A bill that would return Bruce’s Beach in the Los Angeles County city of Manhattan Beach back to the descendants of the original owners from nearly a century ago, was sent directly to the Senate floor on Monday.
Senate Bill 796, authored by Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would specifically exclude the Bruce’s Beach area of Manhattan State Beach from public recreation and beach purpose use and would instead be sold, transferred, or encumbered upon terms and conditions determined by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to be in the best interest of the county and the general public. If passed, the Director of Parks and Recreation would have until the end of the year to write up the new deed that removes Bruce’s Beach from their current restrictions.
While left unsaid in the bill itself, it would lead the way to giving the property back to the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce. The African American Bruces’ bought the beachfront property in Manhattan Beach in 1912, creating a resort that catered to black residents. Because most beaches at the time were unwelcome to black beachgoers, Bruce’s Beach quickly grew in popularity. However, for the next 12 years, many groups, including the KKK, continually threatened them, leading the Manhattan Beach City Council to take the beach by eminent domain in 1924.
Throughout the decades, control of the beach went between the city the state and the county before finalizing control by LA County in 1995, where it became the home of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Training Headquarters. However, all of those years of transfers led to increased difficulty in legally transferring the property, with the 1995 transfer requiring that state legislation was needed to transfer the property once again.
In the early 2020’s, following the George Floyd incident and more calls for racial justice, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn announced her intention of returning the beach back to the Bruce family, getting the support of Senator Bradford to introduce it in the Senate. SB 796 unanimously passed the Natural Resources and Water Committee last month, and due to a determination that the bill had no state costs on Monday, skipped the Appropriations Committee for a Senate floor vote.
The return of Bruce’s Beach
“I never served in Sacramento but from what I am told, this legislation is moving quickly,” said Supervisor Hahn in a statement on Monday. “I want to thank Senator Bradford, Senator Portantino, and everyone who has made calls in support of this bill. We are another step closer to returning Bruce’s Beach to its rightful owners.”
Despite the the large County to private transfer of land of beachfront property, the bill has not received any significant opposition.
“Everyone seems to be for this,” Roger Calhoun, a land buyer and seller in California, told the Globe. “For those on the side of social justice, this is giving back land wrongly taken 97 years ago. For those against government power, this fights back against eminent domain and gives part of that back. And for those looking for new beachfront opportunities, that is just a perfect plot to build on. Or, for the more generous type, giving back to preserve as a state beach or something.”
“It corrects an injustice, reverses an eminent domain decision, and gives a family back something that once was theirs. The public might lose out on some beach access, but since beaches along the coast are public and not private, it won’t really be all that much. You can see why no one has been really dead set against this.”
SB 796 is expected to go to a Senate vote in the coming weeks.
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