State and Los Angeles County legislators announced on Friday, April 9, an effort in Manhattan Beach that could be the first instance nationwide, officials say, of land being returned to an African American family as a form of reparations.

Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell, along with State Sen. Steve Bradford and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, shared plans during a Friday morning briefing to return a strip of prime Manhattan Beach real estate to the descendants of the original Black property owners, who missed a chance to build generational wealth when city leaders in the 1920s took the land from them.

Bradford will introduce a state bill on Monday that, if approved, will allow county officials to transfer 6,999 square feet of beachfront land, two blocks west of Bruce’s Beach Park and adjacent to Manhattan Beach’s The Strand, to the descendants of the land’s prior owners, the Bruce family.

In the early part of the 20th century, Willa and Charles Bruce opened the first seaside resort on the West Coast specifically for Black people, at a time when segregation often limited the access African Americans had to the surf. Bruce’s Beach, as the resort was called, was successful and, over the years, grew in size.

But city leaders used eminent domain to strip the couple of the land — as well as property belonging to several other Black families — in a move that, the historical record shows, had racist motivations. The Manhattan Beach City Council formally acknowledged as much, and condemned those actions, this week, though the panel stopped short of apologizing for them.

Now, it appears, there are plans to make up for those harms.

“When I realized that the County of Los Angeles now had ownership of the Bruces’ original property, I wanted to do what I could to start righting this wrong,” Hahn said Friday. “I felt there was nothing else to do but to give the property back to the direct descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce.”

Related: State, LA County effort underway to return Bruce’s Beach land to descendants of original Black owners

But because of how the property has changed hands since it was first taken from the Bruces, state law must first change to allow the county to return it.

And that’s where Bradford’s bill comes in. The proposal, which would require two-thirds support from the Senate and the Assembly to move quickly, will give the county the authority to transfer the land to the Bruces’ descendants.

Bradford said the bill could be on the governor’s desk for his signature by the beginning of summer.

“Now is the time for major change,” he said, “and the public wants to see justice done — not hollow lip service.”

Hahn, meanwhile, said she plans to introduce a motion to kickstart the county’s role in transferring the land on April 20.

Duane Shepard, an extended descendant and representative for the Bruce family, thanked Hahn, Bradford and other leaders who have committed themselves to righting the historical wrong. But, he said, returning the land is just the first step.

The seizure of the Bruces’ property, after all, was one of many racist actions committed against the family.

“I am from the generation that Charles and Willa Bruce prayed for, and we’re going to stay here until the job is done,” Shepard said. “We want restoration of our land, restitution for the loss of enterprise and punitive damages for the collusion of the institutional racism in this city that railroaded our family out of here.”

But returning the land, he said, could be the beginning of giving the Bruce family — and the descendants of Black families more broadly who were barred from building wealth through property ownership, due to various discriminatory policies, such as redlining — what they’re owed.

As for what will happen with the land once it’s back in the the Bruce descendants’ hands, Shepard said the family hasn’t yet decided.

One option open to the family, Hahn said, would be to lease the land back to the county at market rate. But she said the most important factor in the property’s future will be the family’s desires.

“I believe that the best part about this,” said Hahn, “is we will be allowed to transfer the property back to the descendants of the family and let them decide what they want to do.”

While those long-term plans are still unclear, Shepard said he has one idea for the near future.

“To get possession of our land,” he said, “and have a weeklong family reunion with 3,000 Black Bruces — right here on this beach.”

Staff writer Tyler Shaun Evains contributed to this report.

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

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