Senate Bill 796: A Step Closer to Historic Justice for a Southern California Family

By Beth Graves Meyerhoff, California State PTA Legislative Advocate

In a historic moment on September 30, 2011, the issue of reparations was addressed by Governor Gavin Newsom when he signed Senate Bill (SB) 796, authored by California State Senator Steven Bradford (D). SB 796 authorizes Los Angeles County to transfer two parcels of land to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce. The  property, located in Manhattan Beach, was wrongfully taken from its owners in the 1920s simply because of their race. 

Senator Bradford has been quoted as saying, “SB 796 represents economic and historic justice and is a model of what reparations can truly look like.” At the bill signing, Senator Bradford also said, “We’re returning what was rightfully theirs. It’s not a gift of public funds. They were denied generational wealth when the city took it from them.”

The Bruces purchased two beachfront parcels of property in 1912 for $1,225 and operated a seaside resort for African Americans at a time when beaches were segregated. In 1924, the property was taken by the city of Manhattan Beach through eminent domain to create a public park. The Bruce family received $14,500 for the parcels. The properties remained vacant until 1948 when they were given to the state and later transferred to Los Angeles County in 1995 to operate a lifeguard station.  

California State PTA believes that we must eradicate the negative impact of institutional racism and we must support systems and practices that are rooted in social justice to effectively serve the needs of children, youth, and families. The National PTA in a related position statement emphasized, “As an association that represents all children, we must listen, educate and advocate beyond rhetoric and rise to correct all inequities and injustices.” 

In his press release, Governor Newsom said, “As we move to remedy this nearly century-old injustice, California takes another step furthering our commitment to making the California Dream a reality for communities that were shamefully shut out by a history of racist exclusion. We know our work is just beginning to make amends for our past, and California will not shy from confronting the structural racism and bias that people of color face to this day.” 

The next step is for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to consider a motion for the county to accept the deed for the parcels in order for the county to return the two parcels of land to the Bruce family.

The California State PTA Legislative Action Committee considered these General Principles and Legislation Planks to support this legislation:

Additional reading about this legislation and the history of Bruce’s Beach: