Hurt feelings, harsh words and allegations of racism lobbed across the border between Seal Beach and Long Beach has led Long Beach Transit officials to pull its free Passport bus route from Seal Beach starting in August.
The rift between cities has left hundreds of bus riders in the lurch, more than 300 of whom signed and submitted a petition Monday, asking Seal Beach leaders to bridge the divide.
It may be too late.
At Monday’s Long Beach Transit Board of Directors meeting, officials accused residents and some city leaders in Seal Beach of harboring racist attitudes toward black residents and bus patrons in Long Beach. Based on comments made in May at a heated community meeting in Seal Beach, transit officials canceled plans to extend their bus service in Seal Beach and further eliminated existing bus routes in the city.
“Community members and your city council member in attendance expressed vehement opposition to Long Beach Transit’s proposed transit services in Seal Beach and made it clear that our customers are not welcome. The level of angry, rude, and unprofessional behavior directed toward our organization helped Long Beach Transit to clearly understand that any bus service directly linking Long Beach & Seal Beach is not in anyone’s best interest,” Long Beach Transit President and Chief Executive Officer Laurence W. Jackson wrote in a letter to Seal Beach City Manager Jill Ingram. “Although it is best if I don’t go into the details of specific comments, Seal Beach City staff present can give you a sense of the “colorful” comments from residents and the Seal Beach Council member. A prolonged dialogue putting one group of Seal Beach residents against transit users would not serve any useful purpose, but merely inflame deep-seated ugly feelings that were expressed during the meeting.”
While the Seal Beach residents’ main concern was about rerouting large buses to keep them off residential streets such as Marina Drive, one woman at the meeting reportedly expressed concerns about prostitutes coming to Seal Beach via the Long Beach buses while others reportedly called the Long Beach bus patrons "those people."
At this week’s transit board meeting, officials in Long Beach said the comments reflected an era when black people from Long Beach were not welcomed in predominantly white Seal Beach.
The accusation did not sit well with Seal Beach officials.
“It was a very strange thing to go to that meeting and hear Seal Beach being accused of being racist when we are not,” said Seal Beach City Councilman Gordon Shanks.
“We were told that we are racist and told we don’t allow certain races in Seal Beach,” Councilwoman Ellery Deaton said during Monday’s Seal Beach City Council meeting.
“That is deeply offensive,” she added.
Deaton said city officials in Seal Beach are hoping to work with Long Beach Transit officials to keep the buses running in the city.
“It’s about the passengers. It’s not about hurt feelings,” she said. “It’s about the handicapped. It’s about the poor, the senior citizens. It’s about the disenfranchised.”
Seal Beach resident Paul Cabral submitted a petition to the city calling on officials to keep the buses running in Seal Beach. Cabral, who depends on a cane and motorized scooter to get around, takes the bus once a week to see his doctor and to visit his grandmother.
“People lined up to sign this petition,” said Cabral. “This is something that is hurting our livelihood.”
Jo Peterson also helped gather signatures. After retiring 10 years ago, she opted to stop driving and travel by bus instead. When she had her second heart attack, it was the Passport bus she took to get to the hospital. It’s people such as her who are being punished by this petty feud, she said.
“I am absolutely ashamed of how adults are acting on both sides of the issue,” she added.
Residents and city leaders in Seal Beach said they are surprised that Long Beach Transit officials are punishing bus riders because of hurt feelings, especially because the tenor of the bus meeting wasn’t notably contentious compared to many city meetings.
However, despite Jackson’s letter blaming the change in bus routes on the “colorful” attitudes expressed by some in Seal Beach, the reasoning behind the decision to pull buses out of Seal Beach is a financial one, said Kevin Lee, Long Beach Transit’s marketing manager. Long Beach Transit serves 29 million people, but the agency has had to make budget cuts of late.
“Those comments aside, it comes down to service planning,” said Lee. “We did not fly off the handle.”
Currently the Passport bus comes into Seal Beach along Route 131, which circles Old Town via PCH, Main Street, Electric Avenue and 5th Street. But the agency is replacing the aging bus fleet with larger, clean-burning natural gas busses. Because the newer busses are 10 feet larger, they can’t safely follow the old route and would need to return to Long Beach via Marina Drive, contend transit officials.
If Seal Beach won’t allow the new buses to drive along Marina Drive, then the buses would have to turn around in the marina parking lot at Alamitos Bay, said Lee. That would require expensive infrastructure changes in the parking lot, which the agency could recover by eliminating bus service to Seal Beach altogether, said Lee.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to come by. The real heart of the issue is that if we can’t get access, we can’t provide service,” added Lee. “We will talk to Seal Beach again. It’s not something we take lightly at all. It’s very important to us.”
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK IN THE COMMENTS
Is either side right or wrong? Is there a solution that is best for both communities?