Kansas City To Keep Planning Streetcar Expansion, Despite Vote To Stop City Involvement | KCUR

Kansas City To Keep Planning Streetcar Expansion, Despite Vote To Stop City Involvement

Jan 18, 2018

Kansas City, Missouri, officials will continue to be part of the planning process for a southern streetcar extension, despite a citywide vote prohibiting them from doing so. 

On Aug. 4, 2017, Kansas City residents passed an ordinance, brought to the city through an initiative petition, that prohibits city officials from moving forward with any streetcar extension without first gaining citywide voter approval. That included any planning or preparation for construction. 

The vote complicated a process that was already underway to extend the current streetcar south to UMKC. 

On Thursday, the city council amended the ordinance passed by voters over the summer, saying that it was not legally sound as it was passed. 

The council is allowed to amend or repeal ordinances brought by citizen petition within the first year of its adoption.

Prior to August's citywide vote, the city entered into contracts with the special taxing district or TDD, which is the main source of funding for the streetcar. By not participating in planning efforts for the extension, the city would be breaching those contracts. 

"We are constitutionally prohibited from doing that," Councilman Dan Fowler says. 

Fowler said apart from breaching contracts, there were other problems in the ordinance as it was passed by voters, such as vague language and a provision that penalized city officials $1000 per day for engaging in any planning for an expansion.

Under the revised measure, the city can still be involved in the planning of a new streetcar system or extension. 

The city is still prohibited from purchasing land for a new streetcar line and from constructing any addition, expansion, or new fixed-rail system without a citywide vote.

Council woman Heather Hall voted against the revised ordinance. She says it erodes voters' trust in their elected officials. 

"We live in a country where voters' voices need to be heard and if I go to the polls and I vote and you take my decision away, what's to say that you're not going to continue to do that," Hall says. 

Fowler, who initially opposed the measure for the same reasons as Hall, says the new measure allows the city to comply with the will of the voters. 

"The people want the ability to vote on future streetcar expansions, it's up to us to see that they get it," Fowler says. 

He says without the changes, a court would undoubtedly find the ordinance invalid and overturn it. 

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3 Follow her on Twitter @larodrig