DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - If all goes as planned, when the Los Angeles Streetcar opens in a couple of years, riders will be able to catch it for a ride to several Downtown landmarks. Walt Disney Concert Hall, MOCA and the future Broad museum will not be among them.
The final route approved by the City Council in January and later by Metro included a segment on First Street to Grand Avenue, the cultural corridor that is also home to the Colburn School. That segment, however, has been eliminated from the first phase of the project due to funding concerns.
The route approved in January called for the streetcar to travel north on Hill Street, turn west on First Street, then south onto Grand Avenue near Disney Hall. The re-tooled route envisions the cars instead turning east onto First Street, and turning back south on Broadway.
“What we are proposing to fund is the reduction where essentially the line at Hill and First heads east, so we’re not proposing to build any of the section going west to Grand Avenue and then south on Grand Avenue,” said Shiraz Tangri, general counsel for Los Angeles Streetcar Inc., the nonprofit overseeing the $125 million effort.
On July 31, the City Council is scheduled to vote to finalize the formation of a special tax district that was originally approved by the city in late June. This week’s vote would green-light a special election for a public vote on the tax.
If approved by registered voters who live within the proposed district, the tax, known as Community Facilities District 9, would charge property owners within about three blocks of the route between 20-59 cents per square foot annually in order to raise $62 million for the project. Property owners who do not live within the proposed district would not be able to vote on the matter.
The rest of the project cost is expected to be funded by the federal government, along with $10 million already secured from the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency.
While property owners including condo owners would have to help pay for the streetcar, public property could not be taxed if the CFD is approved. Most of the parcels along the segment of the route that has been eliminated — First Street between Hill Street and Grand Avenue, and Grand Avenue between First and Second streets — are publicly owned.
“It’s a lot of public property that doesn’t contribute to the district…so you would be shifting that burden to others,” Tangri said. “I think ultimately the goal is to get the streetcar built. We had to balance the interest of the private property owners contributing to this with what can feasibly be built.”
Metro, which is currently conducting the environmental review for the streetcar, will still study the entire route to preserve the opportunity to re-insert the eliminated portion in a future phase.
Engineering complications with the Grand Avenue leg also contributed to the decision to shrink the line, said 14th District Councilman José Huizar, the chief proponent of the streetcar project.
“In the long run, we hope to be able to serve Grand Avenue and many other parts of the city with streetcar lines,” Huizar said in an email. “Currently on Grand, there are grade and bridge infrastructure issues that need to be resolved, and the timelines and funding mechanisms just don’t allow for that in this phase of the project.”
While property owners are divided on the streetcar, supporters of the effort acknowledge the practical reasons to shrink the route.
“That part of the route was just economically not feasible,” said Steve Needleman, a LASI board member whose properties include the Orpheum Theater and the numerous Anjac Fashion Buildings (See Needleman's letter to the editor regarding the streetcar here. “We have to start somewhere with the route that’s the most feasible, the most practical.”
Others are disappointed with the reduction, but say they understand the reasons behind the decision.
“It would have been nice to have it go all the way down there,” said Ramin Shagian, who owns a couple of properties along Broadway, the route’s main southbound line. “It’s a popular destination and it would have brought a lot of tourist to our area.
However, since they can’t tax public property we as the property owners would have ended up paying more.”
Though it may be a long shot, Tangri said there is still some hope the streetcar could open with the fully approved route.
Contact Richard Guzmán at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Los Angeles Downtown News.