Back-Seat Driver

Flights and fliers on the rise

Passenger levels are on the rise at Sacramento International Airport, thanks to a growing economy and new flights.
Passenger levels are on the rise at Sacramento International Airport, thanks to a growing economy and new flights. Special to The Bee

If you’ve been out to the airport lately, you’re not alone anymore.

Sacramento International Airport officials report passenger numbers have increased for 12 months in a row. That’s good news for Sacramento after eight years of recession-induced reductions in the number of flights, not to mention a lack of fliers that left the new terminal looking empty at times.

The upswing includes a 5 percent increase in passengers during the first three months of this year, typically a slow time, airport officials report. Ticket prices for flights nationally this year are down a bit from last year, according to aviation data sites. The local economy has improved, as well. In reaction, airlines are finally adding a few new flights.

Southwest began flying to Dallas Love Field earlier this month, and Aeromexico added flights to Mexico City. Delta will start nonstop flights to Seattle in three weeks. In June, JetBlue will add a nonstop flight to Boston, and American Airlines will increase nonstop flights to Dallas.

Bee readers have long said the main drawback of the Sacramento airport is a lack of variety of flights and destinations. Airport officials acknowledge that. The more flights they get, the more money they make, the easier it is for them to pay off their debt on the $1 billion expansion in 2011.

The airport also is beginning construction in Terminal A to add a Paesanos restaurant, a Squeeze Inn hamburger outlet and a restaurant from the owners of Cafeteria 15L.

Streetcar vote

Are streetcars coming back to Sacramento? A key decision day is coming. Ballots will be mailed a week from Monday to voters on a critical part of the streetcar project funding. The voting lasts a month, and results will be tallied the first week of June.

Notably, the fate of the proposed $150 million line through downtown Sacramento and part of West Sacramento will be in the hands of just 3,716 voters. Given low voter participation trends, the streetcar question may in fact be decided by fewer than 1,000 people.

Here is why: In order for the two cities to finance the streetcar, they need two-thirds approval from valid returned ballots of registered voters who live within three blocks of the proposed line in Sacramento (West Sacramento residents already voted several years ago in support of funding their share of the cost). Those Sacramento downtown and midtown voters are being asked to allow the city to create a streetcar special tax district. Some or many of those voters will not be taxed, though. Only property owners in the district will pay a streetcar construction tax. That means home or property owners near the proposed line will pay the tax, but renters will not, unless their landlord chooses to increase the rent because of the streetcar nearby.

Property owners in the streetcar area already said yes to the taxing district in an unofficial or “advisory” vote earlier this year.

If the voters say yes, the city can tap the property owners, including most major downtown businesses, for $30 million in construction funds. If that happens, it’s likely the federal government will kick in $75 million. West Sacramento will pay $25 million, the state likely will add $10 million, the city $7 million and the county $3 million. Proponents also will have to come up with reliable funding sources for an estimated $4 million in annual operating and maintenance costs.

It’s complicated. But, for the next month, the front-burner issue is simple. It’s in the hands of downtown and midtown residents. Will two-thirds of them agree that a streetcar line is a worthy investment?

The campaign has been low-key so far. Streetcar proponents, led by Sacramento Councilman Steve Hansen, have raised $7,500 from two donors, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership and the Midtown Business Association. They’ve sent out several fliers touting the streetcar as a way to improve mobility and help boost economic development. Opponents, who had not filed financial documents as of Thursday, say the project is a waste of time and money.

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

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