Court Clears Way for Black-Owned Coastal Property Return

know about Court Clears Way for Black-Owned Coastal Property Return

A judge’s ruling has cleared the way for Bruce’s Beach, a once-Black-owned beach property that was forcibly sold through eminent domain, to be returned to the family’s descendants.

Last week, the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled against attorney Joseph Ryan, representing himself, seeking an injunction to stop the transfer of the Los Angeles County property to the Bruce family descendant.


what you need to know

  • The Los Angeles Superior Court ruled against an attempt to stop Los Angeles County from returning a parcel of waterfront land to the descendants of black owners who were forced to sell it through eminent domain.
  • The lawsuit, filed by attorney Joseph Ryan on his own behalf, called the county’s plan unconstitutional on multiple counts; the court found that the plan to transfer the land was in the public interest
  • Willa and Charles Bruce bought the land, in Manhattan Beach, in 1912; Bruce’s Lodge was the heart of a growing black neighborhood, until the city razed the area to build a park.
  • In 2020, activists broke the story of the park, prompting the state and county to work together on legislation to correct the city’s actions.

“Correcting a government mistake perpetrated in violation of our basic and fundamental constitutional principles works to strengthen government integrity, represents accountability in government, and works to eliminate structural racism and bias,” the Superior Court judge wrote. of Los Angeles, Mitchell Beckloff, in his ruling.

Ryan filed his petition to stop the transfer just months after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a state law last year that would allow Los Angeles County to transfer the property to the Bruce family. He argued that the property transfer would be a gift to the family, which is illegal under state law.

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It also argued that the transfer would violate federal law (including the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution) and that the eminent domain ruling precludes the county’s decision to transfer the property.

The court disagreed with all of those arguments, finding in part that, under a state law passed to facilitate the transfer, the county’s action would be in the public interest, contrary to Ryan’s assertion of a public “gift” to private.

“As (the county) argued during its hearing, redressing past acts of discrimination and preventing such acts in the future benefits the entire community and its general well-being,” Beckloff’s ruling read.

In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce purchased the first of two oceanfront lots on Manhattan Beach, building “Bruce’s Lodge,” an oceanfront complex intended for black bathers, a necessity at a time when beaches were all but segregated by racist practices. if not the law. It was one of the first black-friendly resorts in Southern California.

In the early 1920s, the city of Manhattan Beach seized three city blocks, supposedly to build a park. The Bruces were forced to sell their property, as were a handful of other black landowners, all of whom made improvements to their lots. (Although white landowners were included in the proceedings, none had built structures on their properties.)

Although the land was graded and plans for a park were printed, a park was not developed on the site for decades, according to a local historian. Eventually, through a series of land deals, control of the Bruce family parcels was transferred from city to state to Los Angeles County, where parking lots and a lifeguard training center were built.

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In the midst of the racial justice protests of the summer of 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, activists began calling for the land to be returned to descendants of the Bruce family; before long, Los Angeles County officials and state legislators defended their efforts, ultimately leading to the Newsom bill signed by Beach in September.

In his court filings, Ryan argued that “factually undisputed” facts indicated that Manhattan Beach did not discriminate against the Bruces. That discrimination, however, was substantiated by a number of contemporary sources, including a news article written by a former Manhattan Beach trustee who admitted that he acted with his colleagues to prevent the “nigger problem” from impeding progress. from the city.

Ryan was previously the subject of local news articles for his insistence on flying the Confederate battle flag as a “reminder” of the country’s racial history.

“I really don’t give a fuck about the politics of liberal idiots who want to look at that flag and say, ‘oh, that’s racist,'” Ryan told the Daily Breeze newspaper. “The last person you can call a racist is me.”

Ryan has not responded to a request for comment from Spectrum News.