DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa came early for the people who have been working on the proposed Los Angeles Streetcar. On Dec. 3, Downtown residents voted in favor of a plan to tax area property owners up to $85 million. Had the ballot failed, officials said, the streetcar effort would have died.

We congratulate the streetcar team on reaching this milestone. Although this page had qualms about the voting process — we objected to a plan that allowed residents to cast a ballot, but not the people who will pay the tax unless they also live in the area — project officials clearly had an effective outreach campaign and were able to communicate their message to a large number of area inhabitants. Ultimately more than 2,000 people cast ballots. That far surpassed early estimates that perhaps fewer than 1,000 individuals would vote. The turnout rate of more than 19% is above what is sometimes recorded in city elections. 

Although the mail-in process likely increased the chances of approval (those in favor of something are more inclined than opponents to take the active step of filling out a ballot and finding a stamp), getting the OK of two-thirds of the voters — the level required to pass the streetcar tax — is never easy. A reminder of that came last month when county voters narrowly rejected the proposed transportation tax Proposition J.

The officials with Los Angeles Streetcar Inc. soared past the two-thirds level. They saw a very impressive 73% of the respondents vote in favor of the tax plan for the $125 million project.

Yet, as with any project, this is a case of the hard work not being close to finished. Having survived one do-or-die moment, LASI officials now have another — they need to convince the federal government to direct $52 million to the project.

Streetcar officials plan to seek the money from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Starts program. The grant application will be filed next year and the effort likely will compete against other transportation developments in cities across the nation. There won’t be enough money for every worthy project — there never is.

The LASI team will again need an effective game plan, and in this case pressure and responsibility will fall squarely on the shoulders of 14th District City Councilman José Huizar, who spurred the streetcar effort as part of his Bringing Back Broadway initiative. Huizar will need to aggressively and effectively lobby Washington, D.C., legislators and officials to ensure that the project is at the front of the line. Fortunately he seems aware of all that will be required and has professed a willingness to put in the necessary face time.

As the process moves forward, we hope that LASI members will continue their outreach efforts and keep Downtowners up to date on the project and included in all discussions, whether those concern design, operations or other matters. 

Congratulations to the streetcar team. They cleared an important hurdle. We look forward to seeing what comes next for this exciting project.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2012