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Orange County

CenterLine's Revival May Derail Dreams

October 08, 2003|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

After living 18 years in a cramped apartment with his wife and three sons, Hugo Vivar scrimped and saved enough money from his janitorial and dishwasher jobs to buy his family's first home.

Three weeks ago, the Vivar family moved into a three-bedroom house at Bristol and Raymar streets in Santa Ana, snuggling into the American dream of homeownership. At least, that's how it seemed.

On Tuesday, Vivar and his wife Rosalia were shocked and saddened to learn that their lives as homeowners could be derailed by the CenterLine light-rail project, which is envisioned as traveling down the gut of Bristol Street, a bustling thoroughfare lined with strip malls, stand-alone businesses and homes. The Vivar home is one of 483 parcels that would be acquired -- partially or entirely -- by the city through eminent domain so the street can be widened for the line. Work could begin next summer.

"Life hasn't been easy for us," Vivar said. "I work two jobs. We've saved and done without so we can give our sons a better life.

"This is devastating news."

As with others, Vivar would be paid fair market value for his property, but the prospect of losing what took so long to get is deflating.

"Our lives were getting better. We finally owned a home. My oldest son graduated from high school this summer and is attending Santa Ana College. Now this."

According to environmental reports released Monday, the project now calls for the rail line to go underground through the South Coast Plaza area in Costa Mesa.

A previous plan to put the line above ground met with resistance from Costa Mesa officials and business leaders. As proposed, CenterLine would connect the Santa Ana Civic Center, South Coast Plaza and John Wayne Airport

Next door to Vivar, construction workers are building a home on what was an empty lot. The workers said they did not know if the owner was aware that the houses on each side are on Santa Ana's list of "residential displacements."

"It doesn't make sense for the city to leave this house untouched if the ones to the left and right of it are being torn down," said Jose Serpas, who was preparing the exterior for stucco.

Carolina Martinez, who lives two doors from Vivar, was stunned when she saw her address on the residential displacements list. The spotlessly maintained house has a new coat of paint and a landscaped backyard. Martinez, her husband, Pedro, and two grown children have lived there for 10 years.

"Oh, my God. What's going to happen to us? We knew they were going to knock down the corner house [where Vivar lives]. We thought the [rail line] was a good idea, but now I'm not sure," said Martinez.

Rosalio Uriarte, who sells insurance and prepares tax returns at an office in a strip mall in the 1100 block of South Bristol Street, said the financial impact on his family will be "tremendous and hurtful" if he and his partner have to close shop.

He said he has known for several years that the street might be torn up and his property acquired. But he figured that with the long-running disagreement over the project, the day of reckoning might never arrive.

He also worries about the six workers at the beauty salon next door and the 15 workers at a nearby pager store.

"The property owners will be compensated, but what are these employees going to get?" Uriarte said. "What does the city have to offer them?"

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