What a romantic day for downtown: Dreams of a streetcar loop from Broadway to 11th to Figeroa to Hill (see map below) have a chance of becoming reality, now that the L.A. City Council has created a special voting district in the area it would service.
Residents will be given the option to pay a small tax (from 16 cents to 45 cents for every square foot of their house, depending on how far they are from the line)…
… toward the $125 million total cost of the Metro project.
It'd be a lucrative loop for downtown businesses — whisking patrons from shop to hotel to gallery, all the while shielding them from the tunnel of icky exhaust fumes and oily sidewalks that is Broadway.
So it's not surprising that the streetcar's biggest supporters include…
… AEG, owner of L.A. Live and the Staples Center, LBA Realty, IDS Real Estate, EVOQ Properties, Brookfield Properties, Jade Enterprises, ANJAC Fashion Buildings, Delson Investments, Korean Air / Wilshire Grand, Ace Hotel, Shomof Pacific Investments, the Yellin Company, Watermarke Properties, Forest City Development, Xyvest Holdings, Shy Properties, the Afshani family, the Hearst Corporation, and Downtown Properties.
Backing up big businesses in the fight for a downtown streetcar are the L.A. nostalgists — a fierce crowd, rivaled only by L.A. cyclists in their passion for local policy — and Councilman Jose Huizar's office, who would love nothing more than to see a glittering canoe parting the sea of homeless people and trash from Broadway to Figueroa.
The cars themselves would be futuristic upgrades of the famous Los Angeles streetcars of old, writes Huizar's “Bringing Back Broadway” initiative on its Facebook page:
“We might have a vintage train to run on special occasions or holidays, but the system is modern. It's a truly 21st century system. There are a bunch of reasons the vintage cars don't work as a standalone solution. In terms of operations, the costs are very very high – they don't manufacture parts for them anymore, so every time something breaks, you have to get that part created from scratch. Also, in terms of accessibility, modern streetcars are low-floor, meaning people walk on or roll on with bikes, strollers & wheelchairs right from the curb. No stairs, no delays at stops to deal with lowering ramps, etc. And, in a lot of ways, Los Angeles is modern city. It would be one thing if the vintage streetcars were still in operation (as in San Diego or San Fran) but to put fake “vintage-looking” streetcars on a new system would be an artifice. This is not a tourist trolley, this is a world-class, modern transportation system. We're borrowing the best things from the past and moving into the future.”
But we're probably getting ahead of ourselves here. The scary thing about the streetcar tax, much like L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa's “forever” subway tax, is that it would slowly pay back a $62.5 million loan that the city would take out immediately.
So we're really just talking about more debt, more promises — and even after the tax, the streetcar would need about $50 million more in mystery federal grants. (As much as he loves public transit, President Obama seems to be getting a little sick of Villaraigosa's constant pleas for more rail cash.)
Blogdowntown has a great recap and analysis of today's City Council meeting, and the streetcar hype in general.
The blog quotes Diana Schwartz, a downtown property owner, as expressing her skepticism of the tax: “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,” she said at the meeting. “Let's slow this process down to find a more equitable way to pay for it.”
But fast is so much more fun! Behold, the historic project's finalized route: