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Newsletter: A century after its seizure, Bruce’s Beach will be returned to its rightful owners

A boy and a girl join hands, laugh and splash in the water at a beach
Daelonni Davis, 16, right, and her brother Daniko, 17, frolic in Manhattan Beach on Tuesday, the day the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to return nearby Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of its onetime owners.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, June 29, and I’m staff writer Gale Holland, filling in from Los Angeles for Justin Ray.

With a unanimous vote Tuesday by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, the Bruce family will soon reclaim rights to the oceanfront land that bears their name, nearly 100 years after they were run out of Manhattan Beach. The transfer could be the start of more widespread steps by governments to rectify historical injustices based on race.

By 1912, Charles and Willa Bruce were in California. Willa purchased two lots by the sand in Manhattan Beach and ran a popular lodge, cafe and dance hall that lent a rare welcome to Black beachgoers. Other Black families followed the Bruces, buying and building their own cottages by the sea.

But the Bruces and their guests faced increasing threats from white neighbors. The Ku Klux Klan and local real estate agents purportedly plotted ways to harass them.

When racism failed to drive this Black beach community out of town, city officials in 1924 condemned the neighborhood known as Bruce’s Beach and seized more than two dozen properties through eminent domain, claiming a park was urgently needed. For decades, the land sat empty. The Bruces’ two parcels were transferred to the state in 1948, then to L.A. County in 1995; Manhattan Beach eventually turned the other lots into a park.

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The lots bought by Willa Bruce over a century ago will now enter escrow and be transferred to the Bruce family, which will rent the property to the county for $413,000 a year. The county also retains a right to later buy the property for $20 million.

A grass-roots group is pushing for similar reparations for five other Black California families in Santa Monica, Palm Springs, Coloma, Hayward and Canyon with stories similar to the Bruces’. And Indigenous communities — including the local Tongva, Acjachemen and Tataviam — are also calling for future return of their ancestral lands.

For Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, the last two years of organizing for this day have been a jumble of emotions.

“Many families across the United States have been forced away from their homes and lands,” he said. “I hope that these monumental events encourage such families to keep trusting and believing that they will one day have what they deserve.”

[Read the story: “‘We are finally here’: Plan to return Bruce’s Beach wins unanimous approval”]

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER

The number of migrants found dead in a tractor-trailer in San Antonio rose to 51. The dead include at least 27 Mexican nationals, seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans, Mexican officials said. “We are in mourning,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard wrote on Twitter. Times columnist Jean Guerrero blames desperation and U.S. militarization of the border for the horrendous tragedy. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

California can expect a rush of out-of-towners seeking reproductive care. Between 8,000 and 16,100 more people will make the journey to California each year for abortion care, and many will come to Los Angeles County, the UCLA School of Law’s Center on Reproductive Health, Law, and Policy said in a study released this month. The study looked at the likely effect of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down Roe vs. Wade’s federal protections of the right to abortion, and state bans triggered by the ruling. Los Angeles Times

California will investigate Cal State sexual harassment scandals. The state auditor’s investigation of the chancellor’s office and three campuses — Sonoma State, Fresno State and San Jose State — follows Los Angeles Times investigations. It will focus on how officials handled complaints under Title IX, a law that protects people against gender discrimination and sexual harassment at educational institutions that receive federal funding. Los Angeles Times

Trump’s anger turns spotlight on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Trump erupted over bombshell testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson in the congressional hearing over the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Hutchinson testified that she was told that Trump lunged at a Secret Service agent who refused to take him to the attack. “There is no cross-examination of this so-called witness,” Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social. “This is a Kangaroo court!” But McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) had pulled his members from the congressional hearing, which Trump says has left him largely defenseless. Los Angeles Times

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy walks through a hallway with reporters nearby
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) leaves his office at the U.S. Capitol in April.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

We have our Jan. 6 hero, columnist Robin Abcarian says. With no apparent ax to grind, and plenty to lose, Hutchinson, the 25-year-old former executive assistant to President Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, showed up at the congressional hearing Tuesday and dished startling revelations about Trump flying into a rage during the insurrection. She also told of the White House’s prior knowledge of the violence that was unleashed, and the president’s grotesque nonresponse, Abcarian recounts. Los Angeles Times

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

A new trial date is set in the Kristin Smart murder trial. Health concerns pushed opening statements back until July 18 for Paul and Ruben Flores, who are charged in the 1996 murder of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristin Smart. Paul Flores is accused of murdering Smart after an off-campus party, and his father, 81-year-old Ruben Flores, is accused of helping to hide the Cal Poly freshman’s body. Paul Flores was arrested in April 2021 at his San Pedro home, nearly 25 years after Smart, 19, was last seen walking with him toward the dormitories before she vanished. Though Smart’s body has never been found, she was legally declared dead in 2002. The trial was moved from San Luis Obispo to Salinas because of pretrial publicity. Sacramento Bee

Pilot program to keep the lights on in Van Nuys. The Bureau of Street Lighting will receive $60,000 to explore options for protecting San Fernando Valley electrical boxes hit hard by the citywide spate of copper thievery. Los Angeles Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Newsom has a plan to avoid blackouts — with fossil fuels. California lawmakers could vote as early as Wednesday night on polarizing legislation that would give the state authority to build or buy energy from any facility that can help keep the lights on during the next few summers — including polluting diesel generators and four gas-fired power plants along the Southern California coast, potentially extending the life of beachfront gas plants and the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. Details of the plan were released only Sunday night. Los Angeles Times

Aerial view of a power plant next to wetlands and a roadway by the beach
This gas-fired power plant in Huntington Beach was originally supposed to close in 2020 but could be extended under new state legislation.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Coronavirus is getting hard to avoid. Coronavirus cases in California are on the brink of passing 10 million, and nearly half of those were officially reported since Dec. 1, when the ultra-transmissible Omicron made its presence known. But even with the variant’s extreme contagiousness, you should take precautions. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Fish are raining from the sky in San Francisco. One Reddit user said the silver fish fell on his friend’s roof in the outer Richmond, while another said he almost got hit at a bus stop. Local fishers and researchers blame seabirds faced with a glut of anchovies off the coast of the Bay Area that now have more fish than they know what to do with. SFGATE

Nancy Reagan statue is unveiled at the Reagan Presidential Library. It’s the first statue of the late first lady without her husband at the Simi Valley landmark. The unveiling is part of a centennial celebration of Nancy Reagan, who was born in 1921 and died in 2016 at age 94. Ventura County Star

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: 88. San Diego: 75. San Francisco: 64. San Jose: 79. Sacramento: 93.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Alexis Evanoff:

I was a child in 1992 when the Rodney King video ‘went viral’ on the news. I lived 15 minutes from where Reginald Denny was dragged out of his truck. I remember the riots felt like they lasted a year. I also remember an uneasy time of healing. After that, though, I remember that for a while we all agreed to stop describing each other by our race. It was sort of an unspoken collective agreement. Even though the riots were beyond horrific, that was a really beautiful thing that came out of it there for a minute.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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