Reverberations of cheer are still echoing following California Governor Gavin Newsom’s signing of legislation to return Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of the original owners of the beach resort.
Thanks to the combined efforts of L.A. County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell, State Senator Steven Bradford and Newsom, the process is underway to restore the valuable acreage illegally taken from Charles and Willa Bruce in 1912.
The enterprising African American couple owned and operated the getaway for the Black community who were denied access to other areas along the beach due to racial segregation. However, Manhattan Beach city leaders claimed the property in the 1920s by using eminent domain laws.
In 1948, the land was assigned to the State and later shifted to Los Angeles County. Currently, the site where Mr. and Mrs. Bruce managed a restaurant, dance hall, and bathing suit changing rooms is the home of the L.A. County Fire Department’s Lifeguard Training Center.
Fire Chief Daryl Osby, who oversees the lifeguard division as well as fire service operations, was among the crowd cheering as Newsom signed bill SB 796, which allows county officials to transfer the land –estimated to be worth $75 million –back to the Bruce family.
“Today is historic. We saw the Governor and the Board of Supervisors do the right thing by signing legislation to give this property back to the rightful owners, so it’s really a great day,” said Osby during an interview with Sentinel Managing Editor Brandon I. Brooks.
“Being the fire chief of this department and coming to one of the facilities in my department, I always felt that sullied the L.A. County Fire Department’s legacy and today we were able to right that wrong.”
Prompting Osby to elaborate on the justice implications of the day’s event, Brooks asked the chief about the local and national impact of Newsom’s action. Osby noted that the governor set an example that will likely inspire other institutions to behave in a similar manner.
“This is precedent setting! It shows that our country – and this is still the greatest country in the world – but we’ve had some very hard history in this country and this (the Bruce’s Beach ceremony) shows that today is an opportunity that could catapult across our country that we can right wrongs in our history,” he insisted.
Osby is well acquainted with precedent setting, especially since he is the first African American fire chief in the department’s history. Appointed in 2011, he is responsible for fire suppression and life safety services for 4.1 million residents and businesses located in 59 cities in the 2,300 square miles in sprawling L.A. County.
Under his command are more than 3,000 firefighters, 1,000 lifeguards, as well as supportive staff. The employees work out of the department’s 174 fire and 24 lifeguard stations. Also, Osby manages a budget exceeding $1 billion.
Acknowledging his trailblazing position, Brooks questioned how Osby ascended to the top spot.
Surprisingly, the fire chief explained that he was initially reluctant to become a firefighter after hearing some of the negative encounters that his family members’ experienced.
“My dad and some of my uncles started with the fire service in the 1960s. To be quite frank, growing up, I didn’t want to be a firefighter because if you can think about the 60s and 70s and me not experiencing racism firsthand, but seeing it second-hand and how it made my dad feel – a strong Black man and how he was broken down – it wasn’t my first career option,” recalled Osby.
“But at some point, I had friends in the Los Angeles County Fire Department and they said, ‘Darryl, take the test and if you don’t like it, quit.’ That was over 40 years ago. I’ve had a very exciting career and particularly now, as chief, it’s given me an opportunity to give back to my community and African Americans,” he said.
Considering Osby’s success in fire services, Brooks inquired about the process for other Blacks to join the department. In response, Osby urged applicants to stop by any county fire station or visit lacountyfire.org to learn about the range of positions offered by his agency.
“We have a mentoring program and tour program, which is a good way to find about the fire service. As it pertains to African Americans, we have the Stentorians (an African American Firefighter Association) and I’m a member and past president of that,” Osby said.
“Visit their website (https://www.lacitystentorians.org) to find out about professions in the fire service. They have really good mentoring programs for men and women because we’re looking for African American women also.”