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Saturday, October 16, 2021

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 proposal Friday, October 1 to prepare officials for a significant bureaucratic move on the way to return two parcels of beach land to the family of the original black owners.

Supervisors submitted the proposal – in which officials will fast-track the process of determining the true heirs of Villa and Charles Bruce – a day after Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law that gives the county the right to transfer land.

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

Bruce Beach Lodge—two parcels of about 7,000 square feet at 2600 The Strand in Manhattan Beach—was a 20th-century seaside resort for African Americans at a time when black people had limited access to the coast.

Villa and Charles Bruce, who was black, bought two parcels in 1912 for $1,225 and turned the land into a flourishing resort.

But in 1929 city leaders successfully used eminent domain to occupy land for racially motivated reasons. The owners of the lodge received $14,500 for the parcel, which is now worth millions of dollars.

The city eventually gave the land to the state. The state, in 1995, handed over the parcel to the county – but on condition that the county could not sell or transfer the parcel.

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

But the process of returning the land is complicated.

The proposal that supervisors will consider next week is to lay the groundwork for carrying out that process.

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For example, the state’s Department of Parks and Recreation has until the end of the year to amend the county’s property deed for parcels removed from 1995 restrictions that prohibit selling or transferring land. Once that happens, the county will eventually have the legal right to return the property.

Hahn and Mitchell’s proposal would instruct county employees to prepare to accept that amended deed.

The proposal will also fast-track the process of determining Villa and Charles Bruce’s direct descendants and figure out how to screen potential distant family members who may claim the property.

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

In the questions to be answered, Odendahl said, these are:

  • Will Bruce Waris want the exact parcel on which the Lifeguard Training Center sits, or will they accept two equivalent parcels in the same block (currently one parking lot)?
  • If the former, would the heirs want the county training center to vacate or would they prefer to be county landowners?
  • If Bruce becomes the landlord, how much rent will the county pay?

Perhaps the biggest question will need to be answered in order to determine the rent: What is the current fair market value of a seaside property?

An appraisal – in fact, the first on a seaside property since Villa and Charles bought it in 1912 – is almost complete, Odendahl said.

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