Legislator for Fair Employment, Fair Housing, and Public Health: William Byron Rumford


The Fair Housing Act

Assemblyman W. Byron Rumford

Much has been said about the Fair Housing Act, and when the Bill was introduced, we never thought that it would cause so much commotion both in the State of California and throughout the United States. With a campaign shaping up on the initiative measure, Proposition 14, introduced by the California Real Estate Association to amend the Housing Act and make other substantive changes through a Constitutional Amendment, we can expect additional commotion and much misrepresentation in the months to come.

A discussion of the background of the Law is most certainly in order and should be valuable to those who seek to defend it in face of the CREA initiative.

It should first be recognized that fair housing has been part of the Democratic Party platform as well as part of the Republican Party platform. Governor Brown has campaigned actively on that issue. Early in 1963, it became apparent that the time was ripe for action on this subject. After studying the congressional reports, the reports of the United States Commission on Civil Rights with respect to housing, as well as various reports that had been compiled by the California Assembly on the subject; it was concluded by the Governor and most legislators that 1963 was the year to take action to make housing accessible to all Americans alike.

In its report the United States Commission on Civil Rights had indicated that housing, as a commodity, was one item the acquisition of which was "not freely accessible to all Americans."


In advance of our legislative move, we studied the history of acts by other states. We found that in 1896, in the City of New York, the number of new immigrants was so heavy and discrimination against them was so prevalent, that it was necessary to establish an ordinance so the Irish then could have access to housing. Since that particular time there have been at least ten other states that have adopted laws dealing with fair housing. Outstanding, of course, is the State of New York. Governor Brown inquired from Governor Rockefeller about the success of the legislation in that state, and Mr. Rockefeller indicated that the law was working very well. Governor Brown conferred with Governor Hatfield of Oregon, a state which has long had a fair housing law, and received similar encouragement. Accordingly, in 1963, a bill was introduced at the behest of Governor Brown to abolish discrimination in housing against Americans because of their color, ancestry or their religion. Unfortunately, the bill that was introduced was not the bill that was finally adopted. The final bill was much weaker, and it was, in addition, a combination of laws that had been on the books since 1959.

In 1959, the Democratic controlled Legislature adopted the Hawkins "Publicly Assisted Act". This provided that housing that had been constructed with the public assistance by VA, FHA, or CalVet was to be free of discrimination.

In 1959, we also adopted the Fair Employment Practices Act which had been requested by Governor Brown and had been a campaign issue in 1958. Also, in 1959, we changed Section 51 of the Civil Code, the so-called Unruh Act, to make it include "any business whatsoever" in defining the areas to which discrimination was to be excluded.

The bill that I was fortunate to introduce in 1963 and which since has borne my name was a strong bill in the field of housing. It was

introduced in February of 1963, and during the course of its path through the Legislature, it was heard and debated many times - before committees and on the floor of each House. It was debated loud and long before Legislative committees. The bill attracted significant support from the church leaders and labor leaders of our state. The bill went out of the Assembly Governmental Efficiency Committee with a recommendation "do pass" and was then referred to the Ways and Means Committee. Opposition was presented before that committee, proponents argued on behalf of the bill, and the bill was similarly passed by that committee to the Assembly floor. The initial bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 65 to 14.

The bill then moved to the Senate and was referred to the Governmental Efficiency Committee of the Senate some time in April. It was heard before that committee but remained in the committee as there was an indication that adjustments and changes were desired. Pending before that committee were proposals for over 100 amendments to the bill at that time. We were concerned about the delay at this point because we knew that we had a favorable Senate in that many of the Senators had pledged themselves to support the party platform. Some senators who were not favorable inclined toward the legislation, attempted to hold it in committee and to amend the bill to include the three earlier acts described above which had been on the books since 1959. Frankly, while we were not too pleased with their action, we felt it was acceptable, and we could get the bill adopted. Actually, this maneuver was an attempt on behalf of some individuals to kill the legislation. There were some 200 [illegible data] be heard on the Senate floor the night the bill was finally let out of the committee, and they thought they would never get through the calendar. But, several of the Senators supporting the bill were alert, and the bill was set for

a special order for 11:00 p.m. on the final night of the session. There were arguments for it and against it, and the vote was taken, the bill was passed, and sent over to the Assembly for concurrence in the Senate amendments. The Assembly set the bill for a special order at 20 minutes to 12:00p.m. It was debated, and at 10 minutes to 12:00 p.m., it was passed with a standing ovation by the Legislators for the first time in the history of the Assembly.

This then was the history of the legislation which took over five months to enact and what the opposition says was rammed through the Legislature. Granted that the action on the final night was quite hasty, this is quite often true with legislation in Sacramento during the closing hours of sessions; but in view of the adequate time for hearings since its first introduction in February, the charge of being rammed through the Legislature does not hold water. We should recognize that there is little chance of ramming anything through our legislative body, partic ularly with our systems of checks and balances. We are happy that it did take this long because it gave all a chance to rebutt the argument that the Fair Housing Law did not have a full and complete hearing.

You may recall that during the course of legislative action of this bill, there was a sit-in in Sacramento. Those of us who supported the bill did not suggest the sit-in, in fact many of us felt that it was uncalled for. The bill was moving along nicely but the sit-ins were there and the fact that they were there was given wide publicity.

Opponents of the bill have made many charges against it, and these charges should be carefully understood for they do not bear up under close examination. One of the loose charges is that administrative procedures under the act amount to a kangaroo court and further that the Commission itself, is politically appointed, and this is intended

to convey some indication of distaste for the legislation, its procedure, and of course the membership of the commission which enforces the act.

Those who have had any experience in government know that there are over 150 boards and commissions that function under the California Administrative Procedures Act. This Act has been established to control methods of operation and all activities and matters that come before these various boards and the commissions. The commission concerned with fair housing cannot act any differently than other commission, procedures are spelled out to ensure that they are properly conducted. The hearing officers are on civil service, and they are chosen from a list of elegibles. The commission itself is "politically appointed" but there are only two types of government employees, either civil service or political appointments. If the opponents do not like a "political appointee", they can point to that fact with disdain and convey then the impression that politics has played a heavy part in the appointment; and if the individual concerned is a civil servant, then the opponents will label him a "bureaucrat"-so it seems that it just can't come out right as far as the opponents are concerned.

There is the charge that the Fair Housing Act provides for fines. This is not true. The law has no fine. The law does provide a ceiling on damages. Because in some instances a person who has been aggrieved can file a suit for civil damages, and sometimes these suits seek damages which are exhorbitant. The Legislature accordingly put a ceiling of $500 on the damages which could be collected. There are, of course, penalties that may come about when a person refuses to comply with a court order. The court then holds that individual in contempt of court, but this could be true under any court order and is not peculiar to the Fair Housing Act itself.


The Act has been on the books since September 1963, and during that time, the commission has handled some 90 odd cases. Most of them have been arbitrated and conciliated with the advantage to both parties, and only one case has gone to court. This one case went to court because of the desire on the part of individuals to test it before the courts of the land, and so it was by design and purpose that this case became a legal issue.

We believe the Fair Housing Act is a fairly good working piece of legislation, and it is unfortunate that the CREA would not give it a chance to work. The facts clearly indicate that ghettos were developed in our cities, and with them have come crime, delinquency, and certain ill-health considerations with which the Legislature has been concerned. This entire area has been one that has been debated and argued in a sensible and reasonable atmosphere, and we are quite concerned that the issue should be decided on that basis of merit and not by an appeal to emotion.

It is significant to add that during the consideration of this legislation in Sacramento, the Real Estate Association consulted with me and requested that I amend a section in the bill. That request was for language which said this, "nothing contained in this part shall be construed to prohibit selection based upon race, color, religion, national ancestry, national origin, or ancestry." This simply meant that a person should have the right to select people for the sale, leasing, or rental of their property based on factors other than race, color, or creed. I saw nothing wrong with their request, and we agreed that it should be placed in the bill. The CREA indicated that with this amendment in the bill they would support it, and we thought that we had them pleased. Much to our chagrin, it did not work out that way.


We began to wonder why they attacked the legislation. First, some of them attempted a referendum which would have blocked adoption of the bill. In order for the referendum to succeed they had to solicit a number of signatures by September 20, 1963. This they were not able to do, and so the Fair Housing Act went into effect. Now it appears obvious , in retrospect, that they did not attempt to repeal this legislation because they had other things in mind. If they had wanted to block passage of the Fair Housing Act, all they had to do was to carry through on the referendum, secure the signatures, and hence block adoption of the Act.

When we go back and look at the actions of the California Real Estate Association, we find that they had other plans. As far back as September 1948, we find discussion in their own organizational magazine of "enforcement of race restrictions by an amendment to the Federal Constitution", and so it became apparent after September 1963 that this is what they were interested in doing - to push for a constitutional amendment which would provide for segregation in a legalized manner, by writing it into our state constitution. A complete analysis of the position of CREA has been done by one of the professors of Sacramento State College, and the record that he has come up with is quite amazing.

In opposing the CREA initiative, we should clearly understand exactly what it is. It is not just an act to repeal the Fair Housing Act. Instead, it introduces a new concept in dealing with property which will be written into our state constitution. The initiative says this, "neither the state nor any subdivision or agency thereof shall deny, limit, or abridge directly or indirectly the right of any person who is willing or desirous to sell, rent, or lease any part of

his real property, to decline to sell, rent, or lease to any such person or persons as he in his absolute discretion chooses." This language rather emphatically states that a person could discriminate against you because of your religion, ancestry, or because of my race, or for any other reason he chooses. This is the dangerous part of their whole scheme, and they have not told the people the truth. They have not told them that this is what they are attempting to do. The CREA is telling the people they want to repeal that vicious Rumford Act, but you should understand that they are seeking to go way beyond just a repeal.

Their act is an attempt to revert to the 17th century, to the despotic theory of the use of property. The courts of our land have held in at least three cases that have gone to the Supreme Court - one case originating in New York - that "Neither property nor contract rights are absolute. For government cannot exist if a citizen may at will use his property to the detriment of his fellows or exercise his freedom of contract to work them harm. Equally fundamental to the private rights are those of the public to regulate them in the common interest."

We are satisfied that if the CREA initiative does pass, it will be taken to the Supreme Court and will be declared unconstitutional. We have asked our Legislative Counsel in Sacramento to tell us what this initiative will do, and this is the reply that we got: "As can be seen, the language of the proposed initiative measure is extremely broad. The extent of coverage and the effect of the measure will depend to a great extent upon the interpretation placed upon the language by the court in cases arising after adoption of the measure, if it is adopted. The courts will by that time have several aids to interpretation to assist them in ascertaining what the language means

and what the voters intended to cover by the adoption of the measure." And so even the Legislative Counsel in Sacramento cannot clearly tell us what the effect will be.

We believe this initiative is dangerous because it could affect other laws dealing with real estate and property. It could perhaps affect the rule of perpetuities on land and property. And the rule of unlawful restraint and alienation of property, the general law of unusual anti-social dispositions, and the insistence upon formalities as a prerequisite for full efficacy. We feel that the law may also affect the probate of wills, and it may affect the law of auction. It is a dangerous instrument and should not be adopted.

It is interesting to note that many supporters of this initiative are the right-wingers who strongly proclaim that our government is a republican form of government and that we have representatives in Sacramento and in Washington to vote for our interests. These extremists deny that our form of government is a form of democracy wherein the people express themselves and are responsible directly to the governmental process. But what have these extremists done - they have gone ahead and used the democratic process. Instead of relying on the representatives of the people that adopted this legislation, they now seek to support broad public action based largely on emotion to reverse the law and to propose their own more extreme proposition.

Today we have five or six initiative measures on the ballots and this is possibly only the beginning. As these issues become more and more controversial and as they are placed before us in Sacramento, the Legislators are going to say, well, if the people want to vote, let the people vote, and the Legislators will shirk their responsibilities. This year the people will vote, on pay TV, on the railroad, on the lottery amendment as well as on the housing amendment and several other amendments. It appears that the people are not informed

as to what is involved in these initiative petitions, and they are reluctant to refuse a person. Thus, they will sign petitions for initiatives, whatever they may be.

