Angry residents jammed Irvine City Council chambers Tuesday night to voice their opposition to a proposal for a light-rail system that would link their city with Costa Mesa and Santa Ana.
Though the council is considering only a joint $20-million preliminary engineering study for now, opponents were trying to halt it early on. Many carried signs reading, "We're not falling for this line" and "Don't waste our money."
One resident drew rousing applause when he asked council members, "How could you presume to suggest you have public support?" If the city proceeds with the study, he said, "figuratively, the train will have left the station."
Councilman Greg Smith joined the opposition, saying, "I am unalterably opposed to this project. I believe it will negatively alter the character of this community. I think change for the sake of change is bad." His remarks drew a loud standing ovation.
Supporters were vocal and visible too, waving signs that read, "The rail makes sense" and "Pro-rail."
Said a 25-year resident of Woodbridge: "If the city were static, we could stand by and expect the current transportation system to be adequate. But that doesn't reconcile with the facts." His remarks drew a smattering of applause.
Officials of Santa Ana and Irvine Valley colleges and UC Irvine also expressed support, saying train service could be a great benefit for students.
The controversial $2.3-billion CenterLine project, initially intended to run from Irvine to Fullerton, was abandoned in February as political and business support dwindled. Community and business groups argued that the rail line would destroy neighborhoods, waste tax dollars and do little to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion.
Two weeks ago, the mayors of Irvine, Santa Ana and Costa Mesa said they wanted to revive the project by studying the possibility of a route through their cities. The mayors envision a mostly elevated line that would start at the Irvine Transportation Center and move west along the San Diego Creek Channel to the South Coast Metro area in Costa Mesa.
Proponents say their hope is that other Orange County cities, such as Anaheim and Orange, would eventually join the network.
The three-city plan would cost roughly $1 billion. Costa Mesa's council endorsed it unanimously Monday. In Irvine, however, it has stirred fierce opposition among residents, some of whom accuse Mayor Larry Agran of trying to push the project through without enough community input and argue that the rail line would urbanize peaceful residential areas.
Agran emphasized Tuesday that the only issue before the council at the moment is whether to proceed with the engineering aspect of the project. "This is not about a done deal but a study," he said.
All three cities must endorse the concept before the Orange County Transportation Authority will consider a truncated version of the project. The Santa Ana City Council is set to vote on it next week.