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LA streetcar project inches closer to securing local funding

By Kylie Reynolds
Published: Tuesday, July 31, 2012, at 02:42PM
streetcar Courtesy of LA Streetcar Inc.

A rendering of a downtown L.A. streetcar by LA Streetcar Inc.

The sounds of clapping and the sight of waving fans - carrying the logo “goLAstreetcar.org” - took over the Los Angeles City Council meeting this morning, as supporters of a downtown L.A. streetcar cheered at the passing of a few ordinances that will move the project towards securing local funding.

While the streetcar has a long history in L.A., the most recent streetcar restoration project picked up steam in 2008. The project is largely led by non-profit organization LA Streetcar Inc., which represents the private sector involved with the project, including downtown business and property owners.

This morning’s city council vote allows for the creation of a taxing district, called the Community Facilities District No. 9 (Downtown Streetcar), that will encompass the streetcar route. The four-mile streetcar is set to run near a range of DTLA locations, including the Historic Broadway District, Pershing Square and the Civic Center, and will closely resemble the path that ran through the historic core of downtown in the 1900s, according to Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's website.

This district will be determined by an election, where its residents will vote whether or not to levy a tax for the project, per the passing of one of the ordinances today. The annual tax on land square feet of property in the district would help locally fund nearly 50 percent of the streetcar’s construction by paying off bonds taken out to initially fund the project, said Shiraz Tangri, general counsel for LA Streetcar Inc.

The election requires more than two-thirds of the district’s residents to vote in support of the tax for it to pass. Residents will receive the election ballot in the mail the first week of November, and will have about a month to vote, Tangri said.

Councilman Jose Huizar said at the meeting that the funding model for DTLA’s streetcar project, which relies on a public-private partnership, mirrors the model in other cities with streetcars, like Portland.

Before the council voted on the ordinances, members of the community - including downtown L.A. residents and property owners - voiced their thoughts on the project during public comment.

A number of DTLA property owners spoke out against the ordinances, urging city councilmembers not to vote on the tax. Residents, not property owners, will determine whether a tax is imposed in the election, but some property owners feel the streetcar will not improve business in the area.

Others expressed concern about the annual tax affecting future property owners and residents, who did not have a say in the election.

"Under the current proposal... our kids are going to be paying, our grandkids are going to be paying this for the next 30 years without any representation" said Diana Schwartz, a downtown L.A. property owner, at the meeting. "Let's slow this process down to find a more equitable way to pay for it."

But supporters of the ordinances - who included some DTLA property owners - cited the streetcar's potential to revive a part of downtown L.A. history, integrate the city's different neighborhoods and serve as a boon to downtown business.

Robert Cushman, the vice president of operations for Brookfield Office Properties in downtown, said at the meeting that he thinks the streetcar will increase pedestrian traffic to the company's shopping center Figat7th, which is opening in October.

Tangri said today's city council votes are not the last action in starting construction on the project - there is still the election and an environmental review process to pass - but it is a significant step in getting funding. If the tax is approved by residents, the project can look towards receiving federal funding to fill the gap in costs.

“I think (the passing of the ordinances are) a good reflection of the work we’ve been doing with the project,” Tangri said, following the meeting.

Downtown L.A.’s streetcar is expected to resemble the modern, sleek design of those in other cities across the country, such as Portland and Seattle.

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