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Supporters continue push for Downtown streetcar as vote nears

By Hayley Fox
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012, at 10:06AM
streetcar Courtesy of LA Streetcar Inc.

A rendering of what the downtown L.A. streetcar may look like if it secures funding.

The national and state elections may be over, but the local Downtown streetcar vote is just beginning. Ballots are being sent out this week to all residents within the Community Facilities District (CFD); a designated area in DTLA that encompasses the streetcar's four-mile route.

Downtowners in this area are eligible to vote either for or against a tax that would help fund about $62.5 million of the streetcar's design, engineering and construction costs. This tax would be applied to property owners in the CFD and vary based on the size of the person's land. This size is defined by the square footage of the base plot and doesn't take into consideration the height of the building.

"It doesn't matter whether it's a skyscraper or a grassy lawn," said Shiraz Tangri, general counsel of L.A. Streetcar Inc., the non-profit formed largely by business owners and organizing the streetcar effort.

This vote is entirely by mail -- a decision made by the city clerk's office, according to Streetcar Inc. Ballots will be sent to voters this Tuesday and residents will have until December 3 to send their ballot back to the City to be counted.

But Streetcar Inc. emphasizes that ballots have to be received (not postmarked) by December 3, so they're encouraging residents to get their vote in the mail before Thanksgiving. In an effort to help this cause, the non-profit's organizing a happy hour event this Thursday at Cork Bar and another one at Umamicatessen closer to the final ballot due date.

If passed, the streetcar will most likely be operated by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) and be built a block at a time, according to Streetcar organizers. Streetcar cites Portland's streetcar system as an example of efficient construction, which included buildng a block of new track per week. Once completed, Downtown's "new low-profile track" is expected not to interfere with other vehicles' right-of-way on the street, including buses and cars.

The streetcar ballot must be approved by a super majority -- meaning at least two-thirds of people have to vote yes for it to pass. According to Streetcar Inc. there are about 20,000 total residents in the CFD area.

“If it doesn’t pass, there’s no streetcar," Councilman José Huizar told Blogdowntown in September.

The streetcar's total $125 million budget relies on the contribution from property owners, said Huizar, and without it, the project won't have a chance to receive matching federal funds. The councilman said this would leave a gaping hole in the project's budget, stalling it indefinitely.

Supporters of this modern streetcar have touted it's economic benefits for Downtown, as well as its ability to increase Downtown's accessibility for residents and tourists. But opponents say the streetcar will cover ground already served by other public transportation systems, and create a tax that is voted on by current residents but will be the burden of future property owners to come.

If the ballot does pass, construction is expected to begin next year and take about two years to complete.

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