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Los Angeles Return of Bruce’s Beach

Policy Details

Policy Type: Policy
Jurisdiction: Local — Los Angeles, CA
Status: Passed
Tags: JEDI, Land Justice, Reparations

Policy Summary

Restoration of sovereign land that was unethically (and often illegally) seized from BIPOC communities is a vital part of land justice and social equity. In the case of Willa and Charles Bruce, a Black couple in Los Angeles County, had their land on Manhattan Beach condemned by county officials in 1924 through eminent domain under the auspices of developing a park. However, that park wasn’t built on the Bruces’ land until 1960. Eventually, a county lifeguard facility was built on the land.

The Bruces bought the land in 1912 and for many years, they ran a resort for primarily Black residents and visitors. Their presence on Manhattan Beach encouraged many Black families to purchase land and build homes nearby. After the resort was condemned, many of these Black residents were also evicted from the area and the Bruces were barred from reopening their resort elsewhere. However, in 2021, after many years of local protests led by Black and indigenous community leaders, a state bill was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom at Bruce’s Beach that instructed Los Angeles County to immediately return the deed of the land to the Bruce family descendants, who now lease the land to the county for $413,000 per year.

The development of the state bill began with local activists and Bruce family representatives such as Kavon Ward and Chief Duane Yellowfeather Shepard, who led protests on Manhattan Beach for many years before catching the attention of local politicians Supervisor Janice Hahn and Supervisor Holly Mitchell in 2020. Eventually, descendants of the Bruce family Marcus and Derrick Bruce were found and named legal heirs to the property.

In the text of SB 796, legislators show that as evidenced by historical documents, the seizure of the Bruces’ land was racially motivated and an intentional attempt to remove Black residents and visitors from Manhattan Beach, as well as legally barring the Bruces from relocating their resort in LA County. Furthermore, the bill codifies that

(i) The fraudulent appropriation of land from private persons in general, and especially on the basis of race, is against the public interest and denies individuals and communities the right to enjoyment, the right to own property alone, as well as in association with others, the right to inherit, and the right to control one’s property.

(j) Government has a responsibility to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination in all forms and to ensure that all persons are entitled to security against forced removal, harassment, and intimidation by entities who seek to deprive individuals of their rights to self-determination and dignity on the basis of their race. (Section 1, Articles i,j; text https://pluralpolicy.com/app/legislative-tracking/bill/details/state-ca-20212022-sb796/786387)

By explicitly recognizing the racial motivations of the initial government condemnation and seizure of the property and naming the government’s responsibility to “eliminate racial discrimination,” the California Senate has created legal precedent to recognize and restore fraudulently acquired land from POC communities. The primary author of the bill was Sen. Steven Bradford, a Black senator from Sacramento who worked closely with Supervisors Hahn and Mitchell to navigate the complex legal framework that allowed the county and state to maintain ownership of the property for decades.

However, the return of Bruce’s Beach began with a grassroots movement of Manhattan Beach community leaders. Local activists Kavon Ward and Kytishea Lobell led Justice for Bruce’s Beach, a movement that is “[t]he good fight to obtain restitution and restoration for the Bruce Family and reparations for Black and Indigenous people in Manhattan Beach California. Our goal is to flourish our grassroots movement locally & nationally, in an effort to attain Black Land Back with the hope of closing the generational wealth gap.” (https://justiceforbrucesbeach.com/)

Ward, Lobell, and others led the campaign tirelessly through protests on Manhattan Beach, an online petition with over 9,000 signatures, and eventually, significant media coverage, including CBS, NPR, The Guardian, The New York Times, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Through their work over the course of many years, they eventually achieved success in returning Bruce’s Beach to the Bruce family, as well as elevating the discussion of Black Land Back to the national level. As stated by real estate lawyer George Featheree, who represented the Bruce family pro bono during the restoration process, “To our knowledge, this is the first time the government has returned property to a Black family after acknowledging it had been improperly taken. We’re hopeful that it will not be the last.” (https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-28/county-officials-approve-transfer-of-bruces-beach-property, June 28, 2022) Eventually, the mayor of Manhattan Beach issued a formal apology to the Bruce Family and unveiled a new plaque as a tribute to the tragedy and recent movement towards restitution. (https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-03-18/la-me-bruces-beach-manhattan-beach-new-monument-ceremony, March 18, 2023)

Ward has continued to help other Black families facing similar situations in other nearby counties and advocates for the state to continue to honor the precedent they set, instead of allowing the Bruce’s Beach restoration to become a token attempt at land justice. Additionally, local indigenous leaders are also attempting to have their sovereign lands restored through similar means, including local indigenous groups who supported the return of the Bruce family lands, which were historically stewarded by the Gabrielino Tongva people before being seized by white developers prior to the Bruce family purchase of the land. Angela Mooney D’Arcy, head of the California native-led grassroots organization Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples, supported the restoration of Bruce’s Beach and has called on politicians to ensure that indigenous groups are not left out of the land back movement in California. She stated that “…white supremacist, institutionally racist culture must be addressed in an intentional and thoughtful manner as there can be no healing if healing for one community rests on the erasure of another community.” (https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-28/county-officials-approve-transfer-of-bruces-beach-property June 28, 2022)


Does the policy solution re-distribute power from mainstream institutions to impacted Black community? 

Yes, the policy solution re-distributes power from mainstream institutions to the impacted Black community by returning the deed of the land to the Bruce family descendants. This act acknowledges the wrongful seizure and transfers ownership and control back to the original owners’ descendants, empowering them economically and symbolically.

Does this policy address needs impacting diverse groups within Black communities (Black femmes, Black LGBTQ+ communities, Black immigrants, people in poverty, differently abled, people impacted by justice system)? If so, how? 

While the policy specifically addresses the restitution of land to the Bruce family, it sets a precedent for addressing injustices faced by diverse groups within Black communities. The policy demonstrates a broader commitment to addressing historical wrongs and could inspire similar actions for Black femmes, Black LGBTQ+ communities, Black immigrants, people in poverty, differently abled individuals, and those impacted by the justice system, although it does not directly mention these groups.

Does this policy provide more decision-making power at the hands of Black communities? 

Yes, the policy provides more decision-making power to Black communities by returning the land to the Bruce family, allowing them to lease it back to the county and benefit economically. This restitution process also involved local activists and community leaders, demonstrating a participatory approach in decision-making.

Does the policy undermine extractive economies like capitalism and restore community power around a local and regenerative economy/ primary production? 

The policy does not directly undermine extractive economies like capitalism but promotes land justice and reparative actions that could contribute to community empowerment and localized economic benefits. By returning land to the original Black owners, it challenges the historical inequities perpetuated by capitalist land grabs and promotes a more equitable distribution of resources.

Does the policy repair past harm and uphold civil and human rights, health and environmental protections? 

Yes, the policy repairs past harm by acknowledging and rectifying the racially motivated seizure of the Bruce family’s land. It upholds civil rights by recognizing injustices and providing restitution. The return of the land symbolizes a commitment to addressing historical wrongs and promoting social equity, which are essential aspects of civil and human rights.

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