Campaign for DTLA streetcar ramps up; needs residents' votes
A rendering of a downtown L.A. streetcar by LA Streetcar Inc.
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — A campaign in support of the DTLA streetcar project is ramping up this fall with outreach and community events in an effort to garner votes for a crucial November vote, which will ask Downtown property owners to fund a portion of the the project's $125-million budget.
“If it doesn’t pass, there’s no streetcar," said Councilman José Huizar.
Without the $62.5 million in funding from property owners, the streetcar project won't have a chance to receive matching federal funds -- leaving a huge hole in the budget and dramatically stalling the project, said Huizar.
The L.A. City Council voted in July to allow the formation of a Community Facilities District (CFD), a designated taxing district which encompasses the streetcar's four-mile route. If more than two-thirds of residents vote in favor of the tax this November, property owners would be required to pay additional taxes that would go towards the streetcar project.
If residents vote not to fund the project, the streetcar will be unable to secure grants from the Federal Transit Administration's "Small Starts" program, explained Shiraz Tangri, general counsel of L.A. Streetcar Inc. This non-profit, whose Board of Directors includes select Downtown property owners, stakeholders and community leaders, is leading the streetcar project and has been looking for federal funding that would match a local contribution.
Tangri said the benefits of having a streetcar would be "Downtown-wide."
If Downtowners vote to contribute tax money to the streetcar project, payments would vary depending on how large their property is and how close to the proposed route they are. For condo owners, payment variables include how many units are in the building, the size of each unit and proximity to the streetcar line.
Tangri said that about 70 percent of the contributions would come from commercial properties and about 30 percent from residential plots. Although streetcar supporters say the transit system would enhance all of DTLA, not just the locations in its proximity, some property owners doubt the tangible benefits the system would bring -- and don't think it's fair to pay the taxes, said Tangri.
“There's never unanimity on any project no matter how great the idea,” he explained.
Huizar added that in other cities with modern streetcars, such as Seattle, there has been an increase in property values along the transit route.
At a City Council meeting this summer, CFD opponents also said they were concerned the annual tax would affect future property owners who did not have a say in this year's vote.
"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 DTLA property owner Diana Schwartz. "Let's slow this process down to find a more equitable way to pay for it."
Although the streetcar is a historic feature of DTLA, the modern version is expected to be modeled after the sleek designs of similar contemporary systems. Tangri said that as much as they like the nostalgia aspect of the project, the new design will be quieter, smoother and with useful amenities -- like easier access for women with strollers.
Last Thursday a promotional event called the "Taste of Streetcar" held at the Cooper Design space had more than 1,000 attendees, according to L.A. Streetcar Inc. The event combined food samples from local restaurants with streetcar visual displays and on-site voter registration.
Tangri said their organization is planning another, more family-focused outreach event that will include an outdoor movie screening, in addition to smaller sessions in individual neighborhoods.
Residents within the CFD should receive their ballots in the mail by mid-November and have until December 3 to send them in. If the streetcar is successfully funded it will run seven days a week for 18 hours a day. Its current proposed route travels down Broadway between 1st and 11th Streets, over to Figueroa, up to 7th street where it cuts over to Hill Street, then up and over to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.