Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Thursday that returns Bruce’s Beach, currently a part of Manhattan State Beach in Manhattan Beach, back to the descendants of the original owners from nearly a century ago.
Senate Bill 796, authored by Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), will 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.
While initially seen as a gateway law that would open up the state to more reparations claims, fears by legislative members from both parties were quickly calmed by the bill making it clear that the bill would only apply to the unique situation of Bruce’s Beach, which had been owned by the African-American Bruce family in the early 1900’s before threats by groups such as the KKK had Manhattan Beach seize the land as eminent domain in 1924. with control transferring to LA County in 1995. The involvement of white-supremacist groups in threatening beachgoers and causing the transfer almost 100 years ago only further convinced lawmakers that the Bruce family claim was justified. Both parties in the Assembly and Senate joined together and voted unanimously for the bill earlier this month, 79-0 and 39-0 respectively.
At a ceremony at Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, Governor Newsom signed the bill with ancestors of the Bruce’s and numerous state and local lawmakers looking on. After signing the bill, Newsom proceeded to hand over the pen to Anthony Bruce, the great-great grandson of the original owners, and give a speech.
“As Governor of California, let me do what apparently Manhattan Beach is unwilling to do: I want to apologize to the Bruce family. As we move to remedy this nearly century-old injustice, California takes another step furthering our commitment to making the California Dream a reality for communities that were shamefully shut out by a history of racist exclusion,” said Governor Newsom on Thursday. “We know our work is just beginning to make amends for our past, and California will not shy from confronting the structural racism and bias that people of color face to this day. I thank the Bruce family, Senator Bradford, the Los Angeles County Supervisors and all those who fought to keep the legacy of this place alive and deliver this long overdue justice.”
Senator Bradford echoed Newsom’s comments in a speech after the Governor, saying that “SB 796 shows us that it is never too late to address the injustices of the past. If you can inherit generational wealth in this country, then you can inherit generational debt too. The City of Manhattan Beach, County of Los Angeles, and the State of California owe a debt to the Bruce family. This bill passed the Legislature unanimously and with overwhelming community support, making it clear that our state is committed to tackling systemic racism head-on. As a member of the California Reparations Task Force, this is an example of what real reparations can look like.”
Transferring Bruce’s Beach
While near-universally applauded, some warned that, despite earlier assurances of the bill being a one-time change of ownership due to the nature of the Bruce’s Beach transfer in 1924.
“Both Republicans and Democrats agreed that how the land taken was wrong,” explained San Diego real estate attorney Louis Keller to the Globe on Thursday. “Social justice, eminent domain, not wanting to be on the same side as the KKK. There were lots of valid reasons.”
“But this may serve as sort of a jumping off point for other claims that may be more dubious or unclear, and that could turn into a problem. Reparations are a huge issue, and it may sort of force some land titles or other things to be pushed forward even if there are legitimate claims against them too. I wouldn’t say this is a slippery slope. There are justified cases of turning over land, houses, and all sorts of things to the rightful owner. But not all of them are, and we need to evaluate each one individually and carefully, and not just start a wave of transfers. Reparations cannot be a blanket term or force. It all comes down to the facts.”
Despite Governor Newsom’s signing on Thursday, full approval of the transfer of Bruce’s Beach still requires the approval of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, which is expected to be given in the near future.
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