Political Intrigue Surrounds Anaheim Streetcar Report

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If all goes according to plan, a report that recommends terminating Anaheim’s controversial streetcar project should be on the public agenda for next Monday’s regular meeting of the Orange County Transportation Authority Board of Directors.

The key word is should. Ever since the conclusion of a draft of the report was leaked to the Orange County Register, it’s been the subject of intrigue and tension among Transportation Authority leaders. There have also been rumors of an intense lobbying campaign to bury the report.

As things stand now, the report’s findings might never see the light of day.

In various interviews with board members conducted Tuesday, some said the report would be on the agenda, which is typically released the Wednesday afternoon before the meeting. Another board member said the report was definitely off the agenda. And the chairman of the board said everything about the report is still up in the air.

“The ad-hoc committee has not made a final determination about the report or about the date to bring it forward,” said Transportation Authority board Chairman Jeffrey Lalloway, who also heads the board ad-hoc committee that drafted the report.

(Update: The agenda for Monday’s board meeting was made public Wednesday afternoon, and the ad-hoc committee report wasn’t included.)

A Costly Project

Anaheim’s proposed 3.2-mile streetcar system has always been controversial, even before Lalloway’s ad-hoc committee, which was formed specifically to study the issue, began its work. As envisioned, the line would connect Disneyland with the city’s transit center known as ARTIC, and a handful of other destinations.

The initial cost was $319-million, or nearly $100 million per-mile, which when compared to other streetcar projects around the country made it the most expensive by far. Arguments against the project have also gotten a boost from revelations that ARTIC ridership has fallen way below projections.

There is word that the estimated cost is lower than before. Councilwoman Kris Murray was quoted in the Register as saying the project cost has dipped below $300 million after city officials decided not to acquire a hotel that was standing in the way of the project.

One possible reason for all the machinations over the report is that it could threaten much-needed federal funding for the project. Sources close to the issue say the Federal Transit Administration — which streetcar backers hope will pay for half the project’s construction costs under a highly competitive grant program called “New Starts” – won’t approve financing without solid political support on the Transportation Authority board.

Already, sources say, FTA officials believe the project is a poor candidate for New Starts funds. But Anaheim officials dispute this and city Public Works Director Natalie Meeks insists the FTA won’t be considering the ad-hoc committee report as it looks at whether the project meets criteria for funding.

Pringle Looms

Looming in the background is high-powered lobbyist Curt Pringle, Anaheim’s former mayor and arguably the project’s most ardent supporter.

Sources close to the board say Pringle and his firm, Curt Pringle & Associates, have been intensely lobbying board members to support the project. One source speculated that Pringle could have orchestrated a leak of the report, betting that it would end up being buried.

Yet it’s not known whether the report was leaked at all. The Register in its article never stated explicitly that it obtained a copy of the report. And aside from the conclusion not to go forward with the streetcar, the article doesn’t provide any other details from the report.

In a Sept. 16 email to “stakeholders,” Pringle made it clear that the ad-hoc committee was a serious threat to the streetcar project. It was an invitation to a meeting at his office on Sept. 21 to “craft a plan” in light of the fact that Lalloway’s four-member ad-hoc committee was stacked with opponents of the project.

“It seems that this Ad Hoc Committee may try to push the OCTA Board toward stopping the Anaheim project altogether,” Pringle wrote. “That is why it is very important to update the various streetcar stakeholders and craft a plan going forward.”

Lalloway wouldn’t address rumors that the report might be pulled because of political pressure. But when presented with the email from Pringle, Lalloway railed against the lobbyists and streetcar consultants he said are trying to influence Transportation Authority board members behind the scenes.

“It’s disturbing that lobbyists and vendors that can make tens of millions of dollars from this project see fit to lobby board members and scheme in private about how to get this project approved by the OCTA board and don’t care at all about the incredible unnecessary cost to Orange County taxpayers,” Lalloway said.

Board Members Talk

Board members reached for this article denied being lobbied about the streetcar project. But one of them did air some grievances with how the process has played out and the leak of the report’s conclusion.

Board Director Frank Ury, also a Mission Viejo city councilman, said he has been informed that the report would not be on the meeting agenda. Ury said after the Register published its article, which was the first time he had heard about the report’s conclusions, he asked for a copy of the report but was refused.

Ury — who said he supports the project as long as the cost was reduced and it didn’t require aggressive eminent domain — said the situation has left him “not happy.”

“There’s a side conversation going on in the Register that nobody is privy to except the members of the ad-hoc committee,” Ury said.

He also pointed out that the ad-hoc committee meetings have been held in secret.

“I have not had a single thing in three years at OCTA being done and handled this way, where there’s a select few people who know about it, and the media, and the rest of the board is in the dark,” Ury said.

At a meeting of the board’s executive committee held last Monday, Ury said he asked his colleagues to forward the report first to the board’s transit committee before it reaches the full board. That could be a reason the report won’t be on the agenda for the full board, he acknowledged.

