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DTLA streetcar secures local funding; next stop, Washington

By Hayley Fox
Published: Tuesday, December 04, 2012, at 03:03PM
Courtesy of L.A. Streetcar Inc.

Next steps for the streetcar include an environmental review process and securing federal funding.

The proposed Downtown streetcar has jumped its first major hurdle by winning the support of Downtown residents) in a mail-in vote for a tax to raise money for the project. But next comes the environmental review process, and a lobbying effort to secure federal funding to cover the other half of the streetcar's costs.

Shiraz Tangri, general counsel of L.A. Streetcar Inc.) -- the non-profit group of civic leaders and business owners who support the project -- said winning "a comfortable victory" gives them the confidence to head to Washington and ask for federal support. Tangri said it's no longer a question of if the streetcar project will get finished, but when and how it will.

Councilman José Huizar said that although nothing is guaranteed, he's confident that through continued lobbying they will receive the matching federal funds that are needed.

Streetcar Inc. and Huizar's office have been the central proponents of the new streetcar, and have spent months trying to get out the vote and rally support for the election. The public meetings, parties and movie screenings seemed to have paid off -- as the City Clerk announced the preliminary results of the vote last night with 73 percent of people voting in favor of the new tax.

In addition to surpassing the two-thirds supermajority the tax needed to succeed, the voter turnout for the election exceeded expectations according to streetcar supporters.

Councilman Huizar's office compared the 19.4 percent turnout for the streetcar election to the approximately 10 percent voter turnout many "localized elections" -- such as the ones for school board seats -- typically get. Huizar said even his own city council election only had a 16 or 17 percent voter turnout.

“Now that the people have spoken, Los Angeles is well on its way to bringing a modern streetcar back to Downtown Los Angeles. With this critically important local funding approved, we will now work closely with our Washington D.C. representatives to advocate for the federal funding needed for construction,” said Huizar in a statement.

The streetcar vote will have to be certified by the L.A. City Council later this month, said Tangri, and then the environmental review process will begin.

"The goal has always been to ride it [the streetcar] by 2016," said Tangri, and this successful local vote keeps them on track to do so. There will be a public meeting in January to solicit input from residents about the environmental impact of the project, he added, and construction could begin as early as 2014.

Tangri acknowledged that not everyone in Downtown supports the newly approved property tax, citing Thomas Properties Group (TPG) and a select group of business in the Fashion District as being the most vocal opponents. TPG is one of the largest property owners in Downtown and their real estate includes City National Plaza. Under the new tax, they will pay about $40,000 a year, KPCC reports.

Blogdowntown called TPG for a reaction to the passing of the property tax, and was told by CEO Jim Thomas' office that he had "no comment."

Huizar said that although many opponents of the streetcar doubt its benefits, he thinks that once it's up-and-running they will appreciate the "better transportation system" and "increased property values." One of the most critical steps for the streetcar will come when officials develop the 30-year operational plan, said Huizar, and assign the project to either Metro or the L.A. Department of Transportation.

Huizar said they will consider convenience, efficiency, cost to the rider and other factors when determining what organization will be the long-term operator.

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