Tuesday, September 9, 2008

NewsLanc tells City Council: Let's have a public discussion regarding trolley cars

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, NewsLanc reporter Matt Henderson rose and expressed concern about the trolley car project.

Henderson said, "Our concern is that... these attempts to implement the streetcar system are taking place behind closed doors."

"We're of the opinion that, if you want to have a streetcar system, let's have a public presentation and a public discussion about the issue and not try to sort of put the cart before the horse and buy the trolley cars and try to get the funding all sort of behind closed doors without the public being involved," he continued.

He also noted in passing that Tuesday's New Era editorial expressing "additional reservations" about the streetcar proposal came "somewhat after the fact."

But NewsLanc has been through too much to believe that the trolley car proposal is dead here in Lancaster.

And City Councilman, Jose Urdaneta, who sits on the streetcar board, does not necessarily believe that the project is dead either. NewsLanc spoke with him following Tuesday's Council meeting.

"You know, I think that no one expected the funding right now... we know that this is a long-term process,"Urdaneta said.

It was reported in such a way [as if] we were sitting around crossing our fingers waiting to get it [federal funding] and it wasn't," he said.

What happened, reported Urdaneta, is that David Kilmer, the Executive Director of Red Rose Transit, who solicits grants on behalf of the streetcar company, merely told the group, "don't even bother right now" (Urdaneta's paraphrasing of Kilmer).

He went on to explain that the current political climate has turned hostile towards "earmarks" for projects like the streetcar proposal.

In response to concerns that action is happening behind closed doors, Urdaneta said,"It's not a unique thing of how things have happened before. For example, it was the same model with the Lancaster Community Safety Coalition, it's the same model with the baseball park... but I think especially because this one has a lot of controversy around it, I think that your points are well taken and I think the streetcar board should find more ways to be open to the public."

Urdaneta added, "And I think it works both ways, both for detractors and supporters of the project."

He went on to say that he believes that there is "broad support" for the trolley proposal.

Wherever that broad support lies, it doesn't include Lancaster City businesswoman April Koppenhaver. She rose and told City Council, Tuesday, that "whether the money comes from the federal level, the state level, or the local level, it is our money," that it is "agenda-driven and not a community-driven project" and that the trolley has a much higher potential to obstruct traffic as opposed to a bus.

In other business, Tuesday night, Mayor Gray reported to City Council that final demolition will begin this week to clear the Stockyards site of "all wood, tires, trash, vehicles and debris."

"Finally, after years of falling into disrepair, we anticipate that the site will be cleared within 5 to 6 weeks. Though still vacant, clearing of this site will address some significant public safety and public health concerns," Gray continued.

The Stockyard location has been floated in public discussions as a possible site for increased parking around the Lancaster Amtrak Station.