Repeal SMART Falls Short by 320 Votes

The volunteers seeking to cut taxpayer dollars to a passenger train system in Marin and Sonoma county needed at least 14,902 signatures to get registrars to start verifying them. They got 14,582.

The Repeal SMART voter initiative is dead, at least for now.

The Marin County Registrar of Voters brought in extra help Monday to count signatures on petitions that could force a voter referendum to repeal tax dollars for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system in Marin and Sonoma Counties. At about 11:15 a.m., the announced total was 9,111 votes gathered in Marin. Added to the 5,471 gathered in Sonoma County last week, the total was 14,582, or 320 short of the 14,902 necessary to at least start the verification process.

John Parnell of Novato, co-founder and treasurer of the Repeal SMART campaign, said that had he been more experienced in the political process, the petition process might have gone better. 

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Parnell said. “... If I had been a bit better a petition management — that’s the most depressing part — we only worked this over two months and we know we could have gotten the number."

Parnell said he would go back to the Repeal SMART volunteers and supporters to determine the next steps.

“I talked to my 4-year-old daughter and she knows what the word ‘fail’ means, now,” Parnell said. “It’s when you don’t do what you tried to do.”

When he arrived Monday, Parnell verified the seals on the boxes of petitions before they could be opened to begin the count at the elections office. Several questions came up shortly thereafter from the workers recruited by County Registrar Elaine Ginnold, such as whether a signature would count if the address was scratched out or not included. The intitial answer was yes, but during the verification process it would be thrown out.

Administrative Services Manager Nina West represented SMART, which aims to build a commuter train system between Santa Rosa and San Rafael using mostly taxpayer money from Marin and Sonoma Counties. Eventually, once more funds are secured, the train system would run from Cloverdale to Larkspur and have a pedestrian/bike path next to the tracks. SMART, overseen by General Manager Farhad Mansourian, recently awarded contracts of more than $103 million for construction of the system, pushing the total contracts awarded to more than $200 million.

Parnell joked with West on Monday morning, saying "Farhad didn't want to come?" She replied that he was not available.

In most referendum efforts, initiative organizers turn in many thousands of signatures more than that are required to compensate for a percentage of unverified signatures.

In the initial review of the petition booklets, Parnell explained to Ginnold some of the problems. “Some people skipped pages, some people started from the back of the booklet,” Parnell said.

Barbara Stout, another Repeal SMART campaign volunteer who came to observe the count, added, “They did all kinds of interesting things.”

Those interesting things included tearing out pages without signatures or submitting only the signed pages instead of the complete booklet.

The SMART board of managers were to determine how many verified signatures were needed to have them vote on placing a voter referendum on the ballot in the two counties. Repeal SMART has maintained that the minimum number of verified signatures would be about 15,000, but Mansourian has said legislation shows it would need to be closer to 40,000.

The Sonoma county registrars office said Thursday that one of two formulas would be used — five percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election (roughly 15,000); or 10 percent of registered voters in the last general election (roughly 40,000). The SMART board would have determined that figure at an upcoming meeting, but that won't happen now that the minimum has not been reached.

“It’s disappointing that we had so many obstacles in the way of the process,” Parnell said of the shifting requirement.

Robert J. Cleek January 31, 2012 at 04:40 AM
At least this quarter cent sales tax buys us something we can see and maybe even use. Just how much has been spent on Bush's Middle Eastern folly and what have we got to show for that? How much did Cheney and his buddies at Halliburton make on it all. Talk about "shock and awe!" If you want to snivel about the government wasting our money, start with the big bucks first.
Walter Kopp January 31, 2012 at 04:58 AM
Excuse me.... I take offense to your comments. I am not delusional and I am not a lemming. I care about where I live and want to invest in infrastructure that will add value to our community and provide a valuable service for many years. I wish we could have a rational and thoughtful discussion of the issues without name calling and put downs. I respect your opinion and your right to have it and I except you to do the same for me and have a civil discussion.
Ken Conroy January 31, 2012 at 06:09 AM
Walter - I especially agree with your comment "I care about where I live and want to invest in infrastructure that will add value to our community and provide a valuable service for many years". SMART's impact at the onset is going to be marginal but this will benefit our kids and generations to come. We can’t just continue to rely on highway 101 and our cars as our only mode of transportation for north/south travel. The financial figures provided in 2008 obviously turned out to be wrong and I find this disturbing but not to the level where we should pull the plug. I still view SMART as a good value and bang for buck.
Clay Mitchell January 31, 2012 at 07:48 AM
Mr. Cleek- I don't know where you get your information, but it simply isn't accurate. The major factor in the financial shortfall is the cost overruns, with the lower tax revenue running a distant second. While things are looking up (in other words, the cost overruns are being mitigated to some extent), the real issue is that in this down economy, the costs should have been LOWER. Lower interest rates, lower construction costs (labor), lower real estate acquisition costs.... and yet the project is still substantially over budget. These cost reductions due to the slow economy should have mitigated the lower sales tax revenue- and the recent reductions on bids is not substantial enough to reflect this. And while I would agree with you that the SMART Board may not have known how bad the economy would get, they had hired experts to make financial projections. Those projections included a straight line 4% increase in sales tax revenue over the life of the sales tax- seriously optimistic for two slow growth counties, and no margin for error or slowing. And there were signs of an economic downturn- the real estate bubble burst in 2006, Lehman Brothers imploded 2 months prior to the election in 2008- so while it may not be fair to say they should have known how bad things would get, but their projections were too optimistic for the conditions.
Steve B January 31, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Choo-choo!!! Yea!
Goofpod January 31, 2012 at 05:09 PM
30 years on 101, three generations. Build the train!
Stinky January 31, 2012 at 06:03 PM
I hear the train a comin'!
P C January 31, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Is that Jean Luc Picard in the picture on the right? I remember him in Star Trek the Next generation.
Rico February 01, 2012 at 01:55 AM
It is interesting to read an article in the Press Democrat today that reported the repeal effort gathered 5471 signatures in Sonoma county and 9111 in Marin county. Sonoma county has around 450,000 population and Marin has under 300,000, and it was the inclusion of Marin county in this questionable newly created special train tax district that SMART was able to collect taxes from Marin to pay for their projects that really only serve Sonoma county. It was Sonoma county's overwhelming approval that forced Marin to contribute to the SMART welfare train program. Now it seems from the count of citizens of both counties, that the good people of Marin are not as happy with this sweet tax deal as Sonoma county's citizens were, and for good reason. It's true, SMART won't benefit anyone in Marin ever, not even Novato commuters, but it is also true that voters in Stinson Beach were 79 percent in favor of measure Q. Stinson Beach is a community that has never had any trains, and some of the population commutes "over the hill" to work, but they, their children and grandchildren will never see, hear, ride or smell the old diesel commuter trains. Let's face it, the people that voted yes on Q in southern and west Marin did not vote for SMART because of need or want, they voted for it because they got fooled by the propaganda campaign into thinking this was the "green" , "smart" and right thing to do. Actually many of them don't know or care about Sonoma commuters or trains.
Rico February 01, 2012 at 02:07 AM
The people of southern and west Marin county voted for SMART because they felt sorry for poor old Sonoma county, and just wanted to help out the starving politicians and developers up in the north bay with some generous donations to their corporate welfare fund, share the wealth. But now it seems that more of those people are having serious second thoughts. What we find funny is this whole SMART train thing is all about perpetuating the long commute and building more train oriented apartments in Novato and Sonoma county, for future generations. But who knows if future generations will still embrace the commuting life ? I see a lot of unhappy posts from commuters, trains or no trains, and people might change their ways in the future.
