Manhattan Beach, CA – Today, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn celebrated the California State Assembly voting unanimously to pass SB 796. The legislation, sponsored by State Senator Steven Bradford, would remove state restrictions from Los Angeles County’s beachfront property once owned by Black entrepreneurs, Willa and Charles Bruce. The existing state restrictions currently limit Hahn’s ability to transfer the County property. SB 796’s passage would allow Hahn to move forward with her effort to return the property to the surviving descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce.
“I am determined to return this land to the Bruce family, but I can’t do it without this legislation,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “I have been so moved by the unanimous support that we have gotten for this effort from our State leaders. When this bill hits the Governor’s desk, I urge him to sign it and I think it would mean so much if he signed it at Bruce’s Beach.”
SB 796 must now go back to the California State Senate for a reconciliation vote by this Friday, September 10, 2021. If it passes, it then goes to Governor Newsom’s desk for his consideration and signature.
In 1912, a Black couple named Willa and Charles Bruce purchased beachfront property in Manhattan Beach and built a resort that became known as Bruce’s Beach. It was one of the few places where Black residents could go to enjoy a day at the beach because so many other local beaches did not permit Black beachgoers. The Bruces and their customers were harassed and threatened by white neighbors including the KKK. Eventually, the Manhattan Beach City Council moved to seize the Bruce’s property as well as surrounding property using eminent domain in 1924, purportedly to build a park. The City of Manhattan Beach took possession of the property in 1929 and it remained vacant for decades.
The section of the seized property closest to the beach, including the lots owned by Willa and Charles Bruce, was years later transferred to the State and in 1995 transferred to Los Angeles County. The lots that the Bruces owned are now the site of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Training Headquarters.
In April, Supervisor Hahn announced her intention to return the Bruce’s Beach property to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce and that she had asked State Senator Steven Bradford to introduce legislation (now known as SB 796) to remove state restrictions on the property and allow her to do just that.