At the end of a frenetic few weeks of gathering signatures to halt the construction of a train connecting Marin and Sonoma counties, Repeal SMART organizers are set for a stressful Friday, when those signatures must be turned over in their effort to yank taxpayer money away from the commuter train system.
As contractors on the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit job get ready to put hardhats on and dig in, those against the passenger rail system face a 5 p.m. Friday deadline to turn in thousands of signatures of people who support a voter initiative to halt funding from a quarter-cent tax increase approved by voters in 2008 to fund the train.
How many thousands of John Hancocks are needed? Either 15,000 or 40,000, depending on who you ask and which piece of legislation one trusts.
How many thousands of autographs have been gathered?
"We're still tabulating. It's kind of stressful. We're very close," said Repeal SMART founder and treasurer John Parnell of Novato on Thursday night.
Gloria Colter, assistant registrar of voters for Sonoma County, said Thursday afternoon that the Repeal SMART campaign would have to turn in petition sheets in both Sonoma and Marin counties for signatures gathered in each county. Parnell said the final clipboards with signatures would be counted Friday by Repeal SMART and turned in to the registrar’s office whether or not they attain 15,000 signatures.
He said the repeal campaign organizer believe they need to turn more than the 15,000 minimum because some signatures will be ruled invalid by registrar workers.
"From what everybody said, you need 19,000 or 20,000 to be safe, and that 18,000 is just too close," Parnell said. "We're going to be close. I don't know. I'm just really proud of the volunteers who worked so hard."
Colter said it hasn't been decided how many petition signatures are needed. One of two formulas will be used — with the SMART board deciding which formula. The two formulas are: 5 percent of the number of voters (in both counties) in the last gubernatorial election; or 10 percent of registered voters (in both counties) in the last general election.
Parnell said he still can't believe that the SMART board, not the registrars or the secretary of state, will decide whether it's 15,000 signatures or 40,000 his group needs verified.
"That's not how it's supposed to be,” he said. “This is not what the initiative process is supposed to be like ... (The registrars) just punted the issue. They knew it might be litigated and didn't want to be involved, and that stopped them from doing their jobs. What's to stop anybody from doing that again?
"We're still waiting to hear back from the secretary of state,” he continued. “Even that office is dodging us. This is really a case of two Davids going up against a Goliath political machine. We have every union and every politician campaigning not to have an election, and I find that very hypocritical."
The .25 percent sales tax to pay for most of the SMART train was approved by a combined vote of 69.5 percent in the two counties in 2008, on the heels of a 2006 vote in which the 65.3 percent approval didn’t meet the two-thirds threshold required.
On Thursday afternoon, Toni Shroyer and Dinah Mattos, both of Novato, set up their symbolic ironing board and gathered signatures. Shroyer, who was stationed in Terra Linda on a cool evening, said she was inspired by Parnell and Repeal SMART CEO Clay Mitchell to join the fight against SMART. She said what is being built and what was promised to voters three years ago are just too different to let go.
“Like Mr. Parnell, I voted for Measure Q in 2008, but as Parnell states so eloquently, 'The SMART concept we passed in 2008 and the SMART reality today are two very different truths,'" Shroyer said. "If our local government does a bait-and-switch on the voters, be it the SMART train or widgets, the issue deserves to be put back on the ballot to have the voters decide if they want the current change or not. Our democracy needs to stay intact."
— Healdsburg Patch's Keri Brenner contributed to this report