Monday’s OCTA Board decision to “continue studying and planning the [Anaheim] streetcar proposal, with a warning to get the costs down” (per Tuesday’s Register story, outside Paywall here) underscores the political quality of the Board’s leadership and composition, its process of consensus vs. common sense decision making, its ignorance of simple technical concepts and a considerable lack of fiscal responsibility by not acknowledging that Anaheim’s $319 million streetcar project is unnecessary, unjustified, REDUNDANT to two existing bus systems and an absurd waste of Measure M tax money.
There’s better coverage of the controversy at the union-funded Voice of OC here: OCTA Board OKs Next Step for Anaheim Streetcar. Both the Register and Voice failed to report that the streetcar study has already consumed over $5 million of Measure M sales tax funding that’s collected on a County-wide basis, making this debacle everyone’s business.
Further study of this 19th century trolley technology is a typical reaction from a dithering group of pols who simply wish to have an Agency Director’s title on their resumes and to trade favors with the Masters of the Universe in Anaheim. The Board’s delay will not be well received by Anaheim Councilmember Kris Murray, her conniving Public Works Director Natalie Meeks and their Orange County Business Council overseers. Murray’s political career will hopefully end next year via re-districting in Anaheim and she may need to get her job back at the OCBC with Lucy Dunn.
Simply put, streetcars are far less flexible and significantly more expensive than buses as clearly explained in the project’s documentation, the table below and the costly previous studies of the
“Alternatives” (which apparently did not include two obvious choices of doing nothing at all or utilizing the existing transport systems in the Resort area). At least three Board members, Moorlach, Lalloway and Harper, got the math and voted against the deferral. Per the VofOC piece, they “challenged the cost of the planned streetcar system, questioning the financial sense of casting aside the bus alternative, which is projected to be $263.4 million cheaper to construct.” Constructing nothing would be even cheaper.
That’s over a quarter BILLION dollars difference between an unjustified electric trolley and a third bus system — 50% more than even the projected cost of Anaheim’s ARTIC Train Station under construction now to receive passengers from Jerry Brown’s $200 Billion High-Speed Rail System that’s never coming to Anaheim and hand them over to the streetcar, baggage, baby strollers and all. No Bullet Train will cause no increase in Anaheim Resort visitors, and especially NO millions of Disney guests projected via Anaheim’s fallacious ridership numbers to ride to a station near, not at, the Disney Parks. ARTIC and the streetcar won’t even benefit from anticipated start next year of the X Train from Las Vegas that’s terminating in Fullerton.
Last December, even the Register ventured a rare opinion on a local issue that “bus service that would traverse the same 3.2 mile route as the proposed streetcar system but would only cost one-fifth as much as the streetcar.” Borrowing on our research, they wrote the project
would not justify laying out $318 million for a bright and shiny new streetcar system that is far less cost-effective than enhanced bus service, as borne out by an analysis recently authored by Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute. In a recent post on his Antiplanner blog, Mr. O’Toole argues, persuasively, “streetcars are just plain inferior to buses in every possible way. They are slower; can’t carry as many people per hour; prone to system failure (if one is disabled, every car on the line has to stop); can’t easily respond to changes in travel habits and are far more expensive than buses.”
Also revealed for the first time yesterday by my friend Cynthia Ward, an Anaheim historian and activist, was the necessity to TAKE property via Eminent Domain to create space for the streetcar station that will serve Disney’s Main Gate ACROSS Harbor Blvd. from the Park’s entrance. Ward also says a pedestrian walkway needs to be built over six plus lanes of Harbor Blvd., including elevators to accommodate wheelchairs. Per the VofOC story, “under the current plan the city would have to purchase property between South Clementine Street and Harbor Boulevard in order for a streetcar station to be built adjacent to Disneyland. An IHOP restaurant and a Best Western hotel are located on the properties.”
We’d believe this is some of the most valuable commercial property in California. Some or all of the acquisition costs have not been included in the project’s financials, and as well, we’ll bet that the loss of sales tax, county property tax and local transit occupancy (bed) tax from these businesses is also uncalculated. Ward also editorialized in a Wednesday VofOC post that 235 jobs are to be lost. She also offered an extensive comment via Facebook on Reporter Doug Irving’s Register story, copied here.
Kris Murray’s logic for destroying two viable businesses directly across the street from the most well-known family amusement park on the planet and replacing them with a trolley station seems antithetical to her contention that a streetcar will be enhancing development and attracting revenue to Anaheim’s Resort District. Not even SOAR will swallow such hypocrisy, but they’ll keep propping her up. Plus, we’ll bet that Best Western and IHOP actually like doing a ton of business where they’re at and since they’re owned or franchised by national chains, Murray should expect a court fight that will cost the city and county a fortune to defend in a legal climate where the Governor has virtually outlawed re-development projects.
Disney also seems unwilling to welcome the streetcar on its property (which would require plenty of space and compete with their own $20/day parking business) and assume any liability it would bring with it like “slip ‘n’ fall” litigation. From the VofOC story:
Directors are also increasingly asking why Disneyland isn’t contributing toward the $319-million cost. The resort is a major beneficiary of the 3.2-mile streetcar system, which would move riders between the resort and a planned train depot, among other stops…Although local elected officials are generally loathe to challenge Disneyland, OCTA directors are beginning to openly question whether the megaresort should shoulder some of the costs. “I’d be curious to see what their contribution could be to the cost and operation of the system,” said Michael Hennessey, one of the board’s unelected members. “If the answer is zero, I think that tells us something.” Hennessey asked that OCTA officials ask Disneyland what the resort would be willing to chip in.
Perhaps the Disney company might be directly challenged as to their real interest in both ARTIC and the streetcar project. The Mouse can’t be subpoenaed to appear before the OCTA Board, but a need to maintain good public and community relations might persuade them to show and answer some questions. The OCTA Board clearly can’t appreciate they’re getting hosed, and their precious Measure M funding is being depleted for Disney’s and Anaheim’s benefit with neither ponying up their own funds. Disney might say thanks, but given their well-known reticence to discuss their business and deal with anyone but Anaheim insiders like power broker Curt Pringle, it would be naive for the Board to expect any clear answers from them, and especially since their PR flaks are closely aligned, scripted and rehearsed by the Anaheim Council majority.
The approvals of both streetcar and the ARTIC Bullet Train Station projects — valued at over one-half BILLION dollars of mostly of Measure M tax money — point directly to INADEQUACY AND A LACK OF COMPETENCE ON THE OCTA BOARD. Practical, responsible decision making in the best interests of taxpayers has been replaced by equivocation, vote brokering for future favors and attracting campaign funding from lobbyists who infest the backs rows of Board meetings, the OCBC and its sister organization, the Association of California Cities — Orange County (which we’ll discuss next — the ACC-OC drives the Directors selection process).
These expensive decisions on transportation projects need to be made by directly elected taxpayers with no interests other than doing the right and proper thing for their fellows who fund the OCTA and rightly expect only new pavement and safe public transportation — not epic white elephants, tributes to Curt Pringle’s legacy and electric trains for ambitious operators and well-heeled city councils. Professional politicians, in this case, need to be replaced with people who have practical, real world experience in financial or engineering disciplines and no interest in re-election.
Part II of this opinion will be published soon — we’ll be arguing that the OCTA Board needs to be elected in order to better and more sensibly represent the interests of Orange County.