April 15, 2022
LA County Applauds Court Ruling in Bruce’s Beach Case
LA County leaders hailed today’s Superior Court ruling affirming the County’s right to return Bruce’s Beach to its legal heirs.
Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff denied a petition filed by a Palos Verde Estates resident seeking to block the return of the property, which was unjustly taken from property owners Charles and Willa Bruce.
The Bruces operated a beach resort catering to Black residents on the property before it was condemned by Manhattan Beach city officials in the 1920s.
The judge agreed with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the California State Legislature that there is ample evidence that the city’s takeover of the property in the 1920s was racially motivated.
The County’s plan to return the property to the Bruces’ rightful heirs is a proper remedy for past racial discrimination, the judge found. Judge Beckloff held that “redressing past acts of discrimination as well as preventing such acts in the future benefits the whole of the community and its general welfare. The public purpose served by [the County’s efforts under California Senate Bill 796] is direct and substantial.”
This important action “works to strengthen government integrity, represents governmental accountability, and works to eliminate structural racism and bias . . . [and] fosters trust and respect in government.” Beckloff wrote in his ruling.
“Los Angeles County is doing the right thing in returning this property to the Bruces’ legal heirs, and this court ruling clearly affirms that,” said Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, Chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. “I’d like to thank the Court for recognizing that we are on the right side of history and striking down this attempt to slow the arc of justice in this case.”
Supervisor Janice Hahn, who initiated the County’s efforts to return the property with her motion co-authored by Supervisor Mitchell in April 2021, said: “When we return this property to the Bruce family, we will be making history and righting a century-old injustice. I was not surprised when a lawsuit was filed to try to stop us, but I am also not surprised that the judge ruled in our favor. Returning this property is both right and lawful.”
In his ruling, Judge Beckloff denied a petition filed by a Palos Verdes Estates resident attempting to block the County’s transfer of the property under provisions of California Senate Bill 796. The bill, signed into law by Governor Newsom in 2021, eliminated the statutory restrictions previously placed on Bruce’s Beach that had prohibited the County from transferring the land back to the legal heirs of Charles and Willa Bruce.
For more information about the property, please visit the Bruce’s Beach website.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors was represented in this matter by attorneys Byron J. McLain, Anum Amin, and Kristina M. Fernandez Mabrie from Foley & Lardner LLP.
To access the ruling click here.
In the early 1900s, the Bruces operated a successful seaside resort that welcomed Black beachgoers from all over Los Angeles. In 1924, the Manhattan Beach Board of Trustees voted to condemn Bruce’s Beach and the surrounding land through eminent domain under the ostensible purpose of building a park, but it is well documented that this move was a racially motivated attempt to drive out the successful Black business and its patrons. The land was condemned in 1929, the Bruces’ resort was demolished, and the Bruces left Manhattan Beach.
In 1948, the City of Manhattan Beach transferred the beachfront part of the condemned land, including the former location of the Bruces’ resort, to the State of California. This land remained State property until 1995, when the State transferred it to the County as part of a larger transfer of eight State beaches to the County. When the land was originally transferred from the State to the County, it included statutory conditions that restrict use and ownership of the land.
Senator Steven Bradford introduced Senate Bill 796, “Returning Bruce’s Beach to its Rightful Owners,” to eliminate the statutory restrictions previously placed on Bruce’s Beach that prohibited the County from transferring the land back to the legal heirs of Charles and Willa Bruce. On September 30, 2021, that bill was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom.
On April 20, 2021, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to take the first steps toward returning Bruce’s Beach by instructing the L.A. County CEO’s Office to develop a plan to return the property and by sponsoring Senate Bill 796 to lift state restrictions on the return of the land.
On October 5, 2021, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted for the L.A. County CEO Office’s Anti-Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion (ARDI) Initiative to follow these steps to return Bruce’s Beach to the rightful owners.