Transportation

Sacramento County approves $3 million for downtown streetcar project

Portland’s streetcar runs through downtown, from Nob Hill to the Willamette River at RiverPlace, on a loop of track that shares the street with cars and people in Portland, Ore. Sacramento area leaders envision a similar streetcar traveling between West Sacramento and downtown Sacramento.
Portland’s streetcar runs through downtown, from Nob Hill to the Willamette River at RiverPlace, on a loop of track that shares the street with cars and people in Portland, Ore. Sacramento area leaders envision a similar streetcar traveling between West Sacramento and downtown Sacramento. Seattle Times file

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved $3 million for a downtown streetcar project on Tuesday, completing the round of local government support needed for the $150 million project.

Supporters envision the streetcar, which would run just over 3 miles across the Tower Bridge and past riverfront landmarks, as another opportunity to drive economic development, along with the downtown arena under construction. Members of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Sacramento City Council, as well as a representative of Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, were among those voicing support to the board.

Some residents told the board that they won’t benefit from downtown improvements and thought the county should spend the money on roads or other needs. Opponents included homeless advocates and American River Parkway supporters.

Some supervisors responded that downtown’s health is important to all residents.

“A strong, vibrant downtown is important to this region,” said Supervisor Patrick Kennedy.

Advocates need to come up with $75 million to match a federal grant that has been requested. On top of $3 million from the county, West Sacramento plans to pay $25 million and the city of Sacramento will contribute $7 million. Registered voters along the streetcar line are scheduled to cast ballots in May to create a special district that would generate an additional $30 million from property owners, who have already agreed to pay the money in an advisory vote.

To reach the needed match amount, supporters need to secure a $10 million grant from the state.

County supervisors voted 3-1 Tuesday in favor of the funding, which relies on an expected increase in downtown parking revenue to pay for the project. Supervisor Susan Peters was absent and Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan said the project should have been considered during annual budget discussions.

The county expects to pay the $3 million over three years. An analysis by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments found that the county could recoup those costs by 2025 due to increased property tax revenue. The county can also expect an unknown increase in sales tax revenue, a SACOG official told the board.

“I have absolutely no concern that the parking fund will be enough to make these payments,” County Executive Brad Hudson told the board.

Betsy Weiland of Save the American River Association said the parking revenue should instead be used to restore cuts for maintaining and policing the American River Parkway. Weiland and other activists criticized the county for making such decisions about discretionary funding in a vacuum. They said the county needs to discuss possible uses for discretionary funding in a systematic way.

Hudson said the board will conduct a workshop on such funds next month.

Editor’s note (April 8): This story has been clarified to state that taxpayers must formally vote to approve the $30 million from property owners along the streetcar line.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.

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