Streetcar Apparently Still a Possibility in Anaheim

Among the very first actions of Anaheim’s new city council majority this year was to, once and for all, put an end to plans for any sort of streetcar project in the city.

In a 6-1 vote on Jan. 11, the City Council passed a resolution that not only put the kibosh on the  controversial proposal for a 3.2-mile, $300 million streetcar project between the city’s transit hub and the its resort district, but also on plans for a streetcar down Harbor Boulevard.

But that won’t stop the Orange County Transportation Authority from discussing whether a streetcar should eventually be part of the transit solution for Harbor,  the county’s busiest bus corridor.

The study looks at both bus and light rail options along Harbor, which currently sees 8 percent of the county’s total bus ridership, to connect the Fullerton Transportation Center to the terminus for Santa Ana’s OC Streetcar at Westminster Avenue in Garden Grove.

Among the 413 people surveyed so far, respondents had a slight preference for a streetcar, rating it, on a scale of ten, 7.07 compared to 6.6 for rapid bus transit.

Disneyland was named as the most important destination along the stretch of Harbor between Fullerton and Santa Ana, followed by Downtown Anaheim and the Fullerton Transportation Center.

County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who is a Transportation Authority board member, questioned why the study includes discussion of a streetcar despite the unequivocal opposition expressed by the Anaheim City Council.

"We're just plugging along at OCTA as if it don't matter, and we're still studying the streetcar despite the fact that a major city in the corridor is absolutely against it," Spitzer said. "Why are we not reevaluating the study in light of the [council's] recent action?"

Although the OCTA board voted last year to pull funding for the Anaheim streetcar, known as the Anaheim Rapid Connection project, calling it a “solution in search of a problem,” they decided not to rule out the possibility of a streetcar altogether.

Transportation Authority CEO Darrell Johnson said Anaheim’s opposition to the streetcar is largely based on specific studies and assumptions related to plans for the 3.2-mile route that created so much controversy, and that this study would provide insight on a wider array of bus and streetcar options.

Johnson cautioned that although a streetcar is included in six of the 12 options considered in the study, officials are far from making any decisions on any new projects down Harbor Boulevard.

“This [study] looks at 48 months before you would even consider adopting or approving a project,” Johnson said. “We think their absolute statement is premature…for this corridor study.”

Absent from the conversation was Tait, who is also a Transportation Authority board member and has been among the board’s most vocal opponents of streetcar projects because of their cost.

Spitzer also questioned whether, in the case that Anaheim officials should refuse to cooperate with a streetcar project, the Transportation Authority would be able to use eminent domain to move forward with their project.

OCTA General Counsel James Donich said eminent domain would be a “very severe” option with “little likelihood for success.”

“It’s a hard hurdle to jump over and you have to show your need is greater than the other public agency’s need,” Donich said.

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, among the longest-serving members of the board, said he has seen elected officials change their views on projects as they develop.

“I’m not saying Anaheim is going to change their views, but they may,” said Pulido. “With information, businesses getting involved, I’ve seen people take a different perspective.”

With Santa Ana’s OC Streetcar project moving forward, which will start at the Santa Ana Regional Transit Center and end at Westminster Avenue in Garden Grove, officials hope to connect the OC Streetcar and transportation along Harbor Boulevard.

Part of why the Anaheim’s project was rejected by the Transportation Authority is the original route only focused on connecting Anaheim’s transit hub, known as ARTIC, to the Anaheim Resort.

Garden Grove Mayor Steve Jones noted that his city is likely to see a major increase in development in coming years, with new hotel and residential developments along Harbor Boulevard likely to create an increased demand for transportation.

“We have thousands of new hotel rooms in the works…and they’re actually going to happen, they’re not pipe dreams,” Jones said. “We’ve got to be forward thinking.”

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.