KC Streetcar

New KC petition would require a citywide vote for streetcar expansion

A group has filed petition signatures seeking to challenge KC streetcar expansion. The city attorney’s office will review the petitions for legality.
A group has filed petition signatures seeking to challenge KC streetcar expansion. The city attorney’s office will review the petitions for legality. File photo

A Kansas City group has filed petition signatures with the city clerk’s office seeking to require a citywide vote before any streetcar expansion can occur.

The city attorney’s office will review the petition to see if it’s legal and passes constitutional muster.

The petitions were turned in late Tuesday to the city clerk’s office and will be forwarded to election authorities to see if they meet the threshold of 1,708 valid signatures of registered voters to place a measure on a Kansas City ballot.

The petitions seek to “enact restrictions on requesting, implementing, advancing, furthering, funding or fostering any plan or study to construct any fixed rail transit system or to expand the existing fixed rail transit system” without first putting the matter to a citywide vote.

Kansas City attorney Sherry DeJanes, a member of the committee of petitioners and a streetcar critic, could not be reached for comment.

City Attorney Cecilia Abbott said a preliminary petition from the group was reviewed last summer by then-City Attorney Bill Geary, who made suggestions to make the petition wording legal. Abbott said she didn’t know if all those suggestions had been incorporated, so she would be reviewing the petition language to see if it’s constitutional. In the past, the city attorney’s office has cautioned against language that prohibits or interferes with transit plans or studies.

The petition appears to be aimed at stymieing a streetcar expansion election plan already authorized by the Jackson County Circuit Court. That proposal seeks to expand the existing downtown streetcar route 3.75 miles south on Main Street from Union Station to 51st and Brookside Boulevard, near the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Streetcar expansion advocates want to establish a streetcar taxing district in the vicinity of Main Street, and the first election, by mail, is scheduled to take place between May and July. But it would not be a citywide vote, and would only involve registered voters within the proposed streetcar district boundaries.

David Johnson, a spokesman for the streetcar expansion supporters, said Wednesday he wasn’t terribly concerned about this latest petition and didn’t think it would get very far.

But there’s another petition initiative that could confuse matters for voters. Longtime transit activist Clay Chastain, who failed to get voter approval for a massive light rail plan on the November ballot, is back with a new proposal for a $1 billion, 26-mile streetcar system that would require a citywide vote.

Chastain has collected sufficient signatures to put his latest plan before Kansas City voters. But the City Council still must review that plan to determine if it’s legal, and the council is unlikely to complete its review in time to meet the deadline to get a measure on the April ballot.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley