Downtown L.A. voters approve streetcar tax by landslide

Downtown property owners voted to approve a new special tax district to help fund a streetcar (project home page here). The tally of ballots — all mail-in — finished a few minutes ago with 73 percent approving of the district according to the city of Los Angeles’ unofficial count.

The money raised from the new tax will be used to attract the federal grants needed to fully fund the $125-million project. The streetcar in Portland that inspired many similar projects served as the funding model.

The proposed route is above. There will be easy connections to the streetcar from the Red/Purple Line subway, Regional Connector, Silver Line and many Metro bus lines. The goal is to open the streetcar in 2015 with construction beginning in 2013.

Congratulations to L.A. Councilman and Metro Board Member Jose Huizar and his staff for spurring the streetcar project. I think it will prove to be a tremendous benefit for many downtown neighborhoods and especially good for Broadway, a street with a lot of great old buildings and a lot of potential.

The news release is after the jump.

VOTERS APPROVE $62.5 MILLION IN LOCAL FUNDING FOR DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES STREETCAR

Local funding for streetcar construction preliminarily receives 73% voter
support, exceeding the 2/3 super-majority needed to pass. Voter turnout far
surpasses expectations.

LOS ANGELES (December 3, 2012) – Plans to bring a streetcar system back to
Downtown Los Angeles took a significant step forward tonight as voters
approved $62.5 million in local funding for construction of the Downtown Los
Angeles Streetcar project through a not-to-exceed $85 million bond. The Los
Angeles City Clerk at 8:33 p.m. announced preliminary results of the special
mail-only election.

L.A. Streetcar funding was preliminarily approved by 73% of voters, handily
surpassing the 2/3 supermajority needed for the measure to be adopted, with
the streetcar earning 1,508 of the 2,066 ballots cast, achieving an
impressive 19.4% voter turnout – far exceeding expectations. According to
election records, in some localized elections such as those for school board
and community college seats held last May, turnout has been less than 10%.
Ballots were mailed by the City Clerk to registered voters within the
streetcar voting district, which extends approximately three blocks around
the proposed Streetcar route, on November 13. Ballots were required to be
returned to the City Clerk in time to be counted on December 3, 2012.

Streetcar advocates are pleased with the unprecedented high turnout, and
with the results. Councilmember José Huizar champions the Downtown
streetcar effort through his Bringing Back Broadway initiative.

“I want to thank the voters of Downtown Los Angeles for supporting this
effort and recognizing the huge impact the streetcar will have on transit
connectivity and revitalization in the Downtown area,” said Councilmember
Huizar. “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.”

The Los Angeles City Council voted this summer to form a Community
Facilities District (CFD) for the project, which called for the special
mail‐ballot election of registered voters in Downtown to decide on a
not-to-exceed $85 million CFD bond, which includes the $62.5 million the
streetcar will receive as construction capital, plus two years of
capitalized interest, bond issuance costs, reserve fund, and other costs.
The approved local funding will pay for approximately half of the project’s
$125 million construction budget. Federal funding will be sought to cover
the remaining construction costs for the project.

California state law dictates that when 12 or more registered voters reside
within an area to be taxed as a CFD, any vote on the tax must be of
registered voters.

L.A. Streetcar Inc. (LASI), a non-profit formed to promote the Downtown
Streetcar, worked with property owners in Downtown for more than four years
to develop the project. In August 2012, LASI launched a voter registration
and streetcar education campaign related to the CFD. Voter registration
skyrocketed within the boundaries of the proposed Streetcar CFD. The number
of registered voters within the CFD increased from 7,497 on May 21, 2012 to
10,283 on November 1, 2012 – a significant 37.2% increase, which compares to
a 14.7% increase in the rest of Downtown during the same time period, and
just 6.7% in Los Angeles County.

“We’ve earned great support from property owners who will be paying the tax
and who understand the benefits the streetcar will bring,” said Shiraz
Tangri, general counsel for LASI, the non-profit coalition of property
owners, civic and business leaders formed to advance the streetcar effort in
Downtown. “But the final decision on this critical funding was up to the
registered voters.”

“Our strategy was to get the information out there, and just ensure that as
many people possible within the CFD knew about the streetcar project,
understood the CFD tax and could make an informed decision. We found that
the more people knew and understood the streetcar and why it’s important for
Downtown, the more strongly they supported the streetcar. For a lot of
voters, it came down to their bottom line.”

The streetcar CFD will place a special tax on land owned by all Downtown
private property owners, located within the district, including condominium
owners, with amounts tiered based on a property’s proximity to the proposed
route. At an estimated 5% bond rate, a 10,000 sq. ft. parcel will be taxed
$4,490 if located directly on the proposed streetcar line; $3,640 if located
one to two blocks away from the streetcar; and $1,730 if located
approximately three blocks away. Condominium units will be charged their
unit’s proportional share of the underlying land, similar to the structure
of most home owner association fees. The majority of condominium units
within the streetcar CFD will be charged $100 or less per year, with a
median cost of $60 annually – less than dinner out once a year, or one
parking ticket that can be avoided by using the streetcar.

