Jose Huizar's Downtown Streetcar Project Is Way Over Budget

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Tue, Oct 22, 2013 at 12:31 PM
click to enlarge Jose Huizar's downtown L.A. streetcar
  • Jose Huizar's downtown L.A. streetcar

Last week, ex-golden boy Councilman Jose Huizar was sued for sexual harassment. In response, he admitted to an affair with his former deputy chief of staff, Francine Godoy, but denied her claims that he had thwarted her career because she refused his advances.

With all that going on, it must be sort of a relief for Huizar to open the paper today and read a story about his bungling of the downtown streetcar project. At least they've changed the subject.

The downtown streetcar seems like a dumb idea to us (but what do we know?). Downtown shoppers can already take the bus. If you absolutely must have rail, there's the Red Line, which covers basically the same route. And if that's not enough, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is in the process of constructing yet another train in that exact area. How many trains does downtown need?

Anyway, we know from bitter experience just how difficult it is to build rail projects in L.A. So if you want to do something like this, you're going to need top-level managers in charge. But this project is not in the hands of the MTA, which knows how to build these things, for the most part. It's up to the City of L.A., which can barely repair potholes.

Huizar has been the project's champion. But from the sounds of this story, his council office is not bristling with competence. (Perhaps this is what happens when you appoint your mistress to be deputy chief of staff.)

The story, by L.A. Times reporter Laura J. Nelson, recounts how Huizar went to downtown voters for a property tax assessment to fund $62.5 million of the $125 million project, even though that was just a "back of the envelope" cost estimate. Worse, Huizar's staff seems to have had a pretty good idea that that was a lowball figure, but did not share that with the public before the December 2012 vote.

As it turns out, the figure did not account for relocating utilities. That's like redoing your roof without figuring in the costs of taking out the old roof. Add that in, and now you're looking at a $327 million project. No wonder they've had a hard time getting federal funding for this thing.

So now Huizar's office is scrambling to come up with money to cover the shortfall, which could rise to $275 million. Think about that for a second. This was billed as a $125 million project, and it has a potential $275 million shortfall. They're talking the usual talk about public-private partnerships and grants and so on, but for now there's no serious funding plan.

It's no secret how to fund these things. These projects are all built with a combination of local tax dollars and federal transportation grants. This project has $62.5 million in local taxes, but no federal money. If $275 million in federal money were to become available, it would probably be better spent on MTA projects, because MTA seems to know what it's doing.

The property taxes only kick in if the federal money starts flowing. Which means that the streetcar, as of this moment, has no funding at all.

In other words: It's a perfect time to walk away.

Update: Huizar tells the Times that his affair was a "huge mistake" but that voters should judge him on his accomplishments.

Correction: The original version of this article stated that Godoy was Huizar's chief of staff. She was his deputy chief of staff.

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