Robert J. Cleek February 01, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Stinson Beach's population is all of 632 souls. Marin has a population of 252,409 and 148,273 registered voters (2010 figures). About 59% of Marin's population is registered to vote. A good guess, then, would be that 59% of Stinson Beach's population is registered to vote, or 373 people. Voter turnout in Marin in a good election runs about 80%. Assuming 80% turnout of Stinson Beach voters would yield about 298 votes cast from Stinson Beach. If 79% of those voted for SMART, that would be 236 votes. Hardly enough to make much of a difference to a "super majority" election outcome!
Edwin Drake February 01, 2012 at 03:19 AM
The SMART train is a boondoggle no less than the east span of the Bay Bridge. Those "in the know" know that the existing span could have been retrofit and made earthquake safe for no more than, maybe, $1billion to $2billion dollars. Instead, politicians and "staff" decided it was job security and good photo-ops required them to build a new span costing upwards of $6billion. Likewise, SMART is an expensive solution to a cheap problem, i.e. getting commuters from north Sonoma County to points south. But I guess the greenheads love this expensive overkill. After all, they're willing to pay almost any price for an electric car. How many Prius' would SMART buy? One other thing, popularity is NO indication of quality nor appropriateness. Witness the billions and billions of McDonald's served. Because it "won the vote" does that make it the best burger, however you dress it? Likewise SMART. I say it's time to petition again .... once is NOT enough.
Bill McGee February 01, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Ricardo - good to see we can count on you for a slightly different viewpoint but you have really outdone yourself here. The reason for the discrepency in the number of signatures in each county is simply because the recall effor was better organized in Marin. I take my hat off to John Parnell for the effort. I don't think people really appreciate how difficult it is to collect 15,000 signatures for anything. He did not have labor unions or any other special interest group backing him. He ultimately came up with money to pay workers to collect signatures which helped him get as close as he did. The numbers collected reflect the number of people he had posted in each county since the people did not come to him.
Lawrence Labranche February 01, 2012 at 03:37 AM
"but they, their children and grandchildren will never see, hear, ride or smell the old diesel commuter trains. " The old commuter trains were steam, or electric, not diesel in Marin.
Bill McGee February 01, 2012 at 03:41 AM
Wow Ricardo, you might want to twist em a little thinner there buddy. The canabis these days is a lot more potent than the stuff we used to smoke in our younger days.
Edwin Drake February 01, 2012 at 03:50 AM
Just curious: How many of you pro-SMART people would still be in favor of it without a bike path?
Bill McGee February 01, 2012 at 04:03 AM
Edwin, I voted for it because of the train alone; however I support the bike path. I am not a cyclist but I believe the bike path is a good value for our dollar and will be utilized for many generations and be an important public asset. Adding the bike path was an important political maneuver to secure additional votes but is also a win-win because of the number or people who will benefit. Thankfully most progressive thinking people seem to vote for the good of the greater, and not just on the grounds of personal benefit or sacrifice. I acknowledge that certain cynics here will have a hard time with that concept.
Roger February 01, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Peak-A-Punch, I agree the San Marin station should be moved to downtown Novato. A station further north was recently moved to a spot closer to more homes. Downtown Novato needs a boost of foot traffic. There are lots of unsold condos above Whole Goods.
Kevin Moore February 01, 2012 at 03:45 PM
SMART's own papers will tell you that carpooling is faster than taking the train.
Kevin Moore February 01, 2012 at 03:50 PM
The bike path is good, but it limits the potential of the SMART train. If SMART ever reached the saturation point, would they want the bike lane back? SMART will be 17% double track, 83% single track.
Kevin Moore February 01, 2012 at 03:58 PM
The east span of the Bay Bridge is a tribute to vanity. After years of debating how to replace the span, they finally decided on a single tall tower. I can't help but think it will shake like a fishing pole in a big quake. 20 years later, it is still not complete. The next tribute will be the replacement to the "Dirty Harry" bridge in Larkspur. There already is a pedestrian bridge across Sir Francis Drake, but bicycle riders don't want to ride 1/2 block out of their way to use a bridge or crosswalk. There was a meeting to discuss which of 4 bridges to choose from. I couldn't attend, nor could I see any cost estimates for each of the 4 styles. A direct crossing bridge will be good for a handful of bicycle riders. If anyone was going from a SMART station to the ferry, they would have to cross the busy entrance to the parking lot. Most would use the existing pedestrian bridge.
Kevin Moore February 01, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Clay If you look at the 2008 sales tax figures, they took the growth over 20 years and divided by 20, then rounded down to 4%. Very simplistic. They did not take into account the population of Sonoma grew by 50% from 1988 to 2000, then was nearly flat from 2001 to 2008. More people = more sales tax revenue. Population growth slowed. 3% for sales tax increases would have been a better number looking at 2000 to 2007, then projecting forward. Then look at their revised 2009 estimates. To offset the negative growth for a few years, they are projecting growth in the upper 4% to 6% range. Most years are above the conservative 4%. This conveniently makes their $845 million dollar projection. The projections for sales tax revenue. Page 12 http://www2.sonomamarintrain.org/userfiles/file/Funding%20Plan%20-%2007-15-08%20Final%20Version.pdf 2009 updates to the tax revenue page 6 http://www2.sonomamarintrain.org/userfiles/file/Strategic%20Plan%20Final%20%2006-17-09.pdf If you think the population in Marin and Sonoma will increase with SMART, Google "2009 sonoma water rationing" and "Marin desalination plant". We don't have the water resources for a major population expansion.
