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Manhattan Beach City Council Begins Work on Bruce's Beach Report; Disbands Task Force

Mar 17, 2021 12:34PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The Manhattan Beach City Council began work on the Bruce's Beach Task Force report on Tuesday night, tackling several key recommendations and postponing action on the most controversial - an apology to the Bruce family.

The council voted 1) to approve artwork memorializing the history of Bruce's Beach; 2) to create new plaques at the original location of Bruce's Beach and also up the hill at the current Bruce's Beach park; 3) to allow the history subcommittee to finalize its work once additional documents become available; and 4) to disband the Bruce's Beach task force (with the exception of the history subcommittee finishing its work).

The City Council was flooded with public comments on the topic, and as the meeting dragged on past the five-hour mark (with more city business left to go), council members agreed to postpone discussion on the proposed apology to the Bruces.

"The value of this Bruce's Beach reckoning is that now our town knows its history," said Manhattan Beach Mayor Suzanne Hadley, as the council prepared to vote on recommendations. "Much good has come out of the task force and there have been many fruitful discussions."

Recommendations Approved

The council approved, 5-0, three of the Bruce's Beach Task Force's recommendations: artwork; plaques; and completion of historic research.

The artwork would be a permanent public art installation created through the Cultural Arts Commission. It would have a budget of up to $350,000, which would come from the city's Public Art Trust Fund (a fund that was established through a dedicated 1% development fee and is separate from the city's general fund).

The plaque would replace the existing stone monument at Bruce's Beach, and would be completed by December 31. City Council rejected the task force's recommendation to budget up to $1,000 for consulting fees on the project. 

The history subcommittee would be allowed up to four months to continue its research on historic documents. The work of the subcommittee has been delayed because the Los Angeles County Hall of Records has been closed to the public for historic research because of the pandemic. When the facility reopens, the subcommittee expects to be able to access the final documents it needs.

Although the task force had recommended additional activities and projects, the council voted to disband the task force as of Tuesday night.

In a separate note to the report, Councilmembers Steve Napolitano and Hildy Stern (co-chairs of a task force) wrote, in part, "While much has been debated about the Task Force outside of its meetings, we understand that whether one thinks they went too far or not far enough depends more on whether one agrees with their recommendations or not. We get it. We don’t agree with every recommendation made by the Task Force either; however, we respect the process that produced them and their willingness to make them. Nothing about this effort was easy, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth doing."

Their note continued: "Anyone can say or do something racist. The City of Manhattan Beach and the community as a whole are not responsible for such acts. But what we have done, can do, and will do as a community is stand together against such things when and if they do happen. The reexamination of Bruce’s Beach is one of those stand together moments. By finally and more fully addressing our past, we can finally and more fully move forward together."

"Disparaging Comments" Blasted

The recommendations of the Bruce's Beach Task Force drew intense public scrutiny when they were released last week. Two of the most contentious points were the task force's recommendation of an apology to the Bruce family, and proposals for the task force to continue its work.

Most notably, an anonymous group of community members took out a two-page ad in a local paper, accusing the city of "creating a racist problem where there is none" and calling for the shutdown of the task force and rejection of its history report.

At the meeting, public comment on the issue ranged from thoughtful to preposterous, including fear that the city would build a public housing complex at the Bruce's Beach park.

Napolitano and Stern called out false and misleading statements made via email and in social media as antithetical to the cause and purpose of the task force, and as an insult to those who had volunteered their time.

Stern noted that the 13 members of the task force represented a diverse cross section of the community and had volunteered hundreds of hours of time on their work. "To read disparaging comments about their intention is disgraceful," she said.

Stern revealed that at the first meeting of the task force, members were asked for one word to describe what they hoped the outcome of the task force's work would be. Those words included enlightenment, community, compassion, progress, awareness, change, understanding, healing, and empowerment, she said.

"Juxtapose those ideas against the divisive rhetoric that has recently taken center stage," Stern said. "We have seen the scare tactics that have repeatedly disseminated false information, most recently in the two-page ad. This tack of repeating a false narrative to make it true does not make it true, unless we don’t call it out."

Stern continued: "Start with the most obvious - Manhattan Beach is not a racist city. The information does not accuse anyone or the city of being racist, nor is that the intention. That idea has only been advanced by the citizens who are raising it."

"These false statements only drum up fear," she added. "Let's not allow this fear and falsehood to corrode the integrity of our community."

Napolitano also weighed in with his own disappointment in some of the most vocal critics of the task force's work.

"The task force meetings were open to the public, yet many who have spoken against it never let the task force know how they felt," said Napolitano. 

Additionally, Councilmember Richard Montgomery blasted the anonymous newspaper ad and emails, which he called "reeking of desperation and pitiful." 

"If you spend time or money, please have the courage and intestinal fortitude to sign your name," he said.

Task Force Closed Down

The vote to shut down the task force (with the exception of the history subcommittee finishing its work) was 4-1, with Stern as the lone dissenter. 

Napolitano said that he believed in the work of the task force and thought it should continue, but was disappointed in the ensuing public turmoil and misinformation. "We probably need a new mechanism for building consensus," he said.

The debate will continue at a later meeting, as the council considers the final recommendation from the task force for a formal apology from the city.

Bruce's Beach Background

The story of Bruce's Beach dates back to the early 1900s, when Charles and Willa Bruce built a popular beach resort for African Americans in Manhattan Beach. By the end of the 1920s, with pressure from community members who did not want African Americans in the town, Manhattan Beach's Board of Trustees (a precursor to the modern city council) claimed the land under eminent domain and displaced the Bruce family as well as other families who had settled in the area.

It was not until 2006 that the city publicly acknowledged this chapter of its history by naming the area Bruce's Beach, and it was not until the summer of 2020 that a movement began growing for the city to take further action to recognize the Bruces.

After a summer of racial unrest and controversy surrounding the history of Bruce's Beach, the Manhattan Beach city council agreed to form the task force to look at new ways to recognize and commemorate  Bruce's Beach park. The task force members were selected in late October and given four months to prepare their report.

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