By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The corridor has also come in on time and on budget, a feat that recalls another such undertaking, albeit much smaller -- the rebuilding of the earthquake-shattered Santa Monica and Golden State freeways in 1994, although cynics might say this happened because of the economic necessity of restoring two heavily trafficked routes and because of the political need to show determination in the face of a disaster. Yet, in a way, the corridor project, first planned during L.A.‘s boom period of the early 1980s, was a response to what was then perceived as a disaster in the making: an early-20th-century harbor freight-transport system that was streaking toward gridlock. Like Oakland and Newark, Los Angeles and Long Beach had seized the economic high ground in the 1970s by building container facilities while San Francisco and New York stuck to the old labor-intensive method of loading and unloading cargo pallet by pallet. Yet midway through Mayor Tom Bradley’s reign, the bursting ports were falling victim to their own success and desperately needed to expand and upgrade their facilities.
Besides the ports‘ shipping tenants, the project’s immediate big winners include some of the usual old-boy suspects: construction giants Tudor-Saliba and Kiewit Pacific, and the O‘Melveny and Myers law firm. But project backers promise benefits to the entire city. By having Santa Fe and Union Pacific consolidate their four harbor-area tracks into a single expressway (the first time this has been done in the United States), 77 percent of the previously existing track miles have been eliminated. This fact, along with the reduced number of cars and semis that have choked Alameda Street for decades, corridor supporters say, will cut truck exhaust by 23 percent and rail emissions by 28 percent.
But there are those outside the city who claim that the sheer increase in cargo volume will eventually spew more pollutants into the air once all those trucks awaiting the trains at the corridor’s northern terminus -- the city‘s vast train yards located just east of the L.A. River -- begin fanning out across the state, an act similar to switching over to a fleet of lower-emission trucks but then tripling the size of the fleet.
The corridor’s ripple effect is like the Owens Valley water project in reverse -- L.A. will now be sending forth a rolling tsunami of big rigs into both the San Joaquin Valley and the Inland Empire, with unforeseen consequences. Already a projected extension of the corridor, called the Alameda Corridor East (ACE), is on the boards and has been high on the agenda of politicians ranging from Gray Davis to San Bernardino Congressman Joe Baca. Although ACE has been temporarily derailed by the state‘s budget crisis, supporters predict its eventual construction through the San Gabriel Valley and through northern Orange County and into Riverside and San Bernardino counties. These backers say ACE could one day reach through Arizona and to the Mexican border, but, more immediately, Inland Empire environmentalists worry about the exhaust that will be blowing out of the new mega truck hub being built on the site of the old Kaiser steel complex in Fontana.
Early fears about noise pollution from the trains have proved groundless, though, if for no other reason than that pedestrians can’t even hear them above the din of the trucks that still rumble along Alameda. To listen to the corridor‘s locomotive rhythms you pretty much have to stand right over the tracks, and from there you’ll hear two kinds of noise: The empty flat cars returning to the port are surprisingly quiet, like a distant waterfall gushing through a cave, while the engines carrying full containers into downtown sound louder and darker -- the image that comes to mind is an avalanche of iron.
The Cactus Family
At 92nd Street a blur of green appears in the corner of your eye as you head toward the more residential stretches of Alameda Street in Lynwood and Compton -- suddenly you notice acres of cactus laid out beneath the power lines of the Department of Water and Power. These three lots represent the cactus empire of the Aguirres, a family that migrated from Jalisco, Mexico, and cultivates the lots for cactus, as well as for carrots, cilantro, green onions, and honey from the beehives they keep here.
”We‘re Number One for cactus!“ says 28-year-old Ronnie, and you don’t doubt him as he explains his family‘s success. ”Maybe a white produce manager in Fullerton won’t stock cactus in his supermarket, but then he‘ll get someone from Santa Ana asking for it -- then they’ll start calling us. Little by little they‘ll start ordering five boxes.“
His father, Gregorio, began the business by selling cactus to neighborhood friends in Watts, which is just a few blocks away. Then the Superior supermarket on Avalon and 103rd Street began placing orders; soon came consignments from Top Value, Food for Less and Albertsons. Before long Gregorio was driving hundreds of boxes to Pacoima, Ontario, Canoga Park and Wilmington.
The cactus-growing season runs from April through October. Lent is the Aguirres’ busiest period, although on any weekend their patches are filled with shoppers who seek the plant for a wide variety of recipes, with egg and bean dishes among the most popular. Still, even a small enterprise like cactus growing is not immune from crime.
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