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Repeal SMART Effort Down to the Wire

Organizers hoping to pull away tax money from a commuter train system say they're close to the number of signatures needed, but they know they need several thousand more with less than a day to go.

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

Bill McGee January 28, 2012 at 05:25 AM
Barbi - the traffic studies and ridership projections show that the ridership projections to Larkspur, when it is extended, will be very low. This is why Larkspur was one of the first stations to be axed and pushed to phase two. I agree and feel strongly that SMART needs to eventually extend to Larkspur, but the impact of pushing this leg to phase two will be minimal. I would not expect anyone to make that transfer. SMART is designed to service commuters between Sonoma and Marin as its primary purpose. The percentage of commute traffic on 101 going all the way to SF is much lower that people assume. I do not know the traffic count, but as a daily driver on 101, it is clear that the percentage of drivers going all the way to the city is low, and the backups are almost always north of San Rafael.
Edwin Drake January 28, 2012 at 05:28 AM
And, for you know-nothing know-it-alls, San Marin station was able to be reinstated after Rohnert Park moved their station into a denser location, thus raising residence density average along the line. A little birdy told me ....
Bill McGee January 28, 2012 at 05:46 AM
I disagree Baxter with your statement about reducing greenhouse gasses being the main goal of SMART. I voted for SMART (along with about 70% of the voters) and I view the purpose of SMART is to provide a good transportation alternative to highway 101. It does take cars off the highway, and in this case it provides the ONLY north-south alternative to highway 101. I believe SMART will be an asset to the folks in Marin and Sonoma in the long run and our children and grandchildren will be most thankful.
Bob Ratto January 28, 2012 at 05:51 AM
Oh wow, truth...late in the day, but real truth...thank you Edwin, for pointing out the obvious-tomorrow we shall have a lesson on density, because some seem to not have a clue or are in denial, or are just morons...
Bill McGee January 28, 2012 at 05:53 AM
I agree that trains will not replace cars, and I agree that we are likely to always rely on the flexibility and freedom that cars provide. I hapen to strongly believe that we need an north-south alternative to highway 101 and that SMART is a good plan for the job. SMART is a wise investment for the future and while a lot of money, it is actually a great value. Unlike many new rail lines, we already own the land so the cost per mile is much lower than comparable costs for rail (not to mention new highways).
Bill McGee January 28, 2012 at 05:57 AM
By the way, car users do not pay ALL the costs. The cost to build and maintain roads and highways are enormous and our gas tax does not come close to footing the bill.
Edwin Drake January 28, 2012 at 06:01 AM
Hey JReed - I'm a deep green, working poor, radical marxist and I'm against SMART for taxing me regressively for a service I'll never be able to use. I want buses, lots and lots and lots of buses that are ready to go, route changeable, infrastructure ready, clean, and comfortable.
Edwin Drake January 28, 2012 at 06:08 AM
Just curious: have any studies been done on track liquification when the earth shakes and quakes? I haven't seen any but know that 101 is doomed for failure in THE BIG ONE and I can't imagine SMART is otherwise. Comments?
Bill McGee January 28, 2012 at 06:09 AM
Toni, it is already built. The claim that SMART is going to increase new construction is an argument put forth by the anti-SMART crowd, but has no merit....because the guidelines for housing units near stations have already been met.
Eleanor Sluis January 28, 2012 at 06:26 AM
I thank Toni Shroyer, John Parnell, Clay Mitchell Mike Arnold, Dinah Matos, and all the others who have worked hard to petition for another vote on the transportation taxes and the mandates from ABAG/MTC to change Marin from becoming just like the South and East Bay. May their efforts keep Marin and its cities from being overly crowded and instead allow for future generations to relax and enjoy its beauty, wildlife, scenery, and space.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr January 28, 2012 at 06:29 AM
Yes, SMART to connect with SF BART is an ideal goal, but you have to start somewhere.
Robert J. Cleek January 28, 2012 at 06:29 AM
Not much need to do studies. Liquifaction, or just about any earth movement, is going to twist rails out of alignment. It's a very common consequence of strong earthquakes and well understood by railroad maintenance experts. The difference between highways and railroads in such circumstances is rather marked when the speed and cost of repairs are compaired. It is relatively easy to lay new rails and a whole lot easier than rebuilding highway infrastructure. There's equipment that consists of a train that carries the materials and lays the ties and rail and packs the ballast ahead of itself as it goes along, entirely automated, at a rather astonishing speed.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr January 28, 2012 at 06:33 AM
Corte Madera is studying withdrawal from ABAG. ABAG is the one who imposed the felon-housing requirement on SMART. Novato and the rest of Marin-Sonoma should kill ABAG, not SMART.
Kevin Moore January 28, 2012 at 06:38 AM
Add in, in Europe, passenger trains have the right of way. In the US freight has the right of way. NCRA has given the right of way to SMART... for now. Population density is a huge issue. Why BART pulled out of Marin.
Kevin Moore January 28, 2012 at 06:43 AM
SMARTS current white papers show the total cost of building SMART, with interest at $845 million.
Bill McGee January 28, 2012 at 06:45 AM
To Edwin Drake - on the topic of more buses, we already tried that and it has failed. Despite throwing more money at it, bus routes had to be cut because of poor ridership. Buses do not solve the problem of having only one way to travel north-south (highway 101). Buses are not cheap despite all the people that like to say they are because of the labor costs to drive and maintain. We tried to throw more money at buses - MEASURE A in 2004 was passed and we are still paying the 1/2 cent sales tax for transportation. Ironic that Measure A costs twice as much as Measure Q (SMART). About 55% of Meausre A funds go toward local transit and zero goes toward rail.
Kevin Moore January 28, 2012 at 06:46 AM
Hmmm. Maybe that is why SMART is paying to upgrade the Blackpoint bridge automation. But you knew that was part of what you voted on. Fix the bridge to Vallejo. Actually, that is part of the deal with NCRA. They kick in Federal funds and SMART fixes the bridge. SMART has options on over 100 more train cars.
Kevin Moore January 28, 2012 at 06:47 AM
Unless the Richmond bridge can support a train, I don't see any way SMART will be going to the east bay. The bus alternative that was proposed would be easy to expand eastward.
Bill McGee January 28, 2012 at 07:12 AM
If train critics are looking for a transit solution to fix all our problems, or even just to make a large dent in traffic on highway 101, it does not exist. Does mean that SMART (or any transit system for that matter) is not worth it or is not a good value? No. In my view we desperately need a transportation alternative to cars and buses on highway 101; the only north-south transportation option through Marin and SMART is a good plan at a reasonable cost. Like other transit systems the ridership will be modest to start but will grow over the years and service will expand. BART and the GG Ferries are good examples of this. No one seems to question the value of the GG Ferries these days despite the huge cost in subsidy monies that go into the Ferries. I believe that SMART will be an asset to Marin and Sonoma for the future of our kids and grandkids.
Kevin Moore January 28, 2012 at 07:27 AM
Likes Facts - Interesting analysis. I hope you are correct. Considering Sonoma was almost put on water rationing in 2009, I don't see a lot of room for massive housing unit growth.
Kevin Moore January 28, 2012 at 07:34 AM
SMART looks to be following plan of: under estimate costs by 50%, sink the project deep in debt, come back for more money later. Prop Q funding estimates: Look at Marin and Sonoma's population growth. From 1998 to 2000 up 10% and 25% respectively. Then look at 2001 to 2008. Almost flat population growth. http://tinyurl.com/7mz9qec Now look at SMART's sales tax revenue projections. The fact the population stopped growing is not in the equations. see page 12. As a population grows by 25%, the sales tax revenue grows. But there is no leveling for the fact that growth is flat. Sure, they round down to 4%. But sale tax growth is around 3% from 2001 to 2008. http://www2.sonomamarintrain.org/userfiles/file/Funding%20Plan%20-%2007-15-08%20Final%20Version.pdf Now look at the revised numbers in 2009. The NUMBER ARE REVISED UPWARDS! (page 6) Lots of growth estimates in the 4.75 to 6.70% growth range. Out goes the 4% estimate for higher numbers. And SMART is able to reach the needed $845 million. http://www2.sonomamarintrain.org/userfiles/file/Strategic%20Plan%20Final%20%2006-17-09.pdf These changes resulted in a Strategic Plan that identified a funding gap in the project. To preserve the plan to build a complete 70-mile train and pathway project with passenger train service operating by Fall 2014, the Plan acknowledged a shortfall of $155 million http://www2.sonomamarintrain.org/userfiles/file/AnnualReport10.pdf
Alex Zwissler January 28, 2012 at 03:35 PM
So, so glad this is over...
