- In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in San Jose, entrepreneur Satish Ramchandran, highlights challenges Asian, Indian and other minority professionals face when they move into the affluent, majority White neighborhoods.
A home remodeling project has turned out to be a nightmare for Los Altos, California resident Satish Ramachandran. The 57-year-old Indian American entrepreneur wanted to update and improve his one-story suburban home in a wealthy Silicon Valley community in 2013, but disputes with neighbors and lawsuits in criminal and civil state courts alleging discrimination have consumed Ramachandran for the past eight years.
In a March 2018 report, the Daily Post said Ramachandran bought the house at 889 Santa Rita Avenue in 1993, seven years after emigrating to the U.S. from India.
Detailing the lawsuit and the events that led to it, a Jan. 17 Mercury News report said that in 2013, Ramachandran “decided to put a wet bar in his home, convert his garage into a small apartment, add a new 60-square-foot shed in his backyard, and upgrade the front patio.”
Instead, the $50,000 renovations have remained unfinished and in limbo since then. Now Ramachandran has filed a civil rights suit in the U.S. District Court in San Jose claiming widespread racial discrimination by city of Los Altos employees. He seeks in excess of $6 million in damages.
According to the lawsuit, Ramachandran had secured the necessary permits for the renovations in 2013. But the shed, “placed along the property line, irked his neighbors of nearly 30 years, the Jacobs family,” the suit says. After the Jacobs complained to the city, disputing over the property line separating Ramachandran’s shed and their backyard studio, a Superior Court judge agreed with the Jacobs and approved a new property line six inches farther into Ramachandran’s property. As the neighborhood skirmish escalated, the Jacobs aimed about a dozen security cameras at Ramachandran’s home, the suit says, adding that the cameras have since been removed.
In the lawsuit, Ramachandran also accuses Senior Building Inspector Greg Anderson of making several discriminatory remarks to him in 2013. He allegedly asked Ramachandran why he lived in Los Altos, “as if immigrants did not belong there,” according to the suit, and told him to “go back to India.” The Mercury News report notes that Ramachandran “immediately told the inspector to leave and complained to city officials.” However, the inspector is still employed by the city.
“I don’t say these things lightly,” Ramachandran told the Mercury News. “There’s a very, very entrenched sense of entitlement going on.”
Things took a turn for the worse in September 2018 when city officials pasted Ramachandran’s fence with notices to vacate the garage apartment and stop construction work, according to the suit. When Ramachandran pulled one of the orders down from the fence to read it, he was slapped with misdemeanor. The charge has been dismissed, the Mercury News reported.
As Ramachandran began researching for his lawsuit, he discovered other Asian and Indian families who had reported similar discrimination. The Mercury News report says that Ramachandran’s suit also highlights challenges Asian, Indian and other minority professionals face when they move into the affluent, majority White neighborhoods. “It also shows the difficulties of building and renovating in the Bay Area’s most exclusive cities,” the report says. “Los Altos, with a median home price of $3.4 million, has been targeted by the state for failing to meet home-building goals for all but luxury houses, and for enacting restrictions on building accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. The report also notes that during this time, Ramachandran “cut back on his work as a tech consultant and he started renting rooms in his home for additional income.”
In one of the examples showing racial discrimination, Ramchandran’s lawsuits names the Kedia family which “never got approval for their kitchen remodel after a Los Altos city inspector told them to landscape their yard,” the Mercury News and Daily Post reported. “The inspector issued a stop-work order, even though work had been completed. The city has never signed off on the project.” Citing another case in the lawsuit, the report said that when the Ling family “approached the city about renovating and expanding a small, old backyard unit, the city had no record of the structure and ordered the Lings to remove the existing kitchen.”
Eight years later, the Mercury News reports that Ramachandran’s garage studio apartment is unoccupied, there is no patio, and the shed “sits precisely 31 inches from his neighbor’s studio, an inch beyond city requirements.” And although Ramachandran has no life beyond the lawsuit, he tells the paper: “If I don’t stand up, I’ll feel terrible about myself.”