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Commission Votes to Create Events Policy for Bruce's Beach, Other Parks

Mar 01, 2022 08:45AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

A scene from the "Blacckkity Festival" party at Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach on February 27. Photo credit: Diana Skaar.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that a large bike rally that temporarily blocked streets on Sunday afternoon was not affiliated with the party at Bruce's Beach, according to Manhattan Beach police.

The Manhattan Beach Parks and Recreation Commission on Monday voted unanimously to recommend including Bruce's Beach Park and two local parkettes in policies for special event permits.

The commission's decision came in the wake of a large unofficial gathering at Bruce's Beach over the weekend, which yielded an outcry from many local residents.

Currently, Bruce's Beach Park, Larsson Street Parkette, and Eighth Street Parquette are considered "not eligible for special event permits."

By including Bruce's Beach Park and the two parkettes in the special events permitting policy, commission members said the city would have greater control over the size, frequency, and planning for such events.

The seven-member commission received an unusually large volume of public comments on the issue, many urging the city to forbid any kind of permitting for events at Bruce's Beach, and others calling for more control over such events by including Bruce's Beach and other small parks in the permitting process.

A move to include those parks as part of the special events permitting process had been placed on the "consent" (fast-track to approval) part of the February 1 City Council agenda, but it was removed and sent to the Parks and Rec Commission after councilmembers agreed to give the matter more detailed consideration.

After the Parks and Rec Commission heard public comments and discussed the issue at Monday's meeting, commission members concluded that it was best for the city to include Bruce's Beach and the parkettes in the city's special events permitting policy to give the city more control about what kind of events could be held in each park and what parameters should be established.

"While I am very sympathetic to the disruption that the neighbors of Bruce's Beach experienced yesterday - they certainly did not have their normal Sunday access to what they considered their community park - it's part of what comes with sharing your front yard, which is a public resource," said Parks and Rec Commission member Bruce Greenberg at Monday's meeting. "Every resident would benefit from inclusion of those parks within the special events policy so we could regulate it, and regulate how many events per year. Just because it's part of the policy doesn’t mean anyone can say, 'OK, we’re throwing an event.' I think we should include these three parks into the policy, and include a set of parameters around what can occur in these parks."

Commission member Ken Weiner agreed. "This is not to be looked at as something that is punitive for the residents; I think it’s kind of a backstop for them - so that they know that the city has their back," he said.

Recommended Updates to Special Events Policy

The Parks and Recreation Commission agreed to a five-part recommendation: 

  1. Recommend to the City Council that it update the current special events permitting policy to include Bruce's Beach and the two parkettes.

  2. Recommend to City Council to update its special events policy to specify distinct parameters for special events at parks within park system - such as specifying the frequency of events that would be allowed at each park, the size of events that would be allowed at each park, whether amplified sound is allowed at each park, and more.

  3. Recommend that City Council review its municipal code with regard to appropriate penalties for violators of the code, creating stiffer penalties for those who hold unpermitted events or who exceed the parameters of their event permit. 

  4. Recommend that City Council direct staff, including the Manhattan Beach Police Department, to create a "playbook" for how it will proactively address unpermitted events and those that exceed parameters of permits when it learns about such events ahead of time.

  5. Recommend that City Council and staff consider take social media postings into account when investigating potentially unpermitted events.

The Parks and Rec Commission's recommendation will go before the City Council on March 15.

Residents Differ on How to Control Gatherings

The Parks and Rec Commission had received 95 emails before 3:00 p.m. on Monday, with 73 opposed to changing the current policy and 21 in favor (one additional email was unclear on a position). 

"The park’s proximity to so many residences makes it particularly unsuitable for organized special events," Bruce's Beach neighborhood resident William G. Caras wrote to the commission. "Its usual use already taxes the neighborhood as it is. There are noise, traffic, parking and safety issues that impact its neighbors frequently now, particularly during high use periods. That would be exacerbated in the case of special events. Further, once the door has been opened to special events, the city will undoubtedly face limitations on its ability to reject applications, some of which potentially may be particularly volatile."

Ladd Lavallee, whose property abuts Bruce's Beach park, wrote, "It’s a beautiful spot to live, but my small yard is often treated as an extension of the park. Visitors sit in my entry to chat or picnic, and many leave their trash behind. Occasionally a package disappears, and once we caught someone urinating on the house, but it’s mostly a steady trickle of small intrusions that peaks on the weekends."

Lavallee continued, "Given the way the park opens up to surrounding homes, Bruce’s Beach is not a good location for special events. The greater the number of visitors at any one time, the more I can expect trash, trespassing, or worse."

But former Manhattan Beach Mayor Amy Howorth told the commission that she thought it was a good idea to revise the policy to include all parks. "It's cleaner to include all parks in special permitting," she said. "I think it actually protects the residents who live next to the parks and the city way more than you have now. If you have a special events policy, a permit application can be denied. But [for permitted events] you can also have meetings beforehand with all of the departments including public works and police. If they can iron out a lot of issues head of time, it’s a really smart way to do it."

Bruce's Beach Party Stirs Emotions

Much of the attention to the issue came from an unofficial party held on Sunday at Bruce's Beach, which had been dubbed on social media as the "Blacckkity Beach Festival." According to social media postings, the event was intended as a way to cap off Black History month at the site facing the former Black-owned Bruce's Beach resort. 

The party was part of a series of events on Sunday beginning with a "Peace Paddle" designed to encourage Black surfers to come out and surf or learn to surf at the Manhattan Beach Pier.

(Added on March 2: A bike rally, which caused a traffic blockage, occurred on Sunday afternoon involving about 100 bicycles at 15th Street between Ardmore and Valley. That group was not affiliated with the Bruce's Beach party, according to Manhattan Beach Police Department spokesperson Christopher Ineguez. Ineguez said that the group was escorted out of the city and no arrests were made.)

Large gatherings at Bruce's Beach Park - such as a a Juneteenth celebration in 2021 that drew hundreds to Bruce's Beach park for a celebration of the traditionally African-American holiday - have touched a nerve with many in the city. 

Since 2020, the city has engaged in an emotional debate over how - or how much - to recognize Willa and Charles Bruce, pioneering Black business owners who created a thriving resort for Black beach-goers in Manhattan Beach in the 1920s. 

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. The land was acquired by the state of California in 1948, and was transferred to L.A. County in 1995. The beachfront property the Bruce family once owned is now the site of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Training Headquarters. 

An effort led by Los Angeles County leaders to return the land to the Bruce family culminated in September 2021 when California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 796, a bill to return the county-owned beachfront property to the Bruce family, into law.

While there are many legal hurdles remaining, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved a plan that they say will iron out those challenges. One potential outcome would be for the Bruce family to lease back the land to the county so that it could maintain current lifeguard operations on the site.

Meanwhile, 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. In the summer of 2020, a movement began growing for the city to take further action to recognize the Bruces.

Despite creating a Bruce's Beach Task Force and adopting a history report created by the task force, the Manhattan Beach City Council has not yet come to a final agreement on how - or even if - the language on the plaque at Bruce's Beach Park should be updated to reflect more detail on the Bruce's Beach story. 

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