Bill to Return California Beach to Original Black Owners Gets Final State Senate Approval, Heads to Governor’s Desk

Los Angeles County may soon return oceanfront land in Manhattan Beach to its original black owners — thanks to a one-of-a-kind bill that is on its way to Governor Gavin Newsom.

A state Senate bill to give LA County the power to transfer two parcels of land to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce cleared the final legislative hurdle Thursday night, September 9. The Senate unanimously passed SB 796 on the eve of the legislative session. end.

“I’m thrilled to be walking on water right now,” Duane Shepard, a distant descendant of Bruce and family historian, said Thursday night. “It’s one of the greatest things in American history right now.”

Thursday was the second time the Senate passed the bill without a dissent — the first time was in June — a procedural requirement after the House added non-substantive amendments to it. The Assembly unanimously approved the bill on Wednesday.

Newsom must now sign the invoice.

It will take a few days at most for the physical pages of the bill to be processed and sent to the governor, according to the office of Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, author of SB 796.

Newsom has not hinted if he will sign the bill. A spokesperson for Newsom said in an email late Thursday that the bill would be assessed once it reached his office.

But SB 796 has received broad bipartisan support so far.

“SB 796 represents economic and historical justice,” Bradford said, “and is a model of what reparations can really look like.”

Willa and Charles Bruce purchased two oceanfront plots of land in Manhattan Beach in 1912. The couple operated a thriving resort there for African Americans at a time when black people had limited access to the ocean. But they, along with those who visited the resort and other African-American residents of Manhattan Beach, were harassed by some white neighbors who didn’t want black people in the community, historical records show.

  • Willa Bruce, the first owner of Bruce’s Beach, around 1920 in front of her resort. Bruce’s Beach was the only black ocean access point in Los Angeles at the time. (Courtesy of Jan Dennis)

  • Wedding portrait of Charles and Willa Bruce. On March 3, 2007, dozens of people gathered at the renaming ceremony from Bruce’s Beach to Manhattan Beach. (Daily Breeze file photo)

  • Willa Bruce, her son, Harvey Bruce and daughter-in-law, Meda, seated outside Bruce’s Beach Lodge circa 1920. (Daily Breeze blog file photo)

  • Map of the Bruce’s plots of land near Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach. (Jeff Goertzen)

  • Senate Bill 796, which would allow LA County to return land in Manhattan Beach to its original black owners, passed the Senate a second time on Thursday, September 9, 2021, sending it to the governor’s office. . In this April 2021 file photo, Kavon Ward, founder of Justice for Bruce’s Beach, speaks during a press conference in Manhattan Beach on Friday, April 9, 2021. The event was held to shed light on LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn’s efforts to have the Los Angeles County begin to right past wrongs and bring justice to the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce, returning the land of Bruce’s Beach to them. Currently, a county lifeguard building sits on the grounds. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

  • This aerial view of Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach shows the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Training Center which sits partly on plots 8 and 9, once owned by Willa and Charles Bruce, a black couple who got caught land in eminent domain proceedings in 1924 (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The rulers of Manhattan Beach at the time condemned the Bruce’s land, along with that of other landowners, in 1924 and took it back through eminent domain.

Manhattan Beach still owns the land it obtained from other owners through eminent domain. This land sits above the Bruce’s two plots and decades later became Bruce’s Beach Park.

But the city gave the Bruce lands to the state in 1948. The state turned those parcels and larger stretches of beach over to Los Angeles County in 1995.

Under this transfer, the county, which operates a lifeguard station on the former Bruce’s Beach Lodge, cannot give or sell the land to anyone else.

SB 796 will let the county do just that.

“Time and time again, different government agencies have used their power to deny wealth and opportunity to many communities of color,” Bradford said Thursday. “This bill represents an opportunity for this government to finally do the right thing: right a wrong done by Manhattan Beach and aided by the state and county in taking ownership of this property.”

The effort to return the land to the Bruces began last summer amid nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. A The June 19 celebration was held at Bruce’s Beach Park, also serving to educate attendees about the history of discrimination that namesakes in the open space have faced. A petition demanding reparations then followed.

In April, Bradford, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn and others came together to announce the joint state and county effort return the two parcels to the descendants of Bruce.

At the time, those officials said the effort would be the first time in the nation’s history that land would be returned to an African-American family to fix various discriminatory policies, including redlining, that kept blacks out to create wealth through land ownership.

“I am happy for the Charles and Willa Bruce family and for our people across the country, Indigenous and African American,” Shepard, a spokesperson for the Bruce family, said Thursday. “This is going to be the start of something really big for our people now. “

Shepard said he hadn’t moved from his computer for the past two days as he watched the Assembly and Senate sessions – and waited for SB 796 to pass.

“I thought they were going to adjourn and resume tomorrow,” he said, “but I didn’t move until I saw this bill coming.”

Kavon Ward, the founder of Justice for Bruce’s Beach who led the June 19 celebration last year, was equally thrilled the bill passed.

“I cried all day,” she said in a text message. “I can not believe it.”

But several steps remain to be taken before the Bruce family can take control of the land.

First, Newsom must sign SB 796.

If he does, the bill will go into effect immediately because of an emergency clause.

And then LA County would be responsible for returning the land.

“I am committed to returning Bruce’s Beach to the Bruce family, but I cannot do so without this legislation,” Hahn, whose district includes Manhattan Beach, said in a statement Thursday. “I have been so moved by the overwhelming support we have had for this effort in Sacramento. Finally, this bill is heading to Governor Newsom’s desk. Not only do I urge him to sign it, but I also think that it would mean so much if he signed it at Bruce’s Beach.

It is not yet known if Newsom would. But he is due to travel to nearby Long Beach on Monday, Sept. 13, for a campaign rally with President Joe Biden in a bid to avoid a recall.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, ordered officials in July to pursue an action plan to return the two plots to Bruce’s descendants.

A report on this plan, written by the office of the county CEO and the Anti-Racism, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, detailed the complex processes involved in transferring the land, assessing the value of the property , determination of legal heirs, limitation of the burden of property tax. on the family and figure out what to do with the aid station. More details will come later this year on how to transfer the land once the state allows the county to do so.

State Director of Parks and Recreation Armando Quintero will need to amend the county’s deed by Dec. 31 to exclude the Bruce property from the land transfer restrictions that currently exist.

“It’s the first time a government has done something like this,” Hahn said in July, “and there were a lot of questions about how it would work.”

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