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

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.

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.

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