LA County supervisors continue legal work to return land to Bruce’s Beach heirs

Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell introduced a motion on Friday, Oct. 1, that would have officials prepare for a key bureaucratic step on the way to returning two parcels of beachfront land to the family of the original Black owners.

The supervisors submitted the motion — which would also have officials fast-track the process of determining the true heirs of Willa and Charles Bruce — a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that gives the county authority to transfer the land.

The Board of Supervisors will consider the motion at its next meeting, on Tuesday, Oct. 5.

Bruce’s Beach Lodge — two parcels totaling nearly 7,000 square feet at 2600 The Strand, in Manhattan Beach — was an early 20th century seaside resort for African Americans at a time when Black people had limited access to the coast.

Willa and Charles Bruce, who were Black, bought the two parcels in 1912 for $1,225 and turned the land into the flourishing resort.

But city leaders in 1929 successfully used eminent domain to take over the land for reasons that were racially motivated. The lodge’s owners received $14,500 for the parcels, which now are worth millions of dollars.

The city eventually gave the land to the state. The state, in 1995, handed the parcels over to the county — but on the condition the county couldn’t sell or transfer the parcels.

The bill Newsom signed Thursday, Senate Bill 796, allows the county to do just that.

But the process of returning the land is complex.

The motion the supervisors will consider next week is meant to lay the groundwork to complete that process.

Related links

Gov. Gavin Newsom signs Bruce’s Beach bill in Manhattan Beach
How the effort to return Manhattan Beach land to the original Black owners unfolded
Bruce’s Beach bill gets final OK from state Senate, heads to governor’s desk
Bruce’s Beach bill at edge of becoming law after Assembly vote
Bruce’s Beach

The State Department of Parks and Recreation, for example, has until year’s end to amend the county’s property deed for the parcels by removing the 1995 restrictions that prohibit selling or transferring the land. Once that happens, the county will finally have the legal authority to return the property.

The motion from Hahn and Mitchell would direct county staffers to prepare to accept that amended deed.

The motion would also fast track the process of determining Willa and Charles Bruce’s direct descendants and figuring out how to screen potential distant family members who might lay claim to the property.

Once the county legally confirms the heirs, Hahn spokeswoman Liz Odendahl said, official discussions with them can begin.

Among the questions to be answered, Odendahl said, are:

Do the Bruce heirs want the exact parcels on which the lifeguard training center sits, or would they accept two equivalent parcels in the same block (currently a parking lot)?
If the former, do the heirs want the county to vacate the training center or would they prefer to become the county’s landlords?
If the Bruces become landlords, how much rent would the county pay?

Determining rent would require answering perhaps the biggest question of all: What is the current fair market value of the oceanfront property?

An appraisal — in fact, the first on the oceanfront property since Willa and Charles purchased it in 1912 — is nearly complete, Odendahl said.

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