Anaheim Approves More Money for Streetcar Study

The Anaheim City Council this week approved spending $1.3 million to study alternative routes for its planned streetcar system, a move that could save a family owned hotel, restaurant and ice cream shop from being knocked down by the city.

In 1962, Sicilian immigrant Carmen E. Scalzo built the Park Vue Inn on Harbor Blvd., located just across the street from Disneyland. To make way for the streetcar, city officials were planning to demolish the hotel and an adjacent IHOP restaurant.

But Scalzo’s grandson Paul Durand fought to save his family business, and now city officials are willing to study two possible alternative routes. One route would take a different property on Harbor Blvd., and the other would avoid taking private property by traveling down Disney Way.

What other properties might be on the chopping block isn’t yet clear. Public Works Director Natalie Meeks said officials won’t know until they conduct further study.

The Disney Way alternative would be much cheaper. The $318-million price-tag for the 3.2-mile streetcar system, which on a per-mile basis could be the most expensive in U.S. history, is so high partly because of the need to acquire the hotel and restaurant.

But it could also prove unfeasible. Prior studies for a scrapped monorail system showed that the Disney Way route’s ridership numbers would drop heavily because it doesn’t take riders directly to Disneyland’s main gate, city officials had said last year.

The vote to approve a contract amendment with Philadelphia-based Hill International was 3-2, with council members Kris Murray, Jordan Brandman and Lucille Kring voting yes. Mayor Tom Tait and Councilman James Vanderbilt voted against the agreement.

Tait has long opposed the streetcar, arguing that it is “wildly expensive” and would worsen traffic congestion along Katella Ave. He says taking the money and investing in a robust public bus system would do much more to help poor residents who can’t afford cars and rely on buses to get around.

Tait also said that an Anaheim Resort Transit bus route – which travels between the city’s train station and Disneyland and is similar to the streetcar route – sees as few as 24 people a day.

To spend more money on a “system that I don’t believe will ever be built, and shouldn’t be built, I don’t believe makes any sense,” Tait said.

Vanderbilt wasn’t against further study, but voted against the amendment because of a provision in the contract that promises $6.9 million to Hill International for a preliminary engineering phase that would come after the current environmental work is completed.

Vanderbilt questioned whether Hill International would be “unbiased” in its study, the findings of which are crucial to move the project forward, if it’s already promised money for the next phase.

Meeks said the streetcar system would help get cars off the road because people are looking for a “last-mile” connection to the train station. That’s the problem officials are trying to solve with the streetcar, she said.

“It’s about taking cars off the freeway, it’s about reducing those longer trips, and really reducing congestion on a regional basis,” Meeks said.

Councilwoman Lucille Kring argued that not spending the additional money would mean the previous money spent on studying light rail systems for Anaheim – almost $9 million – would have been wasted.

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