Does ARTIC Land Purchase Mean Fewer Street Repairs?

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Until last month, all Anaheim was contributing toward a planned regional transportation hub, which city leaders envision as an important future gateway to Orange County, was a city-owned 2.2-acre site.

But that changed last month when the City Council agreed to spend $32.5 million to buy 13.5 acres that constitute most of the site for the future Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center or ARTIC. The purchase resolved a months-long dispute between city and Orange County Transportation Authority officials.

But in solving one controversy, could the city be sowing the seeds of another?

A staff report stated that the city would use Measure M2 “fair share” funds – the city’s allotment of a countywide half-cent sales tax — to pay-off its 13-year debt on the land.

But since that revenue is typically dedicated to street maintenance, there is speculation that upkeep of the city’s roads could fall behind. For example, during this last fiscal year, the city spent $3.7 million in “fair share” funds on street reconstruction, according to public records.

City officials, however, insist that road maintenance will not suffer.

According to an emailed explanation from City Hall spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz, the city will also use other funding sources to pay down the debt, including $5 million from a special 2 percent hotel room tax that funds marketing and transportation improvements to benefit tourism and conventions.

The special tax will fund the payments until ARTIC is built, Ruiz wrote.

After that, city officials expect to use 11 percent of the city’s “fair share” funds and revenue from ARTIC’s leased retail space and advertising to cover the payments.

Ruiz asserted that the relatively small amount of Measure M2 funds used for ARTIC debt won’t hinder street upkeep because the “fair share” revenue is greater than the previous Measure M1 “turn back” revenue.

Also, Ruiz wrote, ARTIC will relieve street traffic and generate revenue that can be used to fund transportation.

“The city actually expects a transit project like this, which provides travelers convenient options to their car, will have a long term positive impact on our street system due to the reduced vehicle miles traveled,” Ruiz wrote.

The project, which would connect buses, taxis and trains, has faced staunch opposition from critics, who say its main terminal shell — 120 feet tall and covering 56,000 square feet — is an unnecessary use of taxpayer funds. They also argue that a major reason to build the project — to connect to high-speed rail — might never happen.

However, the Orange County grand jury doesn’t share those concerns. The watchdog body investigated the project and found that the “iconic” structure would be a positive addition to Orange County’s landscape and will lead to greater private investment.

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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