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Amid claims of racism, Long Beach cuts bus service to Seal Beach

June 29, 2012 |  3:42 pm

Seal beach visitors
Long Beach transit officials have decided to cut bus service into neighboring Seal Beach, following a series of insults and vague claims of racism hurled between the cities, which straddle the Orange County- Los Angeles County border.

Hundreds of residents who rely on the service will now have to transfer to Orange County Transportation Authority buses at the city limits, and pay a separate fare.

Transit officials say they are working with OCTA to ensure that the transfers are as efficient as possible.

“It seems to have become an emotional issue on behalf of the transit staff,” said Seal Beach City Manager Jill Ingram. “The end result is something that neither agency should be proud of.”

The controversy began at a May 8 meeting, at which Long Beach Transit officials invited Seal Beach residents to discuss proposed changes to a bus route. The meeting became heated, with angry words exchanged.

Two days later, Ingram said she received a letter from the chief executive of Long Beach Transit saying the agency was cutting service to the neighboring beach town.

“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,” wrote Laurence W. Jackson.

Jackson, who did not attend the meeting, declined to specify what “colorful” comments were made by residents and a Seal Beach council member, but called them “deep-seated ugly feelings.”

Long Beach Transit spokesman Kevin Lee insists that, despite the stinging letter, the decision to lop off the routes was financial; charting an alternative route for their upgraded buses would have required costly improvements.

But the accusations were renewed this week at a Long Beach Transit board meeting, said Seal Beach Councilwoman Ellery Deaton, who attended to plead with officials to reconsider the bus service.

“We were told [by board members] that we are racist and don’t allow certain races in our city or on our beaches,” Deaton said during a City Council meeting this week.

Deaton and other Seal Beach officials say the racism charge is unfounded and deeply offensive.

“I know there had been hurt feelings over a very loud meeting, but it never crossed my mind that anybody would think it was racism,” said Deaton in a phone interview, adding that the city has formally apologized for the tenor of the May meeting.

“All I want is to make it work. Solve the problem, get the buses back and move on,” she said.

That’s not likely to happen any time soon. The service changes will go into effect Aug. 26, says Lee, and the earliest those could be reversed is January.

For Paul Cabral, a disabled Seal Beach resident, the change poses an added burden of getting on and off another bus, and maybe paying an additional fare. He helped collect over 300 signatures on a petition to Long Beach Transit officials, urging them to keep the buses running into his hometown.

“They need to work out their problems, because the people have to pay the price for what they can’t settle out.”


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Photo: Children play on a sand berm along the shore in Seal Beach. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times.