Bruces Beach land transfer

A graphic at the press conference in Manhattan Beach on Friday, April 9, 2021. The event was held to shed light on efforts LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn to have the County of LA begin to right the wrongs of the past and bring some justice to Charles and Willa Bruce's descendants, returning the land of Bruce's Beach to them. Currently a county lifeguard building sits on the land. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

State Sen. Steven Bradford introduced a bill this week that, if it passes, will give L.A. County the authority to return a piece of land in Manhattan Beach to the descendants of the Black couple from whom it was wrongfully taken nearly a century ago.

Senate Bill 796, if put into law, would be the first step in the process to ultimately give back two parcels of prime beachfront property to the Bruce family, whose ancestors ran a successful beach resort for African American people into the early part of the 20th century. Willa and Charles Bruce bought those parcels in 1912 and eventually expanded their property. But Manhattan Beach, in the 1920s, used eminent domain to take the land from them. A larger portion of that land was later turned into a park — now named Bruce’s Beach — and remains city-owned.

L.A. County currently owns the two-parcel stretch of land closest to the water. But that property has changed hands multiple times since Manhattan Beach took it over.

California took ownership of it in the 1950s. Then, in 1995, the state gave the two parcels that once belonged to the Bruce family — as well as other connected strips of beach — to the county.

Existing state law requires L.A County to use property it has received from California only for public recreation and beach purposes, restricting commercial development on such land and the sale or transfer of it. The new bill, however, would exclude Bruce’s Beach property from those requirements. If the bill — which Bradford formally introduced on Monday, April 12 — becomes law, L.A. County could then transfer the parcels to the Bruce family.

The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee is set to hold a hearing on the bill on April 27, according to the state Legislature’s website. The bill, Bradford’s office said, could also be referred to at least one policy committee in the state Assembly.

If the Natural Resources Committee OKs SB 796, 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. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

Bradford initially introduced SB 796 in February — about two months before the official announcement came during a press conference last week — but because of how rare the bill is, developing the language with the Office of Legislative Counsel took longer than expected, Bradford’s office said. Working on a compressed timeline for eventually passing the bill also delayed its final introduction until Monday.

Any further amendments would potentially come from a committee, or on the Senate or Assembly floors.

L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, meanwhile, plans to introduce a motion to kickstart the county’s role in transferring the land on April 20.

If the effort succeeds, officials say, it would be the first time in the nation that land has been returned to an African American family as a way to make amends for various discriminatory policies, including redlining, that prevented Black people from building wealth via property ownership.

Contact Lisa Jacobs or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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