The interim chief of Marin and Sonoma counties’ passenger rail project said Wednesday that an that helps fund the system will not succeed.
Farhad Mansourian, who took over the controversial railroad district two months ago after executive director , said RepealSMART will fail because 70 percent of voters have said they want a commuter rail system through the two counties.
“It’s a waste of time,” said Mansourian, Marin County’s director of public works who is on loan to SMART until a permanent replacement for Hames is named later this month.
Mansourian predicted the RepealSMART organizers will be forced to create a special election if they succeed in getting more than 37,000 verified signatures to force a referendum and repeal Measure Q, a quarter-cent sales tax increase approved in the two counties to feed cash to SMART.
“A special election will cost over $1 million for taxpayers, so here they are saying SMART is wasting taxpayer dollars and all we need to do to prove it is for you to give us a million dollars. It’s like, ‘Don’t worry, this is good for you.’”
RepealSMART ‘s Clay Mitchell that his group would try to avoid a special election by waiting for the June 2012 general election. He said Mansourian’s estimate of $45 million in additional costs to get the rail line running between Santa Rosa and San Rafael is unacceptable.
Mansourian recently of revenue and expenses for SMART and said the revised total for the startup is $404 million, up from a $330 million figure presented in June. He shared his report with local media in what he said was an effort to show that the district is going to be more transparent with its finances in the future. He said every country, state, county and city is having financial difficultly in this economy, and SMART is no exception, but sharing up-to-date fiscal details with the constituency is critical.
“Unfortunately SMART has not done a good job educating, the public and we take responsibility for that,” he said. “But the board asked for a fresh look at everything, and that’s what I delivered. There’s sort of a new sheriff in town, so the transparency issue has changed. They wanted a fresh look with no politics and no hanky-panky.
“But still, when we’re honest and open our books, we get attacked. What is the message? That we shouldn’t open our books? Make up your mind.”
Mansourian said every public works project of this magnitude will have opponents, as did the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, BART or major highways. But SMART is moving into its second phase of construction and will continue to move forward, he said.
The conservative estimate is that SMART will generate 1,000 jobs in the area, Mansourian said. He said he has recommended to the board to continue receiving bids, seeking bonding, looking for new funds and pinpointing potential cost savings.
“(RepealSMART) wants to put us out of business, but we want to put people to work,” he said. “They want to win some sort of political challenge because they didn’t like the train from the start. We’re not going to put a halt to this project because 13 people don’t want it. If we stop, everybody loses because a half dozen people didn’t get their way 3 ½ years ago when it was put to a vote.”
As for the $45 million in increased costs, Mansourian said recalculations happen periodically through the construction process on all projects of this magnitude. Rail line opponent Mike Arnold, a Novato economist who has spoken before countless meetings of the SMART and Transportation Authority of Marin board meetings, that Mansourian’s new estimate of $404 million to get trains running is at least $43 million off.
“They think it’s like buying a bag of popcorn that’s listed at $1.10 and get upset when the price goes up,” Mansourian said. “It’s not like that with very large, very complicated public works projects. You calculate your costs, embark on phase one, recalculate, move to phase two, recalculate, and keep going. We’re doing this project in the biggest global financial crisis in the last half century, but even in this climate we’re being told, ‘It doesn’t matter. You said it would cost X amount, and if you don’t deliver it at that cost you’re breaking a promise.’
“That is beyond unfair.”
The next meeting of the SMART board is Aug. 17 in the San Rafael City Council Chambers.