If this trend continues we are going to have to take a good look at our initiative procedure because it is apparent that it is being abused, and we might wind up with something on the ballot which might do us great harm.

I am certainly in favor of the referendum because I think that the referendum offers us a check on the acts of the Legislature. If we in the Legislature ever do anything that is wrong, the people can use the referendum procedure to repeal it. However, the canger of the initiative procedure, as I see it, carried to an extreme, is in the ability of special interest groups to exploit it.

Look at the lottery initiative. Here, a small special interest group have tied themselves into the lottery so that if the act passed, these special interest people will get a definite portion of the funds from the people in California. I think this is dangerous.

There are several areas in which changes might be needed in our initiative procedure. Perhaps, we should require additional names to be sure that they cannot be adopted too hastily. Again, we might find it necessary to regulate the individuals who promote these initiatives, for these individuals often get as much as $250,000 for pushing a measure on the ballot.

So, I think that we must recognize that it is important to know what the citizens will be voting on this fall in the CREA initiative.

Many have said that the Fair Housing Act is a bad law because it will deny you your right to sell your property to whomever you wish. Generally, we sell our property to a person who is able to pay. There is an old saying that goes "we can't choose our neighbors, thank God we can choose our friends."


Now, the CREA wants to choose both for us. Maybe we have some good neighbors, but it has not been the custom to choose for us. It seems to me that if a person is able financially and is an American citizen of good repute, he should be allowed to live anywhere he desires. It would also appear to me that in this time of stress and strain with/threats of war, if we cannot live together here in this country amicably, why should we be trying to fight in other areas to protect the interests of other persons with whom we might have the same problems if they lived here with us.

Certainly, as we talk seriously of going to the moon, we ought to be ready to straighten out our living conditions here first.

Opponents have stated that there will be a mass movement of Negroes if we pass the Fair Housing Act, that there would be somebody knocking at your door saying, "I'm here," That just hasn't happened. The law passed, it has been in effect for almost nine months, and all of the dreadful things that the opponents said would come about have not happened. This reflects on the legislative procedure where the issues were debated, and a vote taken to project the will of the majority of our people.

I have been asked why I do not speak out and condemn the pickets in San Francisco. Now, I did not favor the pickets when they came to Sacramento because I prefer the legislative process, but I am in no position at this time to condemn a group that has been successful in what they are trying to do - even more successful than I have been. It took me five months to get my legislation through the Legislature and to have the Governor sign it; and what do we have, we now have one of the strongest organizations in the state attempting to ratify an initiative petition creating turmoil and confusion, and in effect denying the legal legislative method by which we achieved this particular gain. In other words, our work in the Legislature remains

under a cloud. But, look at what happened in San Francisco; within 24 hours, the leaders got an agreement, legal or otherwise, with some 30 hotels. Am I in a position to condemn these activities? I doubt it at this moment.

We have some good realtors on our side, some honest to goodness people working with us who see the light, but the leadership of the CREA refuses to let them express themselves even at Director's meetings.

I was recently in the City of Anaheim, and that was quite an experience. Pickets outside of the meeting hall were parading up and down,and their signs read "Your reason is treason", and"Rumford go home", and all that type of thing. I never thought they would look upon me in that manner, but I guess it all depends on the conditions under which you meet these extremists.

We have a job to do in this coming election. Reaction is threatening us. We have already seen Birch Society candidates or at least individuals who act like them, running against Republicans of moderate political temperament. It is important that we elect and send to Sacramento men who can do sober thinking and enact needed legislation. We have had too much of the extreme position. It is a dangerous situation when one cannot speak up in this country, where democracy has always been the expression of the individual himself and his desires. Let us keep this fair housing legislation on the books of our state.


About this text
Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000; http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
Title: Legislator for fair employment, fair housing and public health : oral history transcript / William Byron Rumford
By:  Rumford, William Byron, Interviewee, Henderson, Joyce, Interviewer, Fry, Amelia R, Interviewer, France, Edward, Interviewer
Date: 1970-1973
Contributing Institution: The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000; http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
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