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Residents Balk at Imminent Loss of Domain

November 27, 1987|MARK I. PINSKY | Times Staff Writer

Bob Hamilton makes his living on foot, carrying the mail from door to door, and he doesn't like the idea of giving up his Costa Mesa home of 20 years so that commuters traveling between Huntington Beach and Irvine can save a few minutes of drive time.

But his concerns and those of others living along busy Victoria Street in Costa Mesa seem to have been set aside this week by the City Council, which voted 4 to 1 Monday to endorse a plan to widen the street.

The project will require the demolition of Hamilton's house, along with those of 62 others within the next two to 12 years.

$12-Million Cost

The council's measure will widen Victoria from two lanes to four lanes between Harbor Boulevard and Canyon Street, a 1.3-mile stretch now being used as a corridor from Huntington Beach to Irvine. The plan, which is estimated to cost $12 million to $14 million and take up to 12 years to complete, is expected to require the demolition of 63 single-family homes and 30 condominiums and apartments, affecting nearly 300 current residents. Three schools and one church along the route will remain intact.

"As far as I'm concerned, they railroaded it through," said Hamilton, leaning over his elaborate electric train layout set up in his garage.

"I'm not very happy about it," the postal worker said.

Hamilton said he attended about 80% of the public hearings and meetings called by the city to discuss various widening proposals, voicing his opposition each time, to no visible effect.

"I'd like to do something," he said, "but I don't know what the hell to do. . . . I was thinking about retiring here happily ever after."

Now, he says, "I'll have to tear up my train set."

Like Hamilton, other residents of Victoria Street in Costa Mesa are anxious and angry, but mostly they seem resigned to losing their homes in a road-widening plan approved by the City Council earlier this week.

"We love our home," said Elena Schott, adding that she and her husband "don't have the slightest idea" where else they will live after 20 years. Schott said she doesn't like the city's plan, but she asked, "What can you do?"

Dick Fanning, a retired mechanic who has lived in his house for nearly 30 years, sighed and said, "I'd rather they wouldn't take my home. I'm at the point where I can't move. I can't afford to."

He and his wife say they "have everything situated where we want it," but he added, "There's nothing we can do about it. They've got their mind set as to what they're going to do."

Horrendous Traffic

Above the roar of cars, trucks and motorcycles, Fanning acknowledged that "traffic here is horrendous," volunteering that his curbside mailbox has been knocked down by vehicles seven times.

But while he said he understands the city's point in wanting to widen the thoroughfare, he added, "I can see my point better than theirs."

Until the long-planned extension of 19th Street is completed, there are only three roads south of the San Diego Freeway that span the Santa Ana River, which divides Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach: Pacific Coast Highway; Adams Avenue, which has been designated one of 21 "super streets" by the Orange County Transportation Commission, and Victoria Street.

Over the next 20 years, Victoria Street is expected to double its already heavy traffic flow, from 15,000 to 28,000 vehicles a day, a nearly impossible load for a two-lane, undivided street, according to Steve Hayman, superintendent of facilities and equipment for the city.

The new, four-lane Victoria Street corridor, planned to accommodate the increasing commuter traffic, will have medians, six-foot sound walls and frontage roads giving local residents access, as well as sidewalks and bike paths. The city hopes to fund the project through a bond issue, Hayman said.

Usually, when Orange County residents talk about not wanting to pay for a freeway in their backyards they are speaking metaphorically, and in recent years they have been getting their way. Most recently, opposition by the City of Irvine to the proposed San Joaquin Corridor has necessitated legislative approval of the state's first toll road.

A countywide battle, sparked by increasing traffic congestion, is now being waged over a ballot initiative that would bar new construction near congested intersections unless builders pay for traffic improvements. Under the Citizens' Sensible Growth and Traffic Control Amendment Ordinance, rush-hour speed on some suburban arterial highways would have to be maintained at a minimum of 22 m.p.h. for any new development.

Although no further development is planned for Victoria Avenue, that criteria could not be met, the city says, without the widening plan. But right now, the cost of demolition is of greater concern than development to current residents of Victoria Ave.

Leo Romero, whose family has lived in its house on Victoria Street for 25 years, said he saw "some good and some bad" for his parents in the City Council's decision.

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