Meanwhile, other members of the board’s ad-hoc committee – including Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait and La Habra Councilman Tim Shaw – reiterated their opposition to the streetcar project. Committee member Shawn Nelson, also a county supervisor, didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Tait said “without knowing anything else,” he “fully expects” the report to be on the upcoming board agenda, because “the issue and the findings of the committee are very clear.” He said the project doesn’t make sense because the ridership isn’t there for it and it would actually worsen traffic congestion on Katella Ave.

Shaw said as far as he knew the report would be on the meeting agenda but acknowledged that Transportation Authority staff and the board chair were still talking about it.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

  • Thor Swenson

    That photo of the Portland Streetcar passing Powell’s City of Books makes my heart warm. I love a weekend in downtown Portland and a rainy night browsing the shelves at Powell’s. But Anaheim is not Portland, and Disneyland will never be as cool as Powell’s.

    A streetcar down Katella will only send empty trains down a busy street, serving practically no one and costing the citizens hundreds of millions in lost taxes, but making for a hip photo for Anaheim’s city website.

    Anaheim already has ARTIC for their hip photos. That failure should be enough for one city for this century. If OCTA lets Anaheim build a Streetcar Named Disaster they should all be fired.

  • Cynthia Ward

    They pulled it. Not on the posted Agenda for Monday’s meeting.
    http://atb.octa.net/agendapdfsite/2036_SynopsisH.pdf

    OF COURSE Pringle leaked the Ad Hoc info to the media, hoping to scare the rest of the OCTA Board off. How many of the other elected officials could withstand the kind of gloves-off all-out ugliness leveled at Tait in the last election? They are all terrified of Disney money coming after them on the same level. There has to be enough backbone in the collection of OCTA Board members to put a stop to this nonsense, I believe that, maybe stupidly, but I do. Every month that this mutated monster remains alive and viable, is another INVOICE paid by the taxpayers of Orange County to Hill International. WHY ARE WE SHOVELING MONEY INTO THIS THING?

  • RyanCantor

    “It’s disturbing that lobbyists and vendors that can make tens of millions of dollars from this project see fit to lobby board members and scheme in private about how to get this project approved by the OCTA board and don’t care at all about the incredible unnecessary cost to Orange County taxpayers,” Lalloway said.

    DAMN STRAIGHT.

    Somebody put that on a freaking banner and hang it on Katella. This project is an embarrassment that siphons desperately needed transportation funds into an ill conceived project utilizing 100 year old technology that the v-a-s-t majority of county residents will never, ever, use.

    Our taxes should go to projects that actually benefit our commute, not some lobbyist’s pocket. That we’d spend nine figures to install obsolete technology that . . .

    1) No one will use
    2) Will make traffic worse
    3) Will likely kill people

    Is wrong. <– Put as much emphasis on that period as you'd like.

    • Steve W.

      I’m not sold on the street car project. There’s exaggeration on both sides. But it’s a wee hypocritical for Lalloway to blast private citizens for meeting privately when his ad hoc committee of public officials has not only barred the public from their meetings about a publicly-funded project, but even their fellow OCTA board members can’t get this secret report. Whatever happened to transparency?

      And I don’t know if there’s any basis to saying the streetcar “will likely kill people,” but can you name a fatality-free mode of transportation? 50,000 people die annually on America’s highways. Should we stop funding them?

      • RyanCantor

        Light rail, including street cars, has a significantly higher fatality per mile rate than any other form of ground transportation.

        If you’re interested on a local example, grade crossings for the Long Beach Blue Line have a long history. There’s plenty of information available on systems across the country online.

        In short, street cars are large, heavy, and take much longer to stop than comparable transit, i.e. buses. They also can’t avoid a collision by changing direction.

        So, when I say “likely to kill people”, I’m highlighting that putting one of these things at grade makes the road it travels on more hazardous for everyone than before it was constructed.

      • Cynthia Ward

        Sorry Steve W. but the gloom and doom, death and destruction portion of the streetcar is easily proven by other systems operating in mixed traffic.

        The streetcar option was dismissed in the first round of study back in 2009, as incompatible with mixed traffic. Not until they discovered how expensive the monorail would be, did they have to scramble to find something to replace their predetermined outcome (with the “study of options” being window dressing for the Feds) and went back to the trash heap, dusted off the discarded streetcar, and stuck it into the mix as the new “preferred alternative.”

        In doing so, the “experts” ignored the extreme dangers of running streetcars with not only cars, but pedestrians and bicyclists. Systems like the old Red Cars etc were dumped when passenger cars became more popular in post war development, because they don’t play well with each other! They hold up traffic when stopping to load and unload passengers. They hold up traffic when operating, period. They hold up traffic when they break down or are involved in an accident. And they get into WAY too many accidents with cars, because of of how long it takes to stop them (not at all like hitting the brakes on your car) nor can you swerve one to miss an obstacle. In nearly every case where old trolley lines ran, you now find BUS ROUTES on the SAME streets, often continuing the same schedule!

