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Not All Are Aboard Idea of CenterLine

September 10, 2002|SCOTT MARTELLE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The train, if it comes, will pass right outside the produce store where Ray Bermudez works on Santa Ana's Bristol Street, a boulevard teeming with the daily flow of life in one of Southern California's most densely populated cities.

Bermudez, 20, is not so sure a train is what the pedestrian-heavy neighborhood needs.

"Right now, a lot of people are getting killed by cars" in Santa Ana, Bermudez said as he used scissors to snip a display card inside the ProduMex Market, near the northern reaches of the latest planned route for a light-rail system. "With a railroad, it would get even worse."

Orange County transportation officials and civic leaders have debated the proposed CenterLine system for more than three years, commissioning studies, quarreling over routes and negotiating compromises.

As the county's transportation authority moved Monday to designate a final route, people living along the proposed path were not sure what to make of the prospect that trains will be added to the mix on streets already crowded with people and cars.

Sure, it would be good for those who would use it, they said. But who would use it? And would it ultimately be a train that links places, or simply passes through them?

The latest route follows a north-south axis between the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center and UC Irvine, a path traversing both class and culture as it links neighborhoods in Santa Ana and southern Irvine with industrial zones, office parks and schools.

At the route's northern reach, Michael Lee sat on a shaded veranda rolling a cigarette from a bag of tobacco as he killed time waiting for a bus to take him to a local welfare office.

An unemployed auto-body worker, Lee, 39, lives in Norwalk but spends a lot of time in Orange County, where he was born.

Homeless and car-less, Lee relies on buses--and trains, when he can afford them--to get around. A light-rail system, he said, would help a lot of people who need it--particularly if it took people to jobs.

"If it's anything like Metrolink, it would be great," Lee said as passengers boarded a southbound Amtrak train for San Diego. "It would help the Hispanic community especially."

From the Santa Ana station, the proposed route cuts westward through old neighborhoods squeezed between downtown Santa Ana and the Santa Ana Freeway, a matrix of homes and apartments, churches and small businesses.

Patty Madrigal, who does her family's wash in a coin-operated laundry there, on Monday glanced out the window at where the trains would run.

"That would be great," she said, but admitted she probably wouldn't use it because she lives in Tustin and has a car. But others could use it. The route south, she said, is a major commuter path for a city that she feels has grown too big too fast.

"People need to travel out of Santa Ana to work," Madrigal said.

From eastern Santa Ana, the train would continue through the heart of the county office complex, where the sidewalks are filled with name-tagged government workers and dark-suited lawyers scurrying along with bulging briefcases.

At Bristol, at an intersection anchored by a gas station and a medical clinic, the route cuts due south, through commercial strips and neighborhoods to the glittering retail promise of South Coast Plaza, where on Monday Jimmy Hart was about to have a jeweler install a battery in his watch.

Hart, 69, is all for the proposed light-rail line.

He lives in Irvine, and though he doesn't get to South Coast Plaza very often, he'd take a train if it were running.

"Everywhere you go it's cars, cars, cars. I'd take the train. I'd jump on it just to go someplace."

From South Coast Plaza the train would zigzag southeast, past hotels and office parks, bean fields and John Wayne Airport before taking a couple of final jogs along San Diego Creek to the edge of UCI, where Florence Guzman, 19, is studying psychology.

Guzman lives in an apartment near campus, and near Leo Mendoza, 19, an economics major.

On Monday, Mendoza was helping Guzman learn how to drive, advising her from the passenger seat as she maneuvered across a near-empty parking lot.

Neither thought they'd have much use for a train, even if it did go to their university.

Guzman said she rarely goes to Santa Ana, finding herself more often in the nightclubs and shopping districts of Costa Mesa. "It doesn't go where we go," she said.

"I don't think it will come to my apartment," Mendoza added.

But what if it were more convenient? What if it did go places you wanted to go? Would you use it then?

Mendoza thought for a minute as an afternoon breeze ruffled the eucalyptus trees above.

"No," he concluded, then laughed. "I like my car."

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