“The streetcar will help move Downtown into the next phase of
revitalization, and that’s good for everyone,” said Steve Needleman,
executive committee member of L.A. Streetcar Inc., and owner of ANJAC
Fashion Buildings and the Orpheum Theatre. “My family has been involved
Downtown for two generations, and I’ve been involved with L.A. Streetcar
since its inception. I’ve done the math on what this will cost my companies
and even though it’s never easy to pay another tax, this is the right thing
for Downtown. I believe the streetcar will provide benefits for property
owners far beyond what we will pay into it.”

AECOM estimates the Downtown L.A. Streetcar will bring $1.1 billion in
additional development Downtown, $24.5 million in additional annual tourism
spending, $47 million in additional revenues to the City of Los Angeles over
25 years and more than 9,000 jobs – above and beyond what will happen
Downtown without a streetcar.

Billions of dollars in new development in Portland and Seattle are credited
in large part to the modern streetcar systems that have opened in those
cities during the last decade. In Portland, 55 percent of all new
development in the city has occurred within a few blocks of the streetcar
line. In Seattle, more than 2,000 new residential units have been built and
the property value of vacant land has increased 123 percent around the
streetcar line, as opposed to 53 percent citywide.

More than 30 new streetcar systems are currently in various stages of
planning, construction or expansion in other cities in North America,
including Atlanta, Boise, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale,
Milwaukee, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio,
Seattle, St. Louis, and Washington DC.

Jessica Wethington McLean serves as Executive Director of Councilmember
Huizar’s Bringing Back Broadway initiative and his Director of Downtown
Economic Development, roles which have put her on the front lines of the Los
Angeles Streetcar effort.

“A lot of heart, soul and dedication have gone into this project – it’s very
important to all of us, so while we will celebrate tonight, everyone
involved knows we have no time to rest on our laurels. This is just one step
of many in front of us as we do the hard work necessary to bring the
streetcar to Downtown and make Los Angeles the nation’s next streetcar
city,” said Wethington McLean.

The Downtown L.A. Streetcar is planned as a modern, fixed-rail streetcar
system to link with regional transit using Broadway, 11th, Figueroa, 7th &
Hill Streets to serve the Civic Center, Broadway and the Historic Core, the
Fashion District, South Park, L.A. Live and the Convention Center, the
Financial District, and restaurant row through the Jewelry District. A
potential design alternative which will be achieved if funding is identified
would run up onto Grand Avenue to serve the city’s cultural institutions.

The streetcar would run seven days a week, approximately 18-hours a day.
Modern streetcars are curb running and travel at the same speed and in the
same lane of traffic as other vehicles. Streetcars are carbon emissions free
and fully accessible for people with disabilities, parents with strollers,
or cyclists with their bikes.

The CFD adopted by voters includes taxpayer protections which mandate that
no tax will be levied and no bonds will be drawn until the streetcar (1)
clears its environmental review process (2) secures the remainder of
construction funds from governmental / non-CFD sources and (3) has an
approved 30-year operational plan to match the expected 30-year timeline of
the bond. Once drawn the bond amounts will be fixed for the duration of the
bond. They will not increase or require renewal.

Pending federal approval for the remainder of the construction budget, the
streetcar project could be under construction by the end of 2014, and
running through Downtown as early as 2016.

Learn more about the Downtown L.A. Streetcar project at www.streetcar.la.

 

8 thoughts on “Downtown L.A. voters approve streetcar tax by landslide

  1. Metro may have found another way to fund their projects. I would pay for a transit line if it improved my neighborhood. I won’t support a general Metro tax increase because Metro returns pennies on the dollar to my neighborhood.

    Century City, Beverly Hills, Westwood, Santa Monica, Beach Cities, all very wealthy neighborhoods. I’m sure they could help accelerate their transit lines themselves if they wanted.

  2. How are the operations going to be funded? Also the City council documents indicate the special tax could be asses up to 40 years. Seems to me people have been playing fast and loose with how much this thing is going to cost without providing a full plan.

    This thing was a boondoggle from the start and now a minority of residents decide to commit DTLA landowner for 40 years.

  3. amazing news. Bringing back broadway is going to bring dozens of jobs and more life back into downtown. I love this city.

  4. I think its great that DT will have a street car; However, I don’t understand why the property owners were not allowed to vote. Property owners can pass the cost to their tenants, IF the market could bear the addition cost. Will tenants pay a higher price to be within walking distance of the street car? Maybe. Maybe not.

  5. Still not correct: Residents who are registered to vote within the proposed district boundaries.

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