By Amanda Beck
On a quiet evening in October, rumblings were heard in the hills of Yorba Linda. Nervous residents had gathered to discuss two issues: the Metrolink station and how they could stop it.
The group bandied facts and strategies. They discussed the values of their homes and asked how the proposal had crept upon them.
"I think we all feel this has been a stealth project that sneaked up on us. ... But we have a couple weeks to rally quickly," said organizer Vince Hambright.
Afterward, he and others pledged to donate $250 per couple to pay for a group attorney or consultant. In the air, a hint of panic mixed with determination.
"My philosophy has always been we can speak softly, but we should be carrying a monster stick," said resident David Pearl.
These residents had gathered to organize against a commuter rail station that was originally conceived more than 10 years ago.
In 1991, the California Senate developed a plan for regional train service that would link Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
By now, most of this service has been built. Known as Metrolink, it shuttles about 36,000 commuters every weekday. The passengers travel along 512 miles of track between 53 stations.
"Our specific mission is to provide a commuting option during peak rush hours," said Francisco Oxacao, a Metrolink spokesman.
And as part of this mission, another station has been sited for the corner of Esperanza and New River roads.
It is proposed that the city install a train station there with two platforms and four parking lots, which would accommodate about 390 vehicles.
About 21 Metrolink trains would stop at the station daily. Half of them would travel on a track that ends in Los Angeles.
The other half would travel along an Orange County line, which begins in San Bernardino and ends in San Juan Capistrano.
The project would cost more than $7 million, but at least $6 million would be covered by state and federal grants.
Several residents are hopeful about the proposal.
Charles Beal lives in the train station neighborhood and said he would use the service to avoid highway gridlock. "I commute to Santa Ana every day, and I'm tired of the highway traffic - just the frustration of driving bumper to bumper," Beal said.
"I know a lot of guys who live out in Riverside who take the train. They pass by my house at six o'clock - when I'm leaving - and they beat me to work," he said.
Despite Beal's optimism, however, the issue has also stirred a negative response from several nearby residents.
Flooding recent city meetings, these people have presented a litany of complaints about the station. Their concerns have ranged from safety matters to wildlife preservation.
"This is a dead-end pocket of an entirely residential corner of Yorba Linda," resident Eve Tibbs said at a recent Planning Commission meeting.
"Yorba Linda residents do not purchase their homes for proximity to mass transit. ... What is pushing this forward?" she asked.
In a way, the residents' concerns might be boiled down to two main complaints.
First, the station would be erected in a residential neighborhood, where train whistles would blare with piercing regularity.
The area already entertains many loud whistles, but residents fear that there will be even more when trains have to pass by station platforms, crowded with passengers.
"We live in a two-story house, and every time a freight train barrels through, it sounds like a 747 is going to crash into the bedroom. So I could understand people being upset with that," said area resident Linda Hull.
But in addition, residents are also concerned about the traffic that will now crowd the Esperanza and New River intersection.
The area already has three intersections that fail Caltrans testing measures, and it is expected that the station will add another 800 car trips to the area each working day.
Those opposed to the location of the train station have been making their presence known at recent city meetings.
Recently, they attended both the Traffic and Planning Commissions meetings, where commissioners reviewed an in-depth environmental report that had been prepared on the station.
The commissions were charged with examining the report and making recommendations to the City Council on whether to approve the station.
In the end, the Traffic Commission voted 2-1 not to recommend the station. Commissioner Larry Larson said their decision was strictly based on the traffic problems that the station might create.
"I think all the commissioners felt that we would like to find a way to have the station.
"The problem is that the traffic ... in that area is so bad that to add to it would make it intolerable for the residents who live there," Larson said.
In contrast, the Planning Commission did not vote at all and simply sent the matter onto City Council for its own review.
The City Council will take up the matter probably in December or January, after those who prepared the environmental report have an opportunity to respond to the public's concerns.