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

Bruce’s Beach is getting closer to the hands of successors of the early 20th century couple who owned it.

Senate Bill 796, which will allow Los Angeles County to return the beachfront property to descendants of  Willa and Charles Bruce, passed successfully out of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water during a Tuesday, April 27 hearing.

The bill, authored by Sen. Steven Bradford, will now go to the Senate Appropriations Committee before moving to the Senate Floor for a full vote. An urgency clause on the proposed legislation requires the bill to become effective immediately upon being signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

This bill “is what reparations looks like,” Bradford said. “This bill recognizes that if you can inherit generational wealth in this country, you can inherit generational debts too; the county and the state owe a debt that has been compounding for nearly 100 years.”

The full Senate will need to vote on it by June 4; it would then move to the Assembly, which would have until Sept. 10 to vote on the bill and send it to Gov. Newsom’s desk.

Willa and Charles Bruce ran a flourishing resort for Black people on that land, providing refuge for the people who at the time had limited coastal access. The business owners and African American resort-visitors from Manhattan Beach and beyond nonetheless endured harassment and terrorism from some White neighbors who didn’t want Black people in the community.

Manhattan Beach leadership condemned the land, as well as that of other Black property owners, in 1924 and took it over through eminent domain after being pressured by such neighbors.

The county owns and operates a lifeguard station on the two parcels on The Strand right next to the sand in Manhattan Beach, while Manhattan Beach owns the hilly park above it.

The state took over the land from the city in the 1948. It then gave those two parcels — and larger swaths of the beach — to the county in 1995. But under that transfer agreement, the county cannot sell or give the land to anyone else.

Now SB 796 would remove those restrictions.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County has begun its part in issuing the transfer. Last week the County Board of Supervisors voted to direct officials to work on the return, giving the County CEO, County Counsel and executive director of racial equality, in consultation with the county fire chief, 60 days to report back to the board with a plan for how to deed the property to the Bruce family.

That plan, which the supervisors would have to approve, will include a timeline, options for addressing property tax issues after the transfer and ways the county could either lease the property from the Bruce family or relocate the lifeguard facility there.

“The City of Manhattan Beach in the 1900s abused eminent domain as a way to refuse access to the ocean for Black people,” said L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell. “This is not a gift of public funds, this bill is returning property to the rightful owners.”

It remains unknown, for now, what the Bruce family would do with the land if the effort now underway succeeds. Duane Shepard, a distant Bruce relation and public representative, said they need to discuss their options. Still, Shepard said, getting the land back is only a part of what the family is seeking.

“We wanted the land restored, punitive damages for the police department terrorizing our family and restitution from lost revenue those enterprises would’ve had right now,” Shepard said in an April 8 interview. “Giving back the land doesn’t replace generational wealth.”

Contact Lisa Jacobs lisa.jacobs@TBRnews.com or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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