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Revival of downtown L.A. streetcars headed for ballot

This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.

Councilman Jose Huizar

This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.

Downtown voters will decide the fate of a $125-million effort to bring a trolley system back to Los Angeles after the City Council agreed to let residents decide on the special tax measure in November.

Council members Tuesday approved formation of a taxing district that encompasses about 7,000 registered voters and 397 acres of land downtown. The measure needs a two-thirds majority to pass.

Under the proposal, property owners would pay a tax proportional to the square footage of their holdings and their property's proximity to the streetcar lines. A condo owner living in a 1,000-square-foot space would pay $200 to $500 a year, while a hotel owner could pay several hundred thousand dollars in assessments. City leaders hope to generate $62.5 million.

The city will also seek $52.5 million in federal grants, assuming voters agree to the taxing district. 

The four-mile streetcar line would run seven days a week and serve the Civic Center, Grand Avenue, L.A. Live, the Convention Center, Pershing Square and the city’s historic core.

Councilman Jose Huizar, who sponsored the resolution, said that bringing back the streetcars is more about economic development than nostalgia.

 “The streetcar will be another transportation option, but on top of that, wherever streetcars go, we will see those areas revitalized,” Huizar said.

The city’s streetcars once were a key link in the region's transit system. Yellow cars run by the Los Angeles Railway and red cars from the Pacific Electric Railways carried millions. The lines were gradually shutdown in favor of cars and buses, as the freeway system developed in the 1950s and 60s.

Downtown interests have backed the return of streetcars for years. A nonprofit group of downtown interests, Los Angeles Streetcar, Inc. has helped shepherd the most recent effort.

A streetcar system could help complete downtown's revitalization, said Shiraz Tangri, the group's general counsel. “If you look downtown, there are lines that get you there, but you still need a car to get around,” Tangri said. “We’re providing a connection link.”

Some property owners speaking at Tuesday’s council meeting said they couldn’t afford the tax.

Samuel Sale, who owns a property on Los Angeles Street, complained he would have to pay $180,000 over the 30-year life of the tax.

“We’re barely surviving in this economy as it is,” Sale said.

[For the Record, 7:17 p.m. July 31: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that the special tax measure would be on the November ballot. Special ballots will be mailed to voters.]

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--Frank Shyong at Los Angeles City Hall.

Photo: Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times.

 
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