In an action with potentially far-reaching legal and social ramifications, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to return Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce, a Black couple who opened a resort on the property in 1912 that was later taken by the city of Manhattan Beach as a result of racial animus.
The vote came after several months of intense negotiations between attorneys for the County and the Bruce family, and it is believed that this is the first time in our country’s history that a Black family has had land returned to it by the government after it was wrongly taken from its ancestors. It is expected that the property will be returned to the Bruce descendants within 30 days.
Led by Los Angeles partner George C. Fatheree III, the Sidley team worked to create a framework for a reparative real estate transaction. Their task was to protect and advance the Bruce family’s interests, while developing a path to return the property that would withstand legal challenge and could serve as a model for similar efforts throughout the country. A real estate lawyer with a national practice, George has represented real estate companies and investors, professional sports teams, artists, museums and cultural institutions in complex business and legal transactions. Still, he called the Bruce’s Beach transaction one of his most challenging during his 15-year career.
“There was really no precedent or playbook for what we were trying to accomplish. Our work involved complex federal, state and local legal issues, including constitutional claims, property rights, valuation methodologies and tax considerations – none of which have come together before in a matter like this,” said George. “We remained focused on the importance of getting this exactly right. We are very proud of the result for the Bruce family, but let’s be clear: we should not call this justice. No one can reverse the generations of economic loss borne by this family – it’s impossible to return to the family all that it has lost.”
The final deal returns the property to the Bruce family, which the family will then lease back to the County, and includes an option to sell the land to the County for $20 million.
In addition to George, the Sidley team contributing to this matter includes Einass Abdelmoula, Alison Appleby, Monique M. Candiff, Saxon R. Cropper-Sykes, Natasha Gunasekara, Ivy H. Jones, Chris Juarez, Matthew D. Lerner, Joel Lifshitz, Daniel R. Mueller, Sam Newman, Erika B. Pringle, and Jonathan M. Westreich.