Rico February 01, 2012 at 04:12 PM
What happened to the Millworks is happening all over the bay area. Mixed use condo/apartment projects built over retail stores are very unpopular and have been for the last 10 years. Nobody wants to take out a 30 year loan to live in a building built in noisy downtown or transportation corridors next to freeways and train lines. Especially since the tenants will never own the building or the grounds, and have a thick book of restrictions and bylaws that are mandatory. That is what is being pushed by ABAG and SMART. In Windsor they built a bunch of "transportation apartments" and a train station 3 years ago. Multiple projects went belly up, and the ones left have very few tenants, and no chance of a train in sight. The concept is good for young people starting out, build housing near where the jobs are so people who are not self employed can ride a bicycle to work, like Google is doing in East Palo Alto. But to build this kind of development where most every tenant must spend half of their waking life sitting in cars, buses and possibly trains just to commute to some far away destination for work makes no sense. The developers, former redevelopment agencies, ABAG, SMART and all the high paid politicians are focused on perpetuating the long commute.It's good for the economy, sells a lot of diesel fuel and gasoline, creates tax revenue, encourages urban sprawl and promotes more retail growth. But the plan has already failed, and SMART insists on continuing.
Likes Facts February 01, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Actually, Millworks' (fairly high priced) apartments are 100% leased. The reason they decided not to sell them as condos (at least for now) was simply because they came on the market at the exact time that the market for condos collapsed (and banks came up with much more stringent loan requirements for condos' because of the overall foreclosure mess.) A lot of the tenants are well-to-do empty nesters who love the security and being able to walk to amenities.
Kevin Moore February 01, 2012 at 05:35 PM
It looks like the Millworks has 4 open units out of 124 total. All units are in the $1900 to 3000 range. I'd call that a success. Maybe the city of Novato should put stores under their new office buildings. Or apartments above them. http://www.millworksnovato.com/novato-navato/millworks
Bill McGee February 01, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Well Bud Light - you offer no facts of your own, and I know that what is reported about the Milllworks above by Like Facts and Kevin Moore to be absolutely correct. Sorry that the truth does not fit the scenario that you and Ricardo Charcucci wish were true. Sorry that your consipiracy theories do not fit with the truth. Its a train, build it.
bruce mallon February 01, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Glad we didn't have referendums when the Golden Gate Bridge was built. We'd be waiting for ferry boats each day to go to work in San Francisco or drive around hwy 37, down '80 to the bottom of the Bay. Wouldn't that be special. Get a grip gripers, you'll be sending your young'ns on the train when your too busy complaining about something else.
Michael February 01, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Oh how true about that bay bridge. And when it is completed 'they' will want to name it after and pay tribute to some career politician. It should be named after the taxpayers of California. Why we allow these bureaucrats to honor themselves for spending taxpayer money is very puzzling. Next up... let's name the smart (oxymoron name) for Mansourian. After all isn't he the one that will be spending the majority of the taxpayer's money on this project? And just like the repeated attempts to get this boondoggle approved i say we continue relentlessly to get it repealed. Perhaps, just perhaps, more people will realize how expensive this will be. Remember there is No clear funding mechanism in place to pay for this ongoing. But hey let's just put an extra tax on that double latte and perhaps that would fund it. We live in strange times.
John Ferguson February 01, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Hey - I resemble that remark.. I take the ferry to San Francisco almost every working day and I love it. Sure beats sitting in traffic, like I do when I take the bus..
Rose February 03, 2012 at 03:05 PM
The November 6, 2010 SMART workshop package quotes the building cost at 695 million dollars with annual operating expense at 26.8 million dollars. SMART expects daily ridership of 2,860 by 2015. Assuming the riders make round trips, this results in a mere 2.7 tenths of a percent (.27%) of Sonoma County's estimated population. Add in Marin County's residents and the ridership falls to 1.9 tenths of a percent (.19%) Assuming the project would eventually pay for itself in 50 years and adding annual estimated maintenance costs, fares for riding would run $38.99 one way, or $77.98 round trip. This translates to $389.88 weekly and nearly $1560.00 monthly. It seems to me the potential SMART riders would be better off pooling together their cash for limousine service. I voted for the SMART rail in 2008 thinking, "Well, other people might want to ride the train." I now have voter's remorse. Today I would vote to repeal SMART.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »