Editorials

Keep the strong momentum going for streetcar line

Streetcars returned to Washington, D.C., last month for the first time in 50 years. A proposed line between Sacramento and West Sacramento cleared a big hurdle this week.
Streetcars returned to Washington, D.C., last month for the first time in 50 years. A proposed line between Sacramento and West Sacramento cleared a big hurdle this week. The Associated Press

The proposed streetcar line linking Sacramento and West Sacramento has passed a significant hurdle, but even bigger ones stand directly ahead. To keep this important project on track, supporters can’t let up.

Property owners, who would pay a tax assessment to help fund the $150 million project, gave it a resounding vote of confidence that is also a show of faith in the future of downtown Sacramento. In mail balloting completed Tuesday, owners who would be on the hook for nearly 68 percent of the $30 million bill over 30 years voted “yes.”

While the vote was merely advisory, streetcar backers pledged not to move ahead without a positive result. It gives them a big boost as they seek $75 million in federal grants to pay half the construction cost, and as they prepare for the official vote in May to create the tax district.

Without those approvals as well, the project won’t stay on schedule.

Federal officials are strongly considering the $75 million request – as long as the local match is in place in the next several months, The Bee’s Tony Bizjak reported this month. Last month, the Sacramento City Council chipped in $7 million. West Sacramento has committed $25 million. The state is being asked for $10 million and Sacramento County another $3 million.

That leaves the $30 million from the tax assessment district. The City Council is scheduled to take the next steps this coming Tuesday night, including setting the special election. Starting May 4, ballots will be mailed to about 3,800 registered voters who live within three blocks of the proposed line in downtown and midtown Sacramento. To win approval, two-thirds of ballots returned by June 2 must be marked “yes.”

It’s not a slam dunk that voters – even though many don’t own property and wouldn’t directly pay the assessment – will support the project. In the final results released Thursday, a majority of property owners who returned ballots actually voted against the assessment – 282 no to 239 yes – but they were outvoted by larger developers who would pay more.

The “yes” margin would have been even wider if developer David Taylor, a streetcar supporter who would pay one of the biggest assessments at about $56,000 a year, had marked his ballot before mailing it.

The streetcar line would stretch 3.3 miles from downtown West Sacramento, past Raley Field, across Tower Bridge, through old Sacramento, to Sacramento Valley Station and the downtown railyard, past the arena being built at Downtown Plaza, along K Street by the Sacramento Convention Center and end at 19th Street in midtown.

The plan is for the line to be up and running by late 2017. There are still many issues to resolve. Just to list a few: Will suburbanites and Kings fans who otherwise shun mass transit get on board? Will it attract enough visitors and other riders so the operating subsidy isn’t too large? How would it work with Regional Transit and vehicle traffic?

For now, however, after nearly a decade of stop-and-go, the streetcar project has real momentum.

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