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Anaheim’s vision of a streetcar trundling from near Angel Stadium to the gates of Disneyland and beyond won a crucial vote Monday, despite concerns about what the final price tag might look like.
City estimates peg that final cost at around $320 million for three miles of track. That would make the Anaheim streetcar tens of millions of dollars more expensive than other streetcar projects around the nation, including in Santa Ana and Los Angeles.
Board members at the Orange County Transportation Authority, who control the money that Anaheim needs to even plan a streetcar, blinked at that cost estimate last month. They postponed their vote on moving the project forward until Monday so they could scrub the legal documents of any reference to them fully supporting the idea.
Instead, their vote Monday allows Anaheim to continue studying and planning the streetcar proposal, with a warning to get the costs down. The vote does not commit any more money to the project; Anaheim already has about $2.7 million for the next phase of studies.
It also does not give Anaheim final approval for the streetcar, a decision saved for next year at the earliest, after the studies are done. “They’re going to get that estimate down, or they’re going to risk losing some votes,” board member Shawn Nelson said.
The proposed streetcar would run on tracks set into the street from a station near Angel Stadium and the Honda Center, through the Platinum Triangle, past Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, to the Convention Center.
The city’s current plans call for tearing down a Best Western hotel and an IHOP restaurant to make way for a station across from Disneyland, Public Works Director Natalie Meeks said. City documents show that and other land acquisitions would displace 235 workers.
“We need to get a station near the front gates, where the people are going, for this system to work,” Meeks told OCTA directors on Monday.
Supporters of the streetcar project — including tourism groups, the Angels and Ducks and a majority of Anaheim’s city council — say it will help deliver tourists, residents and workers to the city’s attractions. A study commissioned by the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau concluded that potentially billions of private dollars and millions of square feet of development could follow a streetcar line.
But critics have denounced the project as a boondoggle that will mostly benefit Disneyland. “A ridiculous waste of taxpayers’ money,” Anaheim resident Larry Larsen said Monday.
Three OCTA board members voted Monday to stop the project in its tracks: Irvine Councilman Jeff Lalloway, Huntington Beach Councilman Matthew Harper and County Supervisor John Moorlach. All three had pointed to stepped-up bus service as an alternative. City documents estimate that enhanced bus service would see about 1,000 fewer daily boardings than a streetcar, but would cost around $263 million less.
A dozen other OCTA board members voted to let Anaheim continue planning in order to better assess the costs and benefits. Several pointed out that Orange County voters earmarked money for transit projects like the streetcar when they enacted a half-cent sales tax to pay for transportation improvements. That money, coupled with federal grants, would more than cover the anticipated cost.
Nonetheless, board members made it a condition of their vote that Anaheim work to lower the project’s costs. Meeks, the public works director, said it’s very likely the costs will come down because the current estimate is weighed down with contingency funds. Those should lessen as the project comes into better focus during the coming months of study, she said.
“It’s pretty simple,” said Anaheim’s delegate to the OCTA board, Councilwoman Gail Eastman. “We need to do (this) in order to get answers to a lot of the questions that have been asked.”