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High-speed rail is coming to California's Central Valley. Residents see a new life in the fast lane

Melissa Gomez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"To say I'm excited is an understatement," said Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, a Republican. "High-speed rail is a game-changer for Fresno and the Central Valley in many ways. No. 1, it will reconnect Fresno and the entire valley with the rest of the state and connect us with the California economy."

In Fresno's Chinatown, there is a rich history of diverse communities driven together by redlining policies.

Dating to the 1860s, Chinese migrants working on the freight railways were forced west of the tracks. Pretty much anyone who was not white migrated to what became Chinatown, and a thriving community evolved as people from Africa, the Philippines, Mexico and Japan settled in the area. All that began to unravel in the 1960s when urban renewal projects brought freeway construction that severed Chinatown from the rest of the city and forced mass displacement of residents. Businesses shuttered, buildings were abandoned, and those who remained lived amid blight.

Central Fish Co., opened in 1950, is one of the longest-standing businesses that remain. Owner Morgan Doizaki, who took over the shop from his parents, is a big proponent of the rail project. He, along with other business and property owners, formed the nonprofit Chinatown Fresno Foundation to support the rail line and advocate for the neighborhood's inclusion in Fresno's transformation. The Fresno station will be built on the site of the city's historic depot center in downtown, and related renovations involving roads and walkways will connect commuters to Chinatown.

The massive reconstruction is not without challenges. Carniceria y Taqueria La Nueva Reyna, which has served traditional Mexican dishes on Tulare Street for more than a decade, has put up large, colorful banners to let people know they remain open. To get inside, patrons must navigate bright orange netting, maneuvering around missing sidewalks and large machinery. While they have lost some old customers, owner Reyna Cruz said, they've also gotten new business from construction workers stopping by for lunch and beverages on their breaks. "There are good times and bad times," she said as workers streamed in to buy sodas on a Monday afternoon.

Central Fish Co. customers have to navigate a maze of road closures that sometimes box in the store, Doizaki said. Still, he is hopeful. In 2019, he purchased a building in Chinatown that he envisions turning into an apartment and retail complex.

 

"When the time is right, we'll be in a position to capitalize on the state's largest project ever coming into our backyard," he said. "It's like a gift."

Orlando Viloria, who works for Doizaki, is also excited by the rail line's promise. He envisions day trips to Los Angeles to see his family and them zipping up to see him. "That's always been my dream," he said. "I just can't wait."

Fresno City College student Domaris Cid is among the younger residents who see the chance to expand their educational options while still living at home. She said she loves her hometown for its hiking trails and riverfront parks along the San Joaquin River but finds the dearth of diverse educational institutions limiting.

"It kind of sucks how I would have to move out of the valley to ... have an education that I want," said Cid, 18. The high-speed rail, she said, could give her access to UC Merced or UC Berkeley to continue her political science studies. "I wouldn't have to leave a place I really do like."

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©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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