The Class 1 Streetcars: A Unique Path to Funding Development

Photo of Charlotte Streetcar by John Smatlak.

Early this year, our newly elected governor of California Jerry Brown announced a tightened budget plan with significant spending cuts across the spectrum of state services. Of the $12 billion in proposed cuts, a massive $5 billion would be derived from the dissolution of California’s redevelopment agencies — all 425 of them [1] [2]. Though that money will be used to balance the state budget, fund schools, and boost the general funds of some cities and counties, many argue that redevelopment creates jobs and spawns numerous private projects, which in turn create multi-layered benefits for cities and communities [3].

Wherever one stands on the issue, there’s no question that our state government is going to have to make some tough choices in the near future. And some of those tough choices will directly affect San Diego. If the Jerry Brown plan to cut redevelopment goes forward as planned, San Diego County stands to lose over $400 million in funds [4]. That massive loss would only serve to further compound our city’s current budget deficit and fiscal problems, and perhaps lead to years of delays, causing underfunded projects to languish and many private investors to abandon related investments. Now, more than ever, San Diego’s leaders need to look for alternative forms of funding and investment capital in order to keep redevelopment on track and prevent economic stagnation.

Once again, we here at the San Diego Historic Streetcar Project would point to the Class 1 streetcars as part of the solution to this problem. If these San Diego Historic Landmarks return to any original route, including the route to Balboa Park, they will meet the final criteria for State and National Historic Landmark status. This opens the door to federal funding set aside specifically for the restoration and operation of historic transportation systems. These unique funds cannot be provided by any other transportation project in San Diego and the city would not need to pay them back.

It has been demonstrated in a number of cases that the development of public transit, particularly historic streetcars and light rail, leads to significant private investment and quality of life improvements in the surrounding community. One notable example is the streetcar line built in Charlotte, North Carolina that began operating in 2007. In just three short years the light rail system there exceeded it’s twenty year ridership predictions, had spurred $288.2 million in completed development projects, and led to an additional $522 million in projects that were under construction toward the end of last year— much to the delight of city officials. Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx remarked: “Other people should know that now is a heckuva good time to start a transit system. With historically low interest rates and construction prices still relatively depressed, you will get more for your dollar”. The amount of speculative investment surrounding the Charlotte streetcars is currently predicted to rise to $1.45 billion by 2013 [5].

Paired with the unique benefit of federal historic preservation funding, not to mention the benefits to tourism, a Class 1 streetcar line could help revitalize the city of San Diego at a particularly crucial time. With luck, our city might not even feel the crunch of the state redevelopment cuts, but instead enjoy an increased tax base and sustained, job-creating growth.

2 thoughts on “The Class 1 Streetcars: A Unique Path to Funding Development

  1. Where to put a streetcar is a tough problem. The infrastructure for cars is so well developed there’s not much room for anything else anymore.
    I would like to see rail connection to Balboa Park. Either 6th street or Park Bouilevard, depending on which could most easily afford to lose a traffic lane. Park Boulevard would probably be the most historically significant. Wasn’t that the original route for the Panama Exposition?
    An alternate would be to have a car running on the Silver Line circulator around downtown with the PCC cars.

  2. Claude–

    Agreed that the transportation infrastructure in San Diego presents both interesting challenges and numerous options simultaneously. We were thinking Park Boulevard to Balboa Park would be the way to go for Phase 1…. we’ll be talking about our thoughts on that in more detail soon, keep your eyes on the blog.

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