Sleepy Hollow

"Story: Submitted by: Stella Vazquez, Rising Senior at Archie Williams / Summer Intern

When Sleepy Hollow resident Lezley Blair first moved to the neighborhood in 2013, she didn't yet know that her new home was, like many others in the area (see Marin County Recorder's interactive map here: Restrictive Covenants Time Progression.

Beginning in 1934, the use of racially restrictive covenants was encouraged by the Federal Housing Authority to prohibit the inclusion of people of color in the housing market and predominantly white areas. Restrictive covenants imposed limitations on who may occupy a purchased property or how it may be used. More specifically, racially restrictive covenants prohibit the occupation, lease, purchase, or other ownership of a property by a specific group of people on the merit of race or ethnicity. Although the covenants were ruled unenforceable by the Supreme Court with the 1968 Fair Housing Act, they still exist on property deeds today.

Since 2021, the County of Marin has supported the efforts of the Restrictive Covenant Project to educate residents on these restrictive covenants and encourage their removal from individual homes in the community. In 2020, Supervisor Katie Rice found racial covenant language in her deed which she had stricken.

Upon purchasing her home in 2013, Lezley was not made aware of the fact that her property deed could be home to a racially restrictive covenant at the time of the real estate transaction. She first heard of the Restrictive Covenant Project via the Marin IJ and the Sleepy Hollow Homeowners Association Bulletin. "I was aware of the project and assumed it would not be an issue for me because of the relatively new build," said Lezley, making note of the fact that her home was built in 2006, almost 40 years after the passing of the Fair Housing Act. Logically, it would make no sense for the deed to have a covenant because of this.

However after talking with Alex Thomas,a neighborhood representative for the Restrictive Covenant Project, Lezley learned that restrictive covenants were not necessarily imposed on the house itself, but could apply to earlier property deeds. When Lezley looked at section B of her title report, there were four listed covenants that required further investigation at the Marin County Recorder's Office to see if they were racially motivated.

"The restrictive covenant I found was dated 1943. It was a grant deed attached to this property. The racist covenant stated, 'No person or persons not of the Caucasian or white race shall use or occupy the above described land or any part thereof, and the party of the second part does hereby bind itself and its successors in interest to not do any act which will permit or occasion violation of this restriction." Simply put the entire property and its contents were restricted to white ownership and occupation,and all the owners and occupants that followed would have to do the same.” Upon finding the restriction on her property, Lezley underwent the process of having the covenant stricken from the record,. "After finding the deed, I paid to get a copy of that page from the county (but you could just take a photo of the computer screen). I then paid to have the county modification form notarized at a UPS store and dropped the form back to the Marin County Recorder's Office to have the deed amended. In total, I spent $23 (the notarization is no longer required so the process can be free). I received paper confirmation by mail shortly afterward confirming that the covenant had been struck from the record." In only a handful of steps, she was able to locate her property's restrictive covenant and strike it from the record. From then on, the deed would acknowledge that she had removed the covenant.

Lezley acknowledges that the process may not be so easy for everyone, saying that, “The million dollar question is how to help people who don't have easy access to the title report documents that point out covenants and provide guidance (books and page numbers) on how to access them at the county recorder's office." By sharing her experience in her community, in circles like the Sleepy Hollow Homeowners Association and Presbyterian Church, she has already helped to eliminate a barrier by talking to her neighbors about her experience. Some of her neighbors have already taken action to research their own properties.

Despite the fact that the covenants are no longer enforceable, Lezley recognizes the importance of removing them on principle. Lezley recounted a conversation where she was asked if she really needed to take action if the covenant had been nullified, "For me,making a moral statement is important. I want all people in this community, even in this historical nature, to know that this restrictive covenant was never OK and it is not OK to be attached to my property now. I was pleased to officially remove the roots of racism around my home. I suspect that similar restrictive covenants blanket most of the houses here," Lezley added.

The Marin County Restrictive Covenant Project hopes to replicate and amplify Lezley's story through community activism. This is an unique opportunity for new and longtime residents to research and take action if necessary. Because of the time period that many Sleepy Hollow homes were built and after just the preliminary research done by the County there are many homes that have restrictive covenants remaining today. Everyone has the opportunity to make a positive and inclusive change in our neighborhood.

The Sleepy Hollow Homeowners Association partnered with Supervisor Rice's office on a high school summer internship and two amazing local high schoolers - Stella Vazquez & Tula Peltz worked this summer to assist in researching properties. Tula is a rising sophomore at Tamalpais High School. She was interested in this project because of a documentary she did on her grandmother who worked in the Civil Rights Movement, and while learning about restrictive covenants and redlining in her English class. Stella is a rising senior at Archie Williams High School.

They are diving into research at the Recorder's office and are looking into both the Sleepy Hollow Presbyterian Church & Sleepy Hollow Community Center. Email SHHA Board member / Intern Coordinator Caroline Vance Bruister with your address and parcel number to request research assistance today: There will also be the first committee meeting this fall for anyone who wants to help keep “beating the drum” on this issue, please email Alex Thomas for information on that meeting: