Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach, California. (303070)
Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach, California. Credit: By ChildofMidnight at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8690498

Last week, Senate Bill 796, authored by State Sen. Bradford (D-Gardena), was approved 38-0 during a final concurrence vote on the Senate Floor. SB 796 will authorize the County of Los Angeles to return the beachfront property known as Bruce’s Beach to the Bruce family.

“We are one step away from correcting a century’s old injustice,” said Bradford. “The vote we took today is proof that it is never too late to do the right thing. SB 796 is the embodiment of the truth that if you can inherit generational wealth in this country, then you can inherit generational debt too. The Bruce’s endured harassment, hostility and violence by the Ku Klux Klan before the City seized their land. Now, because of the dedication and leadership of Los Angeles Supervisor’s Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell, this issue has been brought back into public view and is close to resolution.

“Then Assemblymember, now Secretary of State, Dr. Shirley Weber set us on a wider path toward reparations by establishing a first-in-the-nation Task Force and this is just one of many good examples. I am confident that Governor Newsom shares our vision for a California that isn’t afraid to acknowledge its past actions and rectify them.”

“I am determined to return this land to the Bruce family, but I can’t do it without this legislation,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “I am grateful to Senator Bradford for stepping up and shepherding this bill through the state legislature and I have been so moved by the overwhelming support that we have gotten for this effort in Sacramento. At long last, this bill is heading to Governor Newsom’s desk. I not only urge him to sign it, I think it would mean so much if he signed it at Bruce’s Beach.”

“Senator Bradford’s leadership has put correcting an historic injustice within our grasp,” said Supervisor Holly Mitchell. “SB 796 makes it possible for LA County to return Bruce’s Beach to its rightful owners, the Bruce family. I look forward to Governor Newsom signing this bill and proudly support Supervisor Janice Hahn in getting this done.”

In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce, a young black couple, purchased property in Manhattan Beach and built a resort run by and made for Black residents. It was one of only a handful of beaches where Black residents could go because so many other local beaches were off-limits to people of color. But the Bruces and their customers were harassed and threatened by white neighbors as well as targeted by the KKK. The Manhattan Beach City Council later seized the property using eminent domain, purportedly to create a park. The City ultimately took the property in 1929 but it remained empty for decades.

In 1948, the property once owned by the Bruce family was transferred to the State, with conditions. In 1995, the County accepted control of Bruce’s Beach and other lands from the State. In 2006, Manhattan Beach finally began to recognize the actual history of this land by renaming Bruce’s Beach after its rightful owners. This was a result of the work of the city’s first Black City Councilmember, Mitch Ward.

In addition to authorizing the property to be sold and transferred, the language specifically updates the deed and exempts the land from several statutory restrictions that date back to when the land was first transferred to the County. On April 20, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved motions by Hahn and Mitchell to sponsor SB 796 and to begin the County’s work to return Bruce’s Beach to its rightful owners.

The legislation includes an urgency clause which means that it will go into effect immediately upon being signed into law by the governor, who has until Oct. 10 to sign the bill.