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Bruce's Beach Apology? Alternate Versions Draw Attention

Apr 06, 2021 08:26AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Should Manhattan Beach issue an apology for Bruce's Beach? That is the question that looms large before the Manhattan Beach City Council as it prepares for its April 6 meeting.

On the table is a wide-ranging apology proposed by the Bruce's Beach Task Force, as well as alternate versions proposed by councilmembers Steve Napolitano and Hildy Stern; and an "acknowledgement and condemnation" by Joe Franklin.

The apology is the one holdover item from the council's discussion of Bruce's Beach at its last meeting on March 16. At that meeting, the council voted to approve three recommendations from Bruce's Beach Task Force and then disbanded the task force. As the meeting dragged out past the five-hour mark, council members agreed to postpone the contentious issue of whether to issue an apology to the Bruce family.

In the meantime, that issue has continued to fan flames of dissent within Manhattan Beach, and has drawn both regional commentary and national attention.

The alternatives before the council include one from Napolitano, one of the task force co-chairs, who has proposed an "Alternative Resolution of Apology;" and one from Stern, the other task force co-chair, who has proposed a different "Alternative Resolution of Apology." Meanwhile, Franklin has proposed a "Statement of Acknowledgment and Condemnation."


Task Force Cites Precedent by Other Cities


The Bruce's Beach task force's version of an apology would declare that the city of Manhattan Beach "apologizes for and condemns" the role that the city played in a variety of racially motivated and discriminatory actions.

It also apologizes for the "resulting culture of exclusion that discouraged other Black families and families of color from making their home in Manhattan Beach."

The document also calls for "redress" in the form of having the city council "review and revise policies, procedures, ordinances, values, goals, and missions through an anti-racism lens in an effort to promote racial equity, and end discrimination and harassment toward any person or group based on race or ethnicity."

Additionally, it asks for the full adoption of the Bruce's Beach Task Force recommendations. The city council has approved three of the five recommendations (authorizing artwork, creating a new plaque, and allowing the history subcommittee to continue its work). The city council has not yet voted on the fourth recommendation, adoption of an apology; and it rejected the fifth recommendation, continuing the work of the task force with a community forum.

When presenting the apology, the task force noted that such an apology is not unprecedented. The cities of Glendale, CA; Spartanburg, South Carolina; and Tampa, Florida (see page 1032 of this link for the actual resolution) have all issued resolutions apologizing for discriminatory racial practices of the past.

Napolitano's Alternative Resolution


Councilmember Napolitano's proposed version begins with a summary of historical findings from the Bruce's Beach task force report; provides a formal apology for the role that the city played in those policies of the past and for the city's "overdue recognition" of these events; and promises a commitment by the city to reject racism, hate, intolerance and exclusion.

The resolution concludes with "We remain committed to these principles as a community, in deeds as well as words. We don’t seek to condemn or divide, rather, we seek understanding and healing. An apology can’t change the events of one hundred years ago, nor are today’s residents responsible for the past actions of others. However, we offer this apology as a foundational act for Manhattan Beach’s next one hundred years and the actions we will take together to Stand Up against prejudice and hate, and for respect and inclusion."

"My version of an apology is not to assign guilt or blame but to acknowledge and empathize a wrong that was done by the city, as a public agency, nearly 100 years ago," Napolitano told DigMB.  "It also acknowledges that today's Manhattan Beach is not the Manhattan Beach of nearly 100 years ago and that we're a loving, welcoming community, not a racist one. It addresses the City's role in that wrong, it isn't demanding or asking any current resident to apologize, nor would there be any such expectation. It's really quite simple and straightforward."

Napolitano added. "It's been thoroughly reviewed by the city attorney who has stated that it raises no issues of liability as it includes only facts already known in the public record for events that are long past and beyond any statute of limitations."


Stern's Alternative Resolution

Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Stern's version also recaps the history as reported by the Bruce's Beach task force. It would have the city council:

  • Apologize for history that included racially motivated policies;
  • Pledge to actively participate in confronting, and standing up against, racism, hate, intolerance and exclusion in our community;
  • Pledge to promote racial equality and inclusion in city leadership, staffing, contracting, training, policy making and ordinances;
  • Pledge to continue to seek opportunities for education and advise on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
The resolution ends with a statement similar to the one offered in Napolitano's version: "An apology can’t change the events of one hundred years ago, nor are today’s residents responsible for the past actions of others. However, we offer this apology as a foundational act for Manhattan Beach’s next one hundred years and the actions we will take together to Stand Up against prejudice and hate, and to foster a community where all are welcome and treated with respect, fairness, trust and empathy."

Stern told DigMB that her proposed resolution aims to provide a balance between the task force's resolution and Napolitano's version.

"I believe that in order for an apology to be meaningful it need not only recognize the wrong and show regret for it but also point the way to a future that shows we have learned from that history," said Stern. "I have included a section that shows our continued dedication to being an inclusive city in the future, similar to the intention of the task force members in their redress section that is more than just restating a pledge that we have previously adopted."

Stern added: "Our city attorney is comfortable that there is little to no risk of liability from that proposed resolution."


Franklin's "Statement of Acknowledgement and Condemnation"

Councilmember Franklin's "Statement of Acknowledgement and Condemnation" recaps the history of Bruce's Beach, including the "racially motivated condemnation proceedings undertaken by the city," with the acknowledgment that "All owners were paid fair market value or higher for their properties as determined by the Los Angeles County Superior Court."

Then it states that the city of Manhattan Beach "formally acknowledges and condemns" the city's eminent domain action to dispossess the Bruces and other Black and white property owners of their property.

It continues, "The Manhattan Beach of today is not the Manhattan Beach of one hundred years ago. The community and population of the City of Manhattan Beach are loving, tolerant and welcoming to all. We reject racism, hate, intolerance and exclusion.

"Today’s residents are not responsible for the actions of others 100 years ago. However, we offer this Acknowledgement and Condemnation as a foundational act for Manhattan Beach’s next one hundred years and the actions we will take together, to the best of our abilities, in deeds and in words, to reject prejudice and hate and promote respect and inclusion."

Franklin reiterated to DigMB that the resolution was a acknowledgment and condemnation, not an apology.

As for liability, he said, "All of the proposed resolutions and statements have been thoroughly reviewed by the city attorney who stated there were various degrees of risk of liability with each version. The least risky action was to adopt no resolution or statement. My version ranked just below that as being the least risky."


Bruce's Beach Background

The story of Bruce's Beach dates back to the early 1900s, when Charles and Willa Bruce built a popular beach resort for African Americans in Manhattan Beach. By the end of the 1920s, with pressure from community members who did not want African Americans in the town, Manhattan Beach's Board of Trustees (a precursor to the modern city council) claimed the land under eminent domain and displaced the Bruce family as well as other families who had settled in the area.

It was not until 2006 that the city publicly acknowledged this chapter of its history by naming the area Bruce's Beach, and it was not until the summer of 2020 that a movement began growing for the city to take further action to recognize the Bruces.

After a summer of racial unrest and controversy surrounding the history of Bruce's Beach, the Manhattan Beach city council agreed to form the task force to look at new ways to recognize and commemorate  Bruce's Beach park. The task force members were selected in late October and given four months to prepare their report.





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