 families from their homes,” said Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton. “The city of Palm Springs staff burned people’s homes. The city of Palm Springs staff drove bulldozers that took down people’s homes. We cannot erase our role in what happened. It will never go away. …At the same time the love, the affection that was felt for Frank Bogert is absolutely real.”
Many descendants of the families who lived in Section 14, who campaigned against the statue’s original installation 31 years ago, spoke in favor of its relocation Wednesday evening. Some told heart-wrenching stories they had heard from relatives about life in Section 14 and forced removal from their homes.
Among them were several members of the Crawford family, who settled in the city nearly 70 years ago and were among those who lost their homes, as well as the opportunity for generational wealth, when Section 14 was razed.
“I believe that apologies are long overdue and should have been done years ago,” said Deiter Crawford. “Palm Springs ignored that the residents of Section 14 were human beings.”
Council members voted to direct city staff to explore what form reparations for the families affected by Section 14 might take, including additional economic investment in the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood. Staff was asked to begin work “as quickly as reasonably possible” on recommendations.
Those who spoke against the statue’s removal made claims similar to those raised by members of a group called Friends of Frank Bogert. That group, comprised primarily of Bogert family members and those who knew him, recently launched an ad campaign to defend the former mayor’s reputation. They also leveled accusations against city officials.
“The statue was put in for a human being, not a god,” Carla Harrower said via Zoom. “He represents a part of our history that wasn’t perfect, and it deserves to stay as it is. This history that happened is unfortunate, and systemic racism does exist, yes. Was Frank Bogert responsible for it? No.”
In addition to voting to move forward with removing the statue and exploring reparations, the City Council also elected to support a Human Rights Commission resolution that offered a formal apology for the events at Section 14. The formal apology was designed to recognize the city’s role in the evictions of Section 14 and serve as a permanent reminder of the damage caused to marginalized communities.
Removing the Bogert monument is estimated to cost between $6,000 and $11,000, with the option of relocating the monument to an alternate location being approximately $12,000 to $22,000.