By Jim Tortolano/Garden Grove Journal
If you go way back …. back before Disneyland and suburban sprawl and freeways, downtown Santa Ana was the place to go for Orange Countians looking for shopping and entertainment.
Residents of Garden Grove, especially, a community with a small central business district, would spend much of their Saturday nights and holiday shopping time in the county seat, where there were several large department stores and theaters in that bustling downtown.
Past could again be prologue as Garden Grove and Santa Ana combine on a plan to help revitalize both cities by running a streetcar operation connecting the county’s second- and fourth-largest municipalities.
“I’m very excited about it,” said Matt Fertal, Garden Grove’s city manager. “It has great potential for both cities.”
What’s being studied by both cities is a plan to use a portion of the old Pacific Electric right-of-way now owned largely by the Orange County Transportation Authority to launch the first phase of a streetcar system similar to those now in use in Portland, Oregon and other cities.
“I’ve ridden the one in Portland and it is very nice,” said Fertal. “It’s very clean and modern and very popular.”
The line would “start” in Garden Grove at a new transit station on Harbor Boulevard (just north of Westminster Avenue, which becomes 17th Street when it crosses into Santa Ana). It would proceed along the right-of-way on a southeast course, past the Willowick Golf Course, which is located within Santa Ana city limits but owned by the City of Garden Grove.
The route would cross the Santa Ana River then connect with Santa Ana Boulevard traveling due east. The streetcars would follow a track in the roadway, and be powered by an overhead electric cable.
From there it’s onward to the downtown and civic center of the county seat, ending up at the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center, where riders could connect to a Metrolink or Amtrak train to San Diego or Los Angeles.
A study by the Southern California Association of Governments is examining using the same route for a light rail system, which would carry more passengers but be more expensive and likely face heavy political opposition.
The streetcar line would initially involve just two cities, but that could be just the start.
“Anaheim is considering its own transit plans,” said Fertal, which would link the Disney resort area to attractions such as Angel Stadium and Honda Center. If Anaheim and Garden Grove/Santa Ana proceeded with their plans, the two lines could be connected by adding a route along Harbor Boulevard, which could give the city’s plans for “International West” a boost.
The possibility of a streetcar system that could eventually allow riders to go from an Angel game to Main Place shopping mall isn’t the only boon that might come from the streetcars. The projected route’s proximity to Willowick could make development of that property more likely and lucrative.
“Historically, where there’s transit there’s development,” said Fertal. In the past, the Willowick site has been eyed as a possible location for an amusement park or the home field for a professional soccer team. The prospect of a streetcar line has – according to Fertal – brought the two cities closer to together.
“I think there’s a realization that we need each other,” he said.
The proposal has not been without controversy. A 2010 report by the Orange County Grand Jury criticized the way Santa Ana selected the firm — Cordoba Corp. – that will plan the project, citing concerns about political connections between some council members in that city and Cordoba. Santa Ana officials rejected the criticism.
Most of the funding for such a system would come from the federal Department of Transportation, with OCTA also contributing. If all goes according to schedule, construction on the line could start as early as May 2015, with the first riders stepping on board in the fall of 2017.