Santa Ana City Council endorses streetcar route
Orange County Register (CA), 2014-08-07
Aug. 07 --SANTA ANA -- The City Council on Tuesday endorsed a streetcar route that goes through downtown's Fourth Street commerce district -- a move that some longtime merchants fear will diminish the area's Latino influence and that other downtown stakeholders say will help boost economic development.
In a unanimous 4-0 vote, the City Council approved a $238 million streetcar option that would travel along Santa Ana Boulevard and Fourth Street . Mayor Pro Tem Sal Tinajero and council members Vincent Sarmiento and Roman Reyna were absent.
The route was approved with an amendment, proposed by Councilwoman Michele Martinez , to ensure that other transportation alternatives, including bicycling, are offered along the way.
The system will connect the Santa Ana Train Station to the downtown area and link up with a new transportation center on Westminster Avenue and Harbor Boulevard in Garden Grove .
Along the chosen route, the streetcar will mainly travel along Santa Ana Boulevard and the Pacific Electric right-of-way. It will go westbound on Santa Ana Boulevard and eastbound on Fourth Street .
Sam Romero , who for years operated a Catholic curio shop on East Fourth Street , told the council he was concerned that traditional Fourth Street festivals including Cinco de Mayo , Fiestas Patrias, and the annual Day of the Dead event would be lost with the addition of the streetcar system.
"We want to continue the Latino influence downtown. A lot of us are concerned that we've been losing that. We can see what's happened in certain parts of Fourth Street ," Romero said.
For others like Ryan Chase , whose family owns most of the buildings along East Fourth Street , the strip is a prime location for a streetcar system. In recent years, Chase has sought new retail and restaurant tenants to fill vacant spaces, in his attempt to give residents an urban experience and attract a broader clientele.
"We have an opportunity to be in the forefront of mass transit. The fixed guide-way system will bring a large amount of people and attention into the area ... and create huge amounts of additional investment. It is the best way to showcase the heart of downtown," Chase said.
Because Santa Ana is such a densely populated city, a streetcar system is needed in the area where the median household income is slightly above the U.S. Census Bureau poverty level threshold and where nearly 20 percent of households are without a car, according to a report presented to the city by the Cordoba Corporation , the project's planning consultant, in July.
The route the City Council endorsed was labeled as the preferred alternative because it's estimated to have the highest ridership and serve the greatest number of transit-dependent households, according to the report.
It also costs less to construct as opposed to the $257 million option that would have a streetcar travel along Santa Ana Boulevard , Civic Center Drive and Fifth Street .
The streetcar system would coexist with any festivals and events downtown, City Manger David Cavazos said.
More than 150 Fourth Street merchants and other residents, under the umbrella of the nonprofit Santa Ana Community & Business Alliance , signed a petition opposing the preferred route that whisks passengers along Fourth Street .
The streetcar project, as these business owners see it, is just another way for the city to "agitate long-standing business," according to an opposition letter penned by Madeleine Spencer , the group's president.
During the council meeting, other downtown stakeholders including Chapter One's founder Jeffrey Hall and representatives of DGWB Advertising & Communications spoke in favor of a downtown streetcar line. Others preferred the second alternative in order to spur development in that area.
With the streetcar passing through Pacific Electric right-of-way along the Willowick Golf Course , some residents from the Santa Anita neighborhood also expressed concerns that the project would cause resident displacement.
At the council meeting, Mayor Miguel Pulido and Cavazos assured that no houses would be taken.
As the lead agency, the Orange County Transportation Authority is looking to pay for the project with federal and state funds, Measure M2 money, and city and developer contributions. The city has budgeted $500,000 toward the project, which is expected to start operations in 2019.
The OCTA will serve as the lead in design and construction, and will be the owner and operator of the streetcar. The City Council is making the decision on the route.
Now, the environmental impact report will head to the City Council this fall for approval.
Pulido has described the proposed streetcar as a "legacy-type" project in his tenure. Tuesday night, he said the project is the beginning of a system that could hopefully connect to John Wayne Airport and eventually to Los Angeles .
"Right now, we're the beginning. We're the central core. But you gotta ask yourself this question, 'If you're going to start anywhere in Orange County , where should you start?' The answer is right here," Pulido said Tuesday.
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