Property owners vote for Sacramento streetcars

Sacramento streetcars are shown in this artist’s rendering.
Sacramento streetcars are shown in this artist’s rendering. CHARLES HALES PORTLAND-BASED HDR, INC.

Sacramento’s effort to bring streetcars back to downtown got a major boost Tuesday night when property owners near the proposed line voted to kick in $30 million in construction funds.

The mail-in vote, tallied at City Hall, came in at 66 percent in favor of helping finance the estimated $150 million project.

The vote, although only advisory, represents a necessary step to put the project on track for full funding, advocates say, because it shows federal transit grant officials that the Sacramento business community is willing to put private money behind the effort.

Advocates, including the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento, have requested $75 million in federal funds, half the project cost, and recently received notice that the Federal Transit Administration is considering the Sacramento project for funding this year.

A second key step will take place in May, when 3,800 registered voters who live within three blocks of the proposed line will vote yes or no on the project. Notably, registered voters in the streetcar line area who don’t own property will not be asked to help finance the project.

The streetcars, as envisioned, would link West Sacramento and Sacramento on a 3.3-mile route, running past key landmarks, including Raley Field and the Bridge District in West Sacramento. In Sacramento, cars would stop at or near Old Sacramento, the downtown depot, the Kings arena, the state Capitol, major hotels and the convention center.

Advocates say the vote shows that they have made their case to the business community that streetcars will help create a more vibrant downtown, boost property values and reduce the need for cars for short central-city trips. Opponents have questioned the need for a streetcar system.

“We’re really pleased,” said project spokesman Kirk Trost, an attorney with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. “I think it is a great endorsement. When we’ve had the opportunity to sit down with people and make the business case about what the streetcar could mean to the region, they obviously are convinced that ... it is worth the time.”

Major supporters included the Sacramento Kings and their partners in a project to build an arena, hotel and entertainment district. The vote was a “weighted” tally. Larger property owners who would pay more of the streetcar financing burden cast votes that counted more heavily than those who would pay smaller amounts. That counterbalanced what appeared to be a larger number of smaller property owners who voted against the project. Detailed vote totals were not available Tuesday night.

The vote came with one notable omission. Downtown developer David Taylor, owner of U.S. Bank Tower on Capitol Mall, has been the effort’s leading business advocate. Taylor, however, mistakenly sent his ballot in without a vote marked on it.

“I have no idea how I missed that,” he said Tuesday evening after the vote.

Taylor will be one of the larger contributors to the construction fund, if the streetcar is built. He likely would pay $56,000 annually over 30 years but said he believes he would be able to charge higher rents at his building because of its proximity to the streetcar line. He also said he thinks his building values would increase beyond the amount he will pay into the streetcar fund.

The Sacramento City Council recently committed $7 million to the project. West Sacramento has committed $25 million. The state is being asked to kick in $10 million and the county $3 million.

The project also would involve moving light rail from K Street to H Street. That will cost an estimated $17 million extra. Officials said they have not yet identified where that funding would come from.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

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