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The Case for a Lincoln Blvd Streetcar, Job Growth, and Public Pensions

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THE BOSTICK REPORT-If ever there were a case for building a streetcar, it would be to connect the Culver City Expo Station and the Santa Monica Expo Station. Essentially, this would be a line running westward down Venice Blvd from Culver City, through Mar Vista, and turning north at Lincoln as it cuts through Venice up to Santa Monica’s last Expo station near the intersection of Lincoln and Olympic Boulevards. 

Forget mapping that route out in your head. Just consider the idea from the perspective of creating a robust, user-friendly network of public transportation. While the Expo Line poses tremendous potential for fostering less car commuting between Santa Monica and downtown, the design of our burgeoning rail network failed to address the traffic needs of tourists visiting Venice Beach. 

Reports vary on the amount of revenue generated by tourism in Venice, but it’s been widely stated that our little beach here west of Lincoln receives almost as many visitors as Disneyland each year. Whether they come to see muscle beach, to immerse themselves in the skate – surf culture, to find a safe place to ‘be eclectic’, or because they saw Abbot Kinney Blvd. in GQ, tourism in Venice is a $400 million+ income stream. 

This is just the start. The Leisure and Hospitality industry has been a steady engine for job growth and increased sales tax receipts for California since the Great Recession began six years ago. In 2013 alone, this segment of our economy has produced 45,000 jobs statewide. 

Here in LA County, over 42 million people spent $18.4 billion on trips last year alone, a revenue stream sustaining 436,000+ jobs in hotels, restaurants, retail, and all of the other support sectors surrounding it. 

But the traffic. My god, the traffic. We are always blessed with a high level of dehumanizing traffic here on the Westside, but it’s compounded by all of these visitors playing in Southern California. It shouldn’t take an hour to drive the 1.2 miles from Lincoln to the Beach, but sometimes it does and then you have to find parking. 

Don’t think about this as a resident. Think about the tourists. That hour-long drive is filled with precious moments when we could be fleecing Italian tourists of all they have and hope to be. Like turning tables in a diner, we need to get those suckers good people in and out as fast as possible and with little disruption to our own lives. Get the next customer in, upsell them, and use the sales tax to bolster the city’s general fund. 

Now think about it as a resident. It’s bad enough that Westsiders have to compete with each other over parking just to avoid a ticket on supposed street sweeping days. Should we really have to jockey around drunken Iowans trying to navigate the walk streets in a rental car? Do we want the pollution of idling cars crawling west of Lincoln? Enter the streetcar. 

The common dogma is that streetcars aren’t just a fun way to get from one place to another; they’re an engine for economic development. They have long been touted as inciting a boom for small businesses districts focused on providing quality entertainment and food for riders. 

Champions for the streetcar fad point to the system in Portland, OR and a $95 million system that generated $778 in economic development. Cited as the model for other cities, the Portland streetcar is lionized as the throwback transportation system that provides the best value for its transportation dollar. 

That’s a good return on investment, but $95 million is still $95 million. We’re currently struggling with an upcoming ‘do or die’ debate on completing tax measures that will either fill potholes or expand our larger rail network. Where’s the money for this new project? Look back to the city for the answer. 

LACERS, Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System, commands an investment fund valued at $11.9 billion as of 2013. Leveraging our public retirement fund’s ability to wait for longer-term returns as a vehicle for financing public infrastructure and economic development investments via a $100 million streetcar line that connects the Expo Line to Venice and Santa Monica would do wonders for alleviating pollution and repairing the broken relationship between the city’s tax payers and our municipal unions. 

Creating a collaborative fiscal relationship between public employees and taxpayers in an effort to build tangible public assets is a win-win for everyone. It builds trust and community while fostering an environment for building our tax base off another existing public asset: tourism in Southern California. 

Beyond alleviating traffic, adding to the city’s general fund, and fostering better relationships between municipal employees and taxpayers, what else do you want from a Lincoln Streetcar? Beyond those positives, this investment would also position up and coming areas along Lincoln Blvd and in the Mar Vista community for strong job growth and economic development opportunities for local entrepreneurs attempting to entice riders to hop off for a quick bite or show.

 

(Odysseus Bostick is a Los Angeles teacher and former candidate for the Los Angeles City Council. He writes The Bostick Report for CityWatch.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 41

Pub: May 20, 2014