LA County Agrees to Pay $20 Million for Bruce’s Beach

by: Michael Realbuto
21 Feb 2023

In November 2021 and August 2022, we covered a story where California’s Governor, Gavin Newsom, signed a law authorizing Los Angeles County to return a beach property taken by eminent domain back to descendants of the original property owners. Those blogs can be found here and here. In mid-July 2022, an oceanfront ceremony officially marked the first time that government returned land that had been wrongfully taken by eminent domain from a black family. Most recently, in January 2023, LA County has agreed to purchase the property from the descendants of the original owners for approximately $20 million.

As a quicker refresher: The property, widely known as Bruce’s Beach, was originally bought by Willa and Charles Bruce in 1912 and quickly became a thriving retreat in Manhattan Beach for African American beachgoers. Bruce’s Beach was the only beach in the area that was owned by and operated for African Americans to escape the pervasive racial harassment and violence. Unfortunately, this idealized vision was incompatible with the racist beliefs of the time and many beachgoers still experienced violence at the resort in the form of flattened tires and attempted arsons. By the mid-1920s, the Manhattan Beach Board of Trustees sought to take two blocks of city land using the power of eminent domain and raising the public need for a local park. The Bruces’ property fell within the proposed taking area, as well as lots owned by four other African American families, and nine white landowners. In the later 1920s, the Court rendered final judgment permitting the taking, and the Bruces were paid $14,500 in compensation for the property. After the taking of the Bruces’ property, the area laid vacant for decades. Sometime in the 1960s, a small park was finally constructed on a portion of the property. In 2020, the property’s troubled history gained widespread public attention following the George Floyd protests. California State Senator Steven Bradford introduced a bill in early 2021 to authorize the return of the property to the Bruce family descendants. The bill passed the California Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Newsom by the end of September 2021.

After the property was officially returned to the Bruce family in late 2022, the family quickly decided to sell the beachfront property back to LA County for nearly $20 million. While some are criticizing the family’s decision, Janice Hahn., chair of the LA County Board of Supervisors, stated that “[t]his fight has always been about what is best for the Bruce family, and they feel what is best for them is selling this property back to the County for nearly $20 million and finally rebuilding the generational wealth they were denied for nearly a century.”

This story demonstrates a novel approach for the government to return land that was wrongfully seized by eminent domain. While it is unclear whether this approach would be employed in New Jersey, property owners are able to fight governmental takings by asserting a number of defenses that are grounded in statutes and in case law. If you believe your property is being wrongfully taken by a condemning authority, please contact McKirdy, Riskin, Olson & DellaPelle, P.C. to speak with an experienced condemnation attorney.

As a side note, this matter has been the subject of considerable attention in the media since 2020. These are a few interesting stories: