Public Law

2023 Outstanding Achievement in Public Law (OAPL) Award Recipient: Thomas Faughnan

The County of Los Angeles nominates Senior Assistant County Counsel Thomas Faughnan. 

Thomas Faughnan through his diligence, patience, and creativity allowed the County to right a historic wrong by returning the land taken from the Bruce family and giving the descendants of the their family the opportunity to participate in the American Dream that their great grandparents sought out a century ago. 

History of Bruce’s Beach: 

In 1912 and 1920, Willa Bruce purchased two lots of land along the Strand in Manhattan Beach. Like many other Americans of African descent, Charles and Willa had each moved West as part of the Great Migration, seeking opportunities to participate in the promise of the American Dream. Shortly after purchasing the land, Charles and Willa Bruce turned the location into a seaside resort that welcomed Black beachgoers from all over Los Angeles and became colloquially referred to as “Bruce’s Beach.” 

As the resort gained popularity and attracted more beachgoers, many white residents of the surrounding community reacted with hostility and racism. 

In 1924, prompted by a petition from local white real estate agents and other civic leaders, the Manhattan Beach City Council voted to condemn Bruce’s Beach and the surrounding land through eminent domain to build a park. It is well documented the eminent domain process was racially motivated with the intention of bringing an end to the successful Black business in the predominantly white community. 

The Council condemned the land and passed new laws prohibiting resort-type businesses in that area, effectively prohibiting the Bruce family from purchasing other beachfront property for a resort. The court awarded their property to the City of Manhattan Beach through eminent domain. 

The Bruce family moved out of Manhattan Beach, and the City immediately demolished the Bruce’s Beach resort. No park was built, and the land sat empty for decades. Nearly 30 years later, the City of Manhattan Beach finally built a park in 1956 on the land behind the Bruce’s Beach resort. 

In 1948, Manhattan Beach transferred Block 5, including the Bruce Property, to the State of California (“State”). This land remained State property until 1995, when the State transferred it to the County as part of a larger transfer of eight State beaches to the County. This transfer included statutory conditions that restricted use and ownership of the land. The County Fire Department currently uses this property for its lifeguard operations. 

Road to Fixing this Historic Wrong: 

In April 2021, County of Los Angeles Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell brought a motion, which passed unanimously, to return this land to the Bruce family. In response to Supervisor Hahn’s question of whether the property can be returned to the Bruce family, Mr. Faughnan showed the County Counsel “can do” spirit and said “We will figure it out Supervisor.” 

Mr. Faughnan figured it out and with the help of a team: 

  • Worked with Senator Bradford to craft first of its kind legislation, SB 796, finding the property was wrongfully taken and it was in the public interest to return the property to the Bruce family and remove any restrictions on the property; 
  • Helped the County support the legislation through both houses and the Governor’s Office for ultimate passage as an urgency bill; 
  • Developed a fair and transparent process to determine the legal heirs of Willa and Charles Bruce; 
  • Successfully defended a writ of mandate seeking to prevent the rightful transfer of the property to the legal heirs of Willa and Charles Bruce. 
    • In Judge Beckloff’s Order, he found: “Righting a government wrong perpetrated in breach of our core and fundamental constitutional principles works to strengthen governmental integrity, represents accountability in government and works to eliminate structural racism and bias. The government’s act of rectifying a prior egregious wrong based on racism fosters trust and respect in government.” 
  • Ensured SB 796 addressed property and State income tax impacts of the property transfer fairly; and 
  • Negotiated the Transfer Agreement, and a leaseback, which includes the Bruces’ right to require the County to acquire the Property within a certain timeframe, and the County’s right to require the Bruces’ to sell the Property to the County within a certain timeframe, for a purchase price not to exceed $20 million. 

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