        The Alternatives Analysis dismissed the conflict of streetcars and pedestrians, claiming that the streetcar line does not intersect any routes dividing residential neighborhoods with schools, thus without school children crossing the lines the danger to pedestrians was insignificant. Uh….TOURISTS!! How can anyone even pretend with a straight face that a lack of school kids negates pedestrian traffic, in the one section of the City where we have more foot traffic than anywhere else, AND they tend to be hauling children and/or strollers, shifting backpacks, and distracted trying to figure out where they are headed, and often exhausted. Not goof to mix with a big lumbering vehicle that cannot swerve or stop easily.

        The Alternatives Analysis ignored the conflict between bicycles and the streetcar. This part is the BEST for willful ignorance. They provided maps (I will have to find the link and pages) but the maps show circles indicating the highest concentration of non-vehicle owning residents in the city, who either reported using a bicycle routinely or were assumed to. On another page they offered the same map, with circles pretty much identical to the first, but showing the highest concentration of residences for the Resort workforce. IGNORING COMPLETELY the connection of poverty wage Resort workers riding their bikes to work, with the streetcar tracks directly bisecting the pathways between the Resort workplace destination and the Ponderosa neighborhood circled as Resort workers AND bike riders, the City’s “experts” determined the bike riders were recreational, and are assumed heading for the RIVER TRAIL for EXERCISE, and thus would not be crossing the streetcar tracks and all is well!! No, I am no kidding.

        In cities with high concentrations of bike riders and streetcars (like Portland) the attorneys who specialize in bicycle/streetcar litigation actually sponsor the local bike clubs, and advertise in their newsletters! You don’t even need to be hit by a streetcar to be damaged, all it takes is dropping your bike tire into the track and you have instant face plant (broken jaws and dental work are high on the list of damages from bike/streetcar altercations.)

        YES, streetcars operating in mixed traffic hurt and sometimes kill people, that is proven, and while no transportation mode is completely safe today, you notice that Disney allows their patrons to enter their property operating motor vehicles, and they won’t let the streetcar anywhere near their precious property, even while Natalie Meeks tap dances around getting passengers to their destination of the main gates of Disney (previously using the property of an unsuspecting midwestern family that Disney and Meeks assumed wouldn’t put up a fight over losing their hotel for Disney’s benefit) Disney has absolutely REFUSED the OBVIOUS choice to put the final station ON DISNEY PROPERTY! There is a transportation plaza RIGHT THERE on Harbor where the shuttle busses drop off, why not put what some reports call “ARTIC WEST” right there where the shuttles and taxis pick up? It saves taxpayers the outrageous cost of a pedestrian bridge over Harbor Blvd (and the escalators/elevators for ADA compliance to get up to the pedestrian bridge over Harbor) but Disney will have none of it. WHY? Well they haven’t said, but the obvious answer is likely LIABILITY. Once it gets to their property they get named in the lawsuit when someone is hurt/killed. If it stops across the street, the taxpayers get to foot the bill for someone’s funeral, lost wages, etc.

      • David Zenger

        “I’m not sold on the street car project.”

        Why not? I mean, what could be better than taxpayers putting out $300,000,000 to get Disney’s customers to Disney’s product?

  • David Zenger

    “the various streetcar stakeholders…”

    Apart from PringleCorp clients, I can’t think of any.

    The rest of us are just seen as patsies.

    • Roy Reynolds

      That would be most of the audience in the back rows of the OCTA Board meetings — a great place for URS, PB and all the local engineering firms to congregate. But be careful not to slip on the drool.

      • David Zenger

        LOL, yes, we’ll need a mop and a bucket for clean up.

    • RyanCantor

      Beat me to it.

      There are no various streetcar stakeholders. It’s a line to take people from no where to Disneyland. 99.9% of Orange County residents will never, ever, ride it.

    • Cynthia Ward

      David wait-there is Pringle, obviously. But then there is DISNEY, the number one stakeholder. And there is Hill International, hauling in monthly invoices as long as this thing stays alive. The Platinum Triangle developers have something in the development agreements about transit obligations, I will have to go find it again, something that read like a shuttle. but I’ll bet they can get it waived if they participate in this streetcar scheme/scam. Gardenwalk hotel/shopping center expects to benefit from being on the line, like the small town counting on the Victorian era railroad to not bypass them. And of course the hotels immediately adjacent to where they put the pedestrian bridge across Harbor will clean up like gangbusters, even if nobody rides the streetcar it is supposed to serve! The only “stakeholders” not represented in this deal are the taxpaying suckers who get to fund it!

      • David Zenger

        They are all PringleCorp clients aren’t they?

        • Cynthia Ward

          Come to think of it…..

      • cynthia curran

        I think he had a good idea of redeveloping Anaheim but he goes about it the wrong way. By the way OCTA is pumping up bus service for Anaheim and Santa Ana and cutting out a lot in south county, What people don’t think is their low skilled factory jobs and restaurants in South County, so these folks will not have a way to get to work This is where I disagree with Tait, bus service can not be totally based upon supply and demand since their are poor people also in Huntington Beach and South County that need to get to work. They should comprise going some express and bus rapids in Anaheim and Santa Ana and leave reduce service in Huntington Beach and South County.