LA County Board of Supervisors votes to return Bruce’s Beach to family

by Mark McDermott

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to take initial steps towards the return of Bruce’s Beach to the Bruce family. 

Supervisor Janice Hahn, who has led the legislative effort to return the Manhattan Beach beachfront property currently owned by LA County and used as lifeguard offices, introduced two agenda items regarding Bruce’s Beach. The first, titled simply “Returning Bruce’s Beach to its Rightful Owners,” directed the County CEO to develop a plan to transfer the property; the second asked that LA County support Senate Bill 796, State legislation required to make the transfer legally possible.

Hahn told her colleagues they had the opportunity to set a powerful precedent towards restorative justice. 

“We have the opportunity not only to right a wrong that happened right here in LA County, but also to be an example to the rest of the nation on how governments can begin to act now to correct historic injustices,” Hahn said. “I hope that other cities, other counties, other states will see what we’re doing here, and will be inspired to look at their own histories and identify opportunities to begin to repair and make amends. I’m asking for the support of each of you today, colleagues, as we embark on this effort.”

Anthony Bruce, the great great grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce and the only remaining direct descendant, briefly weighed in, via Zoom from his home in Florida.

“I ask that you uphold justice for the Bruces and grant these motions,” Bruce said. 

The Board acted swiftly in support of both. Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who co-authored the motions, said that when she visited Bruce’s Beach Park a few weeks ago, it occurred to her that local Black history is too often all but hidden. Mitchell said the story of how Charles and Willa Bruce established a thriving resort and a gathering point for the Black community throughout LA County and had it all taken from them in 1924 by the City of Manhattan Beach’s racially-motivated use of eminent domain is important history to understand. 

“Imagine that over 100 years ago, a Black man and woman would have the resources and the wherewithal and the vision to buy a piece of beachfront property and build on it and establish a business,” Mitchell recalled thinking as she stood on Bruce’s Beach. “And it occurred to me also how inappropriate it was for one group of people to think it appropriate to block another group of people from having access to something that none of us own, which is the ocean and her shores.”

Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Janice Hahn with other supporters of the movement to return Bruce’s Beach to the Bruce family, including Assemblyperson Al Muratsuchi, State Senator Steven Bradford, and Kevon Ward, leader of the Justice for Bruce’s Beach movement. Photo by Kevin Cody.

Mitchell said that Bruce’s Beach represented one of many instances in which local and county government inappropriately took land, including at Chavez Ravine in the making of the freeway system. 

“I think it’s important that we in government understand the fundamental use of our powers around eminent domain, how delicate that is, and how in its use over many, many decades, underrepresented groups of people, Black and Brown peoples’ communities, have been ravaged,” Mitchell said. 

Supervisor Hilda Solis said that taking action to right a wrong at Bruce’s Beach helps bring awareness to such history. 

“As a Latina, I know how important this issue is, and know that our community, Latinos, have also been faced with many tragic occurrences throughout our history,” Solis said. “…the Chavez Ravine, that split our communities up. The 10 freeway, the 5, and all of these freeways that went right through the heart of our communities, and even the forced sterilization of women at our County Hospital years ago. All these things are part of our history. We can’t remove them, but we can shine a light on them, and make sure that they never come back. This is certainly a way to do it, and to pay homage to this family, the Bruces, a family that deserves so much more.”  

The Supervisors directed the County CEO’s Office to “report back in 60 days with a plan for how to return the property to the Bruce family, including a timeline, options for how to address property tax issues after the transfer, and plans for the County to either lease the property from the Bruce family or relocate the County Lifeguard facility currently at the property.” 

Daryl Osby, the chief of the County of Los Angeles Fire Department, submitted a letter in support of the action. 

“Though the District’s Lifeguard Headquarters and training center currently occupy these parcels of land located between the public beach and Manhattan Beach City Park, we recognize the importance of rectifying the historic injustice of how the land was originally acquired,” Osby wrote.  

The County was given the land by the City in 1948. Attached to the deed was a requirement that the property remain in public use. One of the possibilities the County is exploring is paying market value rent to the Bruce family for continued use of the property, although Hahn has said that the use of the land should ultimately be left to the Bruce family to determine. Osby asked that his department be allowed to collaborate regarding where to relocate the lifeguard facility if County use is not continued. 

Mayor Suzanne Hadley said that the City´s expectation is the property remain public use. 

“Most residents, and I as mayor, want the City of MB to have a seat at the table in discussions with the County moving forward,” Hadley said. “To date, most of what Manhattan Beach has heard has been from the media. No matter who owns the land going forward, it is the hope and expectation of our residents that the current use remains as it has for the last 100 years: zoned for public use such as a lifeguard station or passive park.” 

In an interview via email after the two motions unanimously passed, Duane Yellow Feather Shepard, a relative of the Bruces who is a chief of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation, and has served as a spokesperson for the family, expressed elation at the County’s action. But Shepard also took direct aim at the City, who in a City Council action two weeks ago rejected a proposed apology and instead issued a recognition and condemnation of the City’s role in the history of Bruce’s Beach. 

“This is the first step to justice for the Bruce family and a clear message to Manhattan Beach and the entire country that injustices such as these can no longer be ignored as something that happened in the past while the victims continue to suffer because of their predecessors’ racist actions,” Shepard wrote. 

“This is only the first step to making the Bruce family whole, there is still the restitution from Manhattan Beach for the loss of business revenue our family suffered for 96 years, and the punitive damages they sought with interest for the collusion of the Manhattan Beach Board of Trustees and the Manhattan Beach Police Department with the Ku Klux Klan to commit acts to deny our family the human right to a peaceful life, land, and sustenance, a form of genocide.” 

Kavon Ward, the leader of the Justice for Bruce’s Beach movement, which through its protests last year helped bring awareness of the land’s history to Hahn and other policymakers, expressed gratitude, hope, and determination. 

“The Justice for Bruce’s Beach movement has done it again!” Ward wrote via email. “We want to thank the community, our affiliates and LA County Supervisors for helping us get one step closer to justice for the Bruce family.” 

Hahn, at the end of the Supervisors’ discussion, recalled something her colleague Holly Mitchell said at the Bruce’s Beach press conference a few weeks ago. 

“She said, ‘Just to be clear, we’re not gifting anything here. We are returning stolen property.’ And I thought that was the perfect framing of this issue. When I´ve been asked, are you afraid that [this] will start a precedent? I say, ‘I hope it does.’” ER  

 

Comments:

comments so far. Comments posted to EasyReaderNews.com may be reprinted in the Easy Reader print edition, which is published each Thursday.

Written by: Mark McDermott

Be an Easy Reader Free Press supporter!

Yes, we know Easy Reader and EasyReaderNews.com are free. But they are not free to produce. The advertiser model that traditionally supported newspapers is fading away. This is our way of transitioning to a future where newspapers are supported by their readers. Which is as it should be. We hope you’ll support us. — Kevin Cody, Publisher