While We Were Away: the Train Kept On Rolling

Enjoy the one way trip to insolvency

The last substantive article to run on FFFF site before its almost four year hiatus was this little gem about the “College Connector Study”, a $300,000 study designed to convince the Fullerton City Council that a streetcar system in costing (in their estimate) $140 million was exactly what the City of Fullerton needed. Why? Well, because building the streetcar would encourage high density development all along the rail line, turning Fullerton from a two story bedroom community into a six story high density, high traffic eyesore.

And, just to be clear, that was the argument in favor of wasting $140+ million on the streetcar.

What, you thought I was kidding?

Based on that report, three members of the Fullerton City Council (Chaffee, Fitzgerald and Flory) voted to make a streetcar part of the City’s transportation plan.

For the next three years, progress on the streetcar has stalled, and a competing proposal in Anaheim (this one estimated at $325 million) was shot down by the City Council after a coalition of good government activists ousted the Chamber backed majority from power. Unfortunately (to borrow the tagline for the Friday the 13th Part VI poster), nothing this evil ever dies, and the Fullerton Trolley is back. And like all bad horror sequels, it’s even bigger and more elaborate than before, while making even less sense.

I present to you, the Orange County Centerline:

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay. Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare.

The Centerline (something which has been in various stages of development at OCTA for over a decade) incorporates the Fullerton plan, along with a proposed streetcar line through Santa Ana, and several other lines. The plan is to run the line all the way through Harbor Boulevard all the way up to the transportation center. This would probably explain why that streetcar has been popping up on the artist conception for the Fox Block (image above).

OCTA recently provided a presentation to the Fullerton City Council at Tuesday’s meeting, which can be found here . No mention of which government entity will pay for the project, but even if the OCTA picks up the entire tab, we will at a minimum be on the hook for the maintenance cost , just as Anaheim is with the ARTIC Wasteland. Anaheim taxpayers have been forced to dip into the general fund for every year of ARTIC’s operation, as the revenue generated ($1.6 million) is nowhere near enough to pay the operation ($3.9 million). But hey – the City of Anaheim was given a fancy trophy for agreeing to shoulder these expenses, so the tradeoff was totally worth it, in some people’s eyes.

The trophy is huge, gaudy, expensive, tacky, unnecessary and completely impractical. It’s the perfect metaphor.

The Streetcar/ trolley concept is an absolutely terrible idea for too many reasons to count. The cost is astronomical , the benefit miniscule, it will render the streets it is located on un-drivable (seriously, just picture trying to make it through Downtown Fullerton with that thing blocking traffic). Oh, and it will also further undermine bus service in the county, because the cost of running a streetcar line is substantially higher than rapid bus service.

So to sum up, the OCTA wants to take Orange County into the twenty first century by spending hundreds of millions of dollars developing a nineteenth century technology designed to service people who don’t need it, at the expense of the bus riders who do. Sadly, this is about par for the course for state and county government, minus the exceptionally high price tag. Lets give the Center Line project – and every other streetcar project proposed in Orange County – the quick, merciful death it deserves.

13 Replies to “While We Were Away: the Train Kept On Rolling”

  1. Fullerton has a backlog of $100,000,000 for local road repairs.

    This bonehead project will cost taxpayers $700,000,000.

    This is why we can’t have nice, errr . . . I mean barely adequate things.

  2. the Ozymandias Trolley, only city o Fullerton civic leaders could come up with this idea. Why not a bullet train-trolley just like the one not yet built but paid for by Californians?

    1. Whoa there partner — we know you’re being sarcastic, but the clowncil members may only hear “bullet streetcar” and get all goose-bumpy! Who wouldn’t want a bullet streetcar to take you from Santa Ana to Fullerton in MINUTES??

        1. But Main Street’s still all cracked and broken.
          Sorry, mom, the mob has spoken!

  3. Follow the money, guys. Streetcars are the current fad for the government trough feed crew because it turns a transportation project into a PUBLIC WORKS PROJECT, thus able to use eminent domain and such for the development. Take a good look at the line, see the changes proposed to the surrounding streetscape, and figure out who benefits?

    The Anaheim system was an excuse to use the power of government thuggery to take the private businesses of Resort property owners for the use of our famous neighbor, while letting the taxpayers pick up the tab for a pedestrian bridge the size of an interstate highway crossing Harbor Blvd, a shift from Disney paying for the bridge they had been planning, and entitled to build, (at another location) since the 1990s.

    I don’t know the players in Fullerton. Y’all need to take a good, hard look at the right of way and figure out who is getting their property taken, and/or who is getting taken to the cleaners.

    Oh yeah, and take a look at who is going to OPERATE it.

    Good luck, let me know how I can help. We did what we could to cut the middle out of that snake by removing Anaheim between Santa Ana and Fullerton but it looks like the powers that be will try again.

    1. I think the answer lies in the big campaign donors that Pringle can bundle for the benefit of people like Shawn Nelson and Andrew Do, not to mention all the greedy little fish in the pond. The donors will be folks like Turner Construction and Disneyville. Harbor is only the pretext to get that line over to ARTIC. I doubt if anything will ever reach Fullerton.

  4. That pic of Natalie Meeks scoring a planning award for her execution of ARTIC station is the embodiment of the disaster that government has become. Recognition is no longer about successful projects. The award was for successfully making a reality of a bad idea made by others. Now, I do get it. Staff should not be penalized for the decisions of elected leaders who order them to execute their bad choices. BUT…doing the job BY ALL MEANS NECESSARY should trigger some accountability. In this case, the poor choice of Anaheim’s establishment to build an “iconic” station where it is least convenient, and designed to impede one’s ability to board a train, was enabled by the deliberate actions of Meeks to grab ridership numbers from a High Speed Rail project unlikely to be completed, much less run to Anaheim, with ridership numbers repeatedly challenged for lack of credibility. Meeks did not simply adopt the numbers of make-believe riders projected to stop at Anaheim (someday) but instead went on record with OCTA staff grabbing the ridership for the ENTIRE project, which would include riders using only northern sections, without connection to Anaheim! Meeks’ email admitted that without that step the project would not qualify for funding. It is one thing to buffer staff’s stellar execution of their job from the poor policy decisions of elected leaders, but it is quite another when staff actively participates in the misdirection of funds with false claims to bolster the poor choices of elected leaders. That award should be engraved with a little plaque that says, “Sure the project was junk that drains your city coffers by millions, but you did a great job making it happen!”

    This is the kind of thing that needs to stop if we are ever going to clean up the way local government spends the resources we entrust to them (or forfeit by force.) Like Felz being protected by Hughes being protected by Council being protected by Felz and Hughes…the sick, symbiotic relationships must be unwound if we are ever to reclaim public service for actual public benefit. OK, done preaching to the choir, but that pic triggers me every stinking time. She cooks the books, scores an award, and we get stuck with the invoice, then retired with a hefty pension so we can’t even call her to account for her actions. (Rumor has it Meeks may run for City Council District 6, as she is a long time Anaheim Hills resident.) Y’all thought Anaheim was on the road to recovery, huh? Our new majority helps a great deal, but the systemic issues are so deeply embedded it will take more time than current leaders have left on their terms right now. Pray for us, dear northern neighbors. The difference between Anaheim and Fullerton is the size of the contractor invoices and lobbyist fees. But the game is the same, and I would love to see the taxpayers win a round now and then. Keep up the scrutiny of these insane projects.

      1. From what I hear, Meeks STILL has a direct line to Pringle’s office, although interestingly the rats are jumping off his sinking ship in record numbers. Anyone know what that is about? Suddenly, his “best people” are now sole proprietors.

        Sean, I have to check, it was two different phases and several different pots of money, some OCTA, some Anaheim Public Works, and some Fed. Plus they mixed in a bunch of HSR planning stuff that meeks put on Anaheim’s books, likely in the hope that HSR would reimburse Anaheim (what with the boss running BOTH entities at the time) and then Pringle left office i disgrace after being popped by the AG for incompatible offices, and there is NO WAY he could make HSR pay Anaheim back, especially not when other cities were stuck carrying their own costs for planning for HSR’s demolition of their own towns. Or maybe she was just OK with costs overrunning the budgeted funds and actual product delivered on the ARC Streetcar and ARTIC projects, and that had nothing to do with using the same companies to also plan for HSR.

        So the numbers get pretty murky. But I have the files. Want them? I don’t have room for them now, with the other Big Project on my plate.

  5. Thanks for the kind words, Cynthia. By the way, how much money did OCTA flush down the drain on consultant
    fees and studies for the Anaheim Streetcar?

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