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Bruce's Beach Bill Moves Forward to State Assembly Floor

Aug 26, 2021 06:37PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

A map of the Bruce's Beach area. The parcels marked in gold are parcels that were owned by Black families in the 1920s. Willa and Charles Bruce owned parcels 8 and 9. The block marked in red (Block 5) is currently county-owned. The block marked in dark blue (Block 12) is currently owned by the city of Manhattan Beach as Bruce's Beach Park.

SB 796, a bill that would allow for the return of beachfront property in Manhattan Beach to the Bruce family, has earned the approval of the California State Assembly's Appropriations Committee. It now moves to the Assembly floor.

The legislation would remove state restrictions on Los Angeles County-owned beachfront property in Manhattan Beach once owned by Willa and Charles Bruce that limit the county's ability to transfer the property.

It has already earned approval from the California State Senate. If it wins approval of the full Assembly, and is signed by the governor, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has mapped out a plan by which it has vowed to return the property to the Bruce family.

Bruce's Beach Background

The story of Bruce's Beach dates back to the early 1900s, when Charles and Willa Bruce built a popular Black beach resort in Manhattan Beach. The property was one of the very few beaches where Black residents could go, because most other Southern California beaches were off-limits to people of color. 

By the end of the 1920s, with pressure from community members who did not want Black beachgoers in 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 of Manhattan Beach publicly acknowledged this chapter of its history by naming the area east of the beachfront property Bruce's Beach Park and establishing a plaque in that location, 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.

There have been two separate paths of attempted action; one, at the county and state level with SB 796 and the proposed return of the land to the Bruces; and two, at the city level, where the city of Manhattan Beach is continuing to discuss how best to recognize its history.

After a summer of controversy surrounding the history of Bruce's Beach, the Manhattan Beach City Council agreed to form a task force to look at new ways to recognize and commemorate Bruce's Beach Park. The task force was disbanded after it delivered its report in March; the city adopted the History Advisory Committee's report in June.

The History Advisory Committee has been working on language for two proposed plaques; one to replace the existing plaque at Bruce's Beach Park, and one to be placed on the Strand at the location of the Bruce's original property, which is now owned by the county and is home to the L.A. County Lifeguard Headquarters. The panel proposed specific language for the Strand plaque and for the Bruce's Beach Park plaque.

In July, the City Council sent the language back to the panel for additional review, prompting the resignation of one of the history panel's members.

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