Despite residents' concerns about the wail of late-night whistles and the rumble of trains, Santa Ana has decided not to fight the completion of Metrolink's addition of a second set of tracks between downtown Los Angeles and San Juan Capistrano.
City officials had threatened to sue to stop the project but instead struck a deal that calls for Metrolink to spend $1.6 million on improvements near the new track, including decorative fencing, double-pane windows for at least eight homes and a wall from Fairhaven Avenue to 17th Street.
The $16-million track addition will eliminate a bottleneck along a 1.8-mile stretch between 17th Street in Santa Ana and La Veta Avenue in Orange, where trains have to stop and idle so that oncoming trains can pass. The land on which the second track will be added is owned by the Orange County Transportation Authority.
Under an agreement approved by the Santa Ana City Council this week, the city will drop its opposition as long as Metrolink builds a wall along the east side of the tracks between 17th and Fairhaven. On the west side, Metrolink will build a wall between the Santa Ana Freeway and Fairhaven, said City Manager David N. Ream.
Even though some Park Santiago residents are upset about the potential noise, the double-track project was inevitable, said Larry Johnson, president of the Park Santiago Neighborhood Assn. "The city did the right thing. It will probably look better than it does now."
But some residents complain that the double-pane windows will be installed only on windows facing the tracks and that the double tracks also will increase the number of trains roaring through their neighborhoods, a point that Metrolink officials deny. Rather, they say, the project will allow trains to quickly pass through without having to pull onto a spur to let another train pass.
The double tracks "should reduce the noise and vibration since you will not have any idling while another train passes," said Metrolink spokeswoman Sharon Gavin.
Resident Clementina Navarette isn't buying it. She said the second set of tracks is being installed to accommodate more trains. "There's too many trains already," she said. "The noise is terrible."
Twelve years ago, she and her husband, Pablo, bought a house next to the track because it offered four spacious bedrooms for their three children and Clementina Navarette's mother.
Pablo Navarette, a retired cannery employee, said he and his wife can't afford to move, so they are resolved to putting up with whatever nuisances are coming.
"It's hard to be positive about what's going to happen when it's happening so close to your house," he said.