Disclaimer: The comments in this blog are my personal opinion and may or may not reflect an adopted position of the city of Glendale and its city council.

On Tuesday, October 17, 2017 the city council will once again take up the issue of light rail in Glendale. The entire city council received the following email from former Councilmember Yvonne Knaack. I think it is a good starting point for discussion. Here is her email in full as it is a public record having been sent to the entire council:

“Dear Mayor and Councilmembers, Please keep the discussion going on the future of light rail in Glendale. We need more definitive projections of cost before a final decision is made. I would hope that your would consider the advancement of light rail to at least a transition point of say 52nd Ave so that the mile stretch from 43rd Ave to 51st Ave can have the potential of development that is needed to revitalize that area of town. I believe there are developers who are just waiting to see if we will have light rail before they commit to bringing investment dollars to Glendale. I have concerns, like many of you, about the cost and negatives of light rail but know that a lot of these concerns can be mitigated. Light rail is infrastructure and more and more people will be using public transportation in the future. The connectivity of our regional transportation system is critical. Glendale has paid in millions of dollars and we don’t want to lose that money. We can’t use it for anything else so let’s find a way to get light rail done. The residents of Glendale voted for the light rail and have paid the taxes to bring it to Glendale. Please don’t give our future transportation to Phoenix and the East Valley. Sincerely, Yvonne Knaack”

Ms. Knaack states, “We need more definitive projections of cost before a final decision is made.” As part of our council information packet preparatory to our Tuesday discussion, one of the items offered is Preliminary Cost Estimates GO Program Analysis.

Again, some history of the GO Program is required. In 2001 Glendale voters approved Proposition 402 levying a half-cent (.5%) sales tax for the sole and exclusive purpose of improving transportation systems in Glendale. The following year, 2002, the Citizens’ Transportation Oversight Commission (CTOC) was established to ensure that the sales tax collected from Proposition 402 was applied properly. CTOC’s mission is to review and recommend action to city council to make sure that the Long Range Transportation Program is always financially balanced, i.e., it spends no more than is collected in tax. Other transportation projects in the GO Program include, but are not limited to, the Northern Parkway Corridor, improvement to the 59th Avenue corridor, bus pullouts, pavement management, neighborhood traffic mitigation and existing transit (bus service) operations.

Back to the Cost Estimates. Below is the information provided by staff with regard to the use of GO Program funds. The only things sure in life are “death and taxes.” The information below is factual and is based upon the best estimates of staff.

The total of the Capital Cost is the major variable. Something could blow up to make this estimate even higher, especially if the end of the line were to be at 61st Avenue, crossing Grand Avenue. The breakdown of funding sources is not a variable:

  • Federal – 58%
  • Regional – 8% (is fixed at $72.6 million)
  • Glendale – 13%
  • Phoenix – 21%

Based upon the estimated costs Glendale’s share of Capital Costs varies from a low of $32.4 million if light rail ends at 43rd Avenue and Glendale Avenue to a high of $156.6 million if light rail ends at 61st Avenue and Glenn Drive. Glendale’s annual operating and maintenance costs range from $1.6 M (ending at 43rd Avenue) to $5.7 M (ending at 61st Avenue).

Another area to consider is the projected GO Program’s deficit if light rail ends anywhere between 55th and Glenn Drive and 61st and Glenn Drive. The projected deficit to be absorbed by the GO Program for  Glendale’s Capital Costs varies from $0.8 M to $50.8 M. Glendale’s annual O&M deficit, also funded by the GO Program, varies from $0.4 M to $2.8 M (again dependent on where the line ends). The problem is those deficits have to be made up from somewhere and the only source would be Glendale’s General Fund.

The most significant questions become obvious. If light rail’s O&M and Capital Costs cannot be covered by the GO Program then it must take revenue from the General Fund. The General Fund pays for everything within the city from employee pay to funding such departments as Police and Fire or Parks and Recreation (our recreation programs and libraries). Even if bonding were to be used the repayment for those bonds comes from the General Fund. The question becomes are you willing to allocate less available money to various departments and needs within our city in order to cover the Capital Cost of constructing light rail as well as its annual O&M expenses?

Another equally valid question is that if there are no future surplus funds in the Go Program due to light rail funding of Capital Costs and O&M Costs are you willing to have less GO revenue for its other mandates, such as pavement management or the bus system?

There is yet another issue to consider. The Regional funding of $72.6 M is not assured. Since the regional funding sunsets in about 8 years, there is no assurance that voters will renew this funding source when it comes time to vote upon it. Therefore Valley Metro has announced to all participants that they must pay the regional share of $72.6 M up front and the participants will be reimbursed for that amount if and when the regional funding is again approved by voters. There is always the possibility that in paying the Regional funding Glendale may never be reimbursed for $72.6 M if the renewal funding fails at the ballot box. Will Glendale lose the $72.6 in regional funding if it does not participate in light rail, as Ms. Knaack suggests? Most likely, yes. But in order to get that $72.6 in regional funding are you willing to take the chance that Glendale will be reimbursed? Are you willing to use General Fund dollars at the detriment of other city departments and needs just to get that $72.6 million?

Former Councilmember Knaack goes on to say, “I believe there are developers who are just waiting to see if we will have light rail before they commit to bringing investment dollars to Glendale.” Let’s talk about those investment dollars. According to an Excel presentation on current development to-date adjacent to and surrounding existent light rail provided by Valley Metro to me several months ago, anywhere from an estimated 3% to 30% of the investment that occurs along a light rail route is public money (governmental funding). In addition it is quite likely that the incentive funding provided by the city to attract private development would have, once again, to compete with other General Fund priorities. Question: Do you want to divert General Funds to incentivize development along a light rail line?

What kind of investment is typical along a light rail line? Once again, based on information provided by Valley Metro, secondary development tends to be the double digit percentage addition of multi-family (apartments) and the decline of retail (percentage is variable from single digit decline to double digit decline). Question, are you willing to trade downtown retail locations for apartments?

I think these questions are important and I want to give you an opportunity to weigh in so I am putting up a new poll to the left of this column. I hope you will take the time to answer the poll questions.

Lastly, is the issue of technological advancement. New technology is being developed exponentially. I have no crystal ball but what future technological advances will make light rail and bus service obsolete? And how quickly can it happen? As an example, we are already beginning to see prototypes of flying commuter cars. What does the technological future hold in terms of mass transit vehicles, their capacities and their fuel sources? Should we consider this issue when deciding whether to develop light rail right now?

My final comment is this: former Councilmember Knaack obviously supports light rail but it will not affect her business located on Glendale Avenue because the proposed route runs one block to the north on Glenn Drive. My final question is would she still be supportive of light rail if it were proposed for Glendale Avenue and meant disruption of her business for a year…or two…or three? I think not. It is one thing to support an issue that doesn’t directly impact your bottom line but it is distinctly another when it affects your very livelihood.  

© Joyce Clark, 2017                 


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