Kevin Moore January 28, 2012 at 05:56 PM
You could read up on Japan and how quickly the rails vs highways are repaired. Even BART vs the Bay Bridge is an example. But if you compare use of highways vs rail, the numbers are slight. After the big one, I'd worry more about the walls / fences at San Quentin than the SMART rails. Think there will be any escapes? 700+ on death row.
Kevin Moore January 28, 2012 at 06:09 PM
After searching around I see the average light rail is 50% over projected costs. In Norfork, they found the planners knew about the higher costs and chose to lie to the Federal government. (For the "greater good" no doubt.) I hope someone goes to jail to set an example. Field of economic dreams. Built it and jobs will come. I guess Stockton and Lancaster just need a good light rail.
Kevin Moore January 28, 2012 at 06:25 PM
So when ABAG and the MTC claims that SMART requires more units to be built, we can tell to go pound sand? You mentioned "built or zoned". How many units exist vs "zoned to be built?"
Roger January 30, 2012 at 03:33 PM
I read in another blog in the Patch that the rail crossings in San Rafael won't be a traffic problem because there will only be a 2-car train every 30 minutes. If the ridership is that small, SMART won't help congestion on 101 much at all.
Craig Belfor January 30, 2012 at 03:55 PM
The elephant in the room is that the train is inconvenient compared to the car or the bus. Nobody wants to get off a train to get on a bus when they could have just taken the bus to begin with, or jumped in their car. The train stations cost more, the tracks cost more, and everyone will have to get off before their final destination and make other arrangements. It won't make sense, and few people will do it. It will cost too much for the little good it does. All of the successful studies had a start and finish on the train. Marin does not. Add buses, another lane, keep the same stops, and with the money saved, buy a Johnny Cash album for the train lovers.
Nicole Tai January 30, 2012 at 06:29 PM
I can understand the arguments against the train. My two cents as a younger American who has lived on both the East and West Coasts (I grew up in both Mill Valley and Plymouth Massachusetts) is that the East Coast puts us to shame in terms of public transit - even in rural New Jersey and Massachusetts where the population is less dense. You can travel from Boston to rural Plymouth by train, and from Penn Station in Manhattan all the way to Philadelphia. Other lines from Manhattan take you to more remote locations, or what still is rural and suburban New Jersey, Upstate New York and Connecticut. So no excuses folks! The East Coast is America - not Europe. California, and the west in general, is filled with a rich train history. As the granddaughter of a Train man, I have heard how quickly the train went from being an essential part of both transit and freight to the pathetic system it is today. How did that happen? The 1950's, the advent of the car, and highway subsidies was the downfall of train travel, not density issues. So please - let's get back to the future - what was once essential can become useful again. I don't think 101 can be widened anymore. It's time to face reality and join the East Coast in making public transit by train a priority. Think about our children's children - they will need trains to keep Marin and the Bay Area beautiful. Just think about all the additional spare the air days and how much they will increase as our population grows.
Trent Anderson January 30, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Nicole is right on. When I was a kid, my parents took me from Oakland to Tucson, via train. Used to be great, and when I visited back east about 10-15 years ago, we took the train from NYC to Boston, and once from NYC to Washington, DC. Of course, we needed to rent a car to go to place that the train does not go to, but so what. What a nice ride. She is so right, if we add more people to this troubled planet, and keep building more cars, and think we can keep widening the freeways, we are plum nuts.
Greatman October 10, 2012 at 06:30 AM
Trent, I'm sick and tired of people complaining about pollution, pollution, pollution and how the freeway is bad. I, for one like the freeway and the freedom of the car. Smart is not bad because it is mass transit. Mass transit is vary good- if it goes to a major city, like it does on the east coast. It should also be dual tracks, not a single track which is also stupid. Also most important, the employees should be non-union because unions stink. I moved out of the bay area and down to Los Angeles because of all the care-for-the-environment crap. It is stop-and-go surface streets that cause most of pollution, not freeways and freeways don't bring more commuters; the commuters are going to come whether there's a freeway or just a dirt road. People move to places because of affordability or because they like the area, not on the condition of the roads.

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