Kansas City voters dealt a blow to streetcar expansion Tuesday, narrowly endorsing a measure that prohibits city participation in the project.
In unofficial final results, Kansas City residents voted 51 percent to 49 percent in support of a petition initiative from streetcar opponents. The vote was 17,344 to 16,492 in favor of reining in the city’s participation.
Voters south of the Missouri River would have allowed the expansion to go forward, but Northland voters gave the petition opposing expansion the edge.
The petition, Question 1 on the Kansas City ballot, prohibits Kansas City municipal government from planning or implementing any fixed rail transit system without citywide approval.
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KC has several elections this summer that could help determine the future of streetcar expansion.
In a separate ballot measure, Question 2, Kansas City voters rejected activist Clay Chastain’s latest rail transit proposal, 58 percent against and 42 percent in favor, in unofficial final results. The vote was 14,188 yes and 19,733 no.
“That hurts,” Chastain said by phone Tuesday night after voters rejected the plan. “It signals to me the end of my era of activism in trying to provide the people with a more green, prosperous and transit-oriented Kansas City.”
Tuesday’s citywide election comes just a few days after several thousand voters along the Main Street corridor in midtown approved formation of a special streetcar taxing district as the first step to streetcar expansion from downtown to the University of Missouri-Kansas City. That vote, certified last Friday, was 2,458 votes in favor of and 1,048 against the new district formation.
But Question 1 supporters believe streetcars are a big waste of money, and they didn’t want city funds spent on extending the streetcar past downtown. They also said any project of this magnitude deserved citywide consideration, and got their answer Tuesday night.
Question 1’s approval could certainly hinder progress for the midtown transportation district, because any streetcar expansion would require city participation, especially in the planning and possibly in the construction.
“I think it tells the city that you need to listen to the electorate,” said Sherry DeJanes, who helped lead the petition drive for Question 1. “Before you spend millions of dollars, you need to ask us if it’s something that we want.”
DeJanes said her group spent almost no money on Question 1’s low-profile campaign, so the result should be a wakeup call to Kansas City leaders about where the city stands on streetcar expansion.
The vote was a big disappointment to David Johnson, who has pushed hard for the midtown transportation development district. He said that is the part of town that has always wanted rail transit, and demonstrated in the election just last week that it is willing to set up its own taxing district to make expansion a reality.
It’s not certain that the city will follow the prohibition. The City Council still must consider whether the measure is legal or should be repealed or challenged in court, and a spokesman for Mayor Sly James said Tuesday night that he would await a ruling from the city’s Law Department.
One provision of Question 1 would impose a penalty of up to $1,000 per day for noncompliance. Some critics said penalizing city planners from planning makes the measure unconstitutional. But drafters of the provision said if that’s a legal problem, that provision could be removed from the ordinance.
The city’s Law Department has previously said Question 1 does have constitutional problems, but that any decision on a legal challenge would be premature before Tuesday’s election.
Question 2, Chastain’s plan, sought voter support for a three-eighths-cent sales tax increase for 25 years to help pay the costs of a rapid rail and electric bus system from Vivion Road in the Northland to the Kansas City Zoo.
Chastain lives in Bedford, Va., and is not registered to vote in Kansas City. But he has continued his petition gathering efforts, and this is his 10th Kansas City petition initiative in 20 years. All others failed at the ballot box except for one that was overturned by the City Council.