Monday, August 11, 2014

County authority to oversee Santa Ana streetcar

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The fate of Santa Ana, Calif.'s proposed streetcar project may rest with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), which may assume responsibility for the effort as early as Monday, Aug. 11, 2014.

Last week the Santa Ana City Council unanimously backed a proposed 4.1-mile streetcar route along the city's Fourth Street as a preferred option over a route along Fifth Street, citing existing foot traffic as a factor.

The majority of OCTA board directors reportedly appear to back the streetcar project; if so, this would signal a departure from OCTA's previous reluctance – which some rail advocates would categorize as obstructionism – toward urban rail transit in general.

Indeed, local media report some OCTA board members have been aggressively questioning the Santa Ana plan, with claims that buses can serve the county's public transit ridership more cheaply and effectively.

The plan also seems to have cleaved a divide between long-term residents of the city, many opposed to the streetcar plan, and relative newcomers to Santa Ana, more in favor of the idea—a division manifested in other efforts throughout the U.S. seeking to grow rail transit.

Relatively new among objectors' arguments, however, is the assertion that the streetcar project (presumedly successful) would spur gentrification and drive up real estate prices, driving longtime residents out of their homes and businesses. The concern runs counter to earlier objections to streetcars and LRT, which argued that neigborhoods would be blighted, driving down real estate values.

If OCTA assumes the reins, agency staff would begin working to secure News Starts funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). OCTA also likely would move to approve using Measure M2 sales tax funds for the streetcar's operations and maintenance.