Downtown L.A. streetcar system up for crucial vote

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Voting will conclude Monday in a special election on a streetcar proposal for downtown Los Angeles.

The proposal before downtown residents calls for an assessment district to be created to help finance the $125-million project. If it receives the two-thirds majority required to pass, planning would move forward, with scheduled completion in 2015.

Supporters of the streetcar say it would bring a fresh wave of economic development to downtown. Its proposed route covers 10 blocks along Broadway — where the city is working to revive old movie palaces and vacant office buildings — before veering over toward L.A. Live and then up through the financial district.

“This is really going to be the cherry on top for all the revitalization and transformation we’re seeing,” said City Councilman Jose Huizar, a key supporter of the streetcar. He cited estimates saying the streetcar would bring $1 billion in development to downtown, including 2,600 new housing units and 675,000 square feet of new office space.


A group of business leaders and developers has been actively campaigning in support of the project in recent months, with a series of town hall meetings and special events.

Jon Blanchard, a board member of Los Angeles Streetcar Inc. and lead developer of the Ace Hotel project on Broadway, said the streetcar would cater specifically to tourists and young residents downtown who prefer a car-free urban experience.

“Just for everyday purposes, it really kind of connects the city and makes it one,” he said. “It makes it a lot easier for people that come down here and live down here to get around.”

Some have criticized the voting process used for the project, saying it’s unfair that only residents can vote while property owners would pay the assessment. The Los Angeles Downtown News also took the campaign to task in an editorial, claiming that officials were not upfront about the portion of total funding that would come from the tax assessments, versus the federal grants the project is expected to receive.

Still, there is no organized opposition to the project, and several streetcar backers said they were confident it would pass. Ballots were due to be submitted by mail last week, but residents can still turn in their votes in person at City Hall on Monday.

-- Sam Allen