Transit Sales Tax Measure Loses, But Streetcar Tax Wins

Map: Via Los Angeles Streetcar, Inc.
Map: Via Los Angeles Streetcar, Inc.

Bittersweet news has hit Los Angeles transit advocates over the past two days.

First, Measure J, the L.A. County November 6 ballot initiative to extend a sales tax dedicated to transportation projects by 30 years, lost by nearly a half a percentage point, according to the final ballot tally posted Sunday. Still, all may not be lost: "The Measure R transit sales tax for transit - approved in 2008 - continues until 2039, so Metro directors have the option of asking voters in the future if they wish to extend the program," read a statement by Metro, which stewards the special tax money.

Second, a special tax district to fund a streetcar in downtown L.A. has won, according to preliminary results. Voters approved $62.5 million in local funding, it was announced Monday evening. The approved funding would cover about half of the cost of the system and the rest will be sought from the federal government, backers of the project said.

The Los Angeles City Clerk, which announced preliminary results of a special mail-only election, said that 73 percent of voters approved the funding, topping the two-thirds majority required for adoption of the measure.

Out of 2,066 ballots cast by voters in the streetcar voting district, 1,508 were in favor of the funding, which will come from a bond, according to Shiraz Tangri, general counsel of Los Angeles Streetcar, Inc.

A community facilities district formed through a City Council vote earlier this year called for the special election, through which voters were asked to decide on a bond not to exceed $85 million.

To pay the bond, a tax will be levied on land owned by all property owners within the district. The streetcar voting district extends about three blocks around the proposed streetcar route, according to Tangri. Properties closest to the route will be a higher tax rate than those farther away, system backers said.

Ballots were sent to voters on Nov. 13 and had to be returned to the clerk's office in time to be counted today.

City Councilman Jose Huizar, who has backed the streetcar proposal, lauded the results of the vote, saying the streetcar system would improve "transit connectivity" and positively impact downtown revitalization.

"Now that the people have spoken, Los Angeles is well on its way to bringing a modern streetcar back to downtown Los Angeles," Huizar said. "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."

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The tax for most condominium owners in the district will be less than $100 per year, according to Tangri. "We've earned great support from property owners who will be paying the tax who understand the benefits the streetcar will bring."

The streetcar system would run seven days a week, approximately 18 hours per day and would 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, according to project backers who hope construction can begin by the end of 2014 and be complete as early as 2016.

With streetcar reporting by City News Service

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