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SMART Opponents Take Steps Toward Gathering Signatures to Force Repeal of Train Tax Measure

RepealSMART would like to have a referendum on the June 2012 ballot to eliminate the quarter-cent sales tax in Marin and Sonoma counties to fund the upstart passenger rail service.

Upset with the direction of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit project, a group called RepealSMART has filed legal papers to circulate a petition in an effort to repeal a tax measure approved by Marin and Sonoma county voters in 2008 to help fund the passenger rail system.

“We strongly deplore the decisions SMART continues to make in pursuing an ineffectual and deeply flawed project,” wrote RepealSMART spokesman Clay Mitchell in a release sent out Monday. “SMART has not been forthcoming with accurate cost projections, and when compelled to do so, the picture is dismal.”

Proponents of the repeal campaign would have a maximum of six months to submit 37,314 signatures validated by the registrars of voters.

The chance of getting a referendum on the November ballot is slim at this point, so Mitchell said the June 2012 election is the most realistic option. He said forcing a special election would cost a lot more money, so the June option is best to tie the issue into a general election.

Gathering signatures is “the first concrete step toward a repeal measure,” Mitchell said. Within two weeks there could be people gathering signatures — either volunteers or professionals — to force the ballot measure in the two counties, he said.

RepealSMART’s goal is to repeal Measure Q, a quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund SMART that was approved in 2008 by two-thirds of voters in the two counties combined. SMART has said that money serves as the foundation for the whole project. RepealSMART said SMART’s plans do not deliver the Cloverdale-to-Larkspur rail system that was promised to voters in the 2008 election.

“We will take this matter to the voters and make the case for fiscal sanity and proper financial planning,” Mitchell wrote in his release.

The notice of intent to place the referendum on the ballot comes just a few days after SMART interim Executive Director Farhad Mansourian said the commuter rail project is on schedule and on solid financial ground despite $45 million more in expected costs to get the train rolling between Santa Rosa and San Rafael.

According to its website, SMART has said the train and pathway project will provide the backbone of a transportation system that ties existing transit systems such as buses and ferries along with future options such as shuttles and trolleys. Among the goals are to alleviate traffic along Highway 101 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The total SMART project is estimated to cost about $690 million, the bulk of which will come from Measure Q, a one-quarter percent sales tax increase approved by 69.6 percent of Marin and Sonoma voters in the Nov. 4, 2008, election.

RepealSMART sent a letter to Mansourian on June 30 asking for copies of all reports, spreadsheets, presentations, e-mails and other correspondences with SMART board members and notes from several SMART staff members dating to May 1.

Mansourian could not be reached for comment.

Mitchell, a Windsor resident, said RepealSMART has worked with several attorneys to get paperwork in order and make sure referendum rules are followed.

“This is the first time I’ve done anything like this,” he said. “It’s exciting, but it’s a little bit frustrating because there’s nothing easy about the process. We have to get the legal help to make sure we’re complying with all the guidelines. That’s why this has taken us as long as it has.”

He added that a multicounty referendum creates complications for the county registrars.

“It’s unplowed ground, so to speak,” he said. “The registrars don’t really know what to do.”

Janie Van Horn August 02, 2011 at 03:03 AM
I was never a supporter of "the train to nowhere" because it was not going all the way to the Larkspur ferry, and I always felt that it would provide little benefit to people in Marin. In it's current state, it is simply not viable. End of story. It has limited range and I believe few potential riders, and we can't pay for it. Repeal SMART.
Phil Maher August 02, 2011 at 04:08 AM
A generous offer that we have every intention of taking you up on, Fred! If you're not on our site, you should be. http://repealsmart.org/ http://www.facebook.com/StopSmart
Juliette Anthony August 02, 2011 at 05:55 AM
I would be glad to help in getting sighatures here in Marinwood/Lucas Valley area in San Rafael's unincorporated county area. My phone is 415-507-9147 -- Juliette Anthony P.S. This train makes absolutely no sense, especially when ALL trains in California are having to be subsidized -- how much will the ongoing subsidies be if they go ahead with this unrealistic plan.
Trent Anderson August 02, 2011 at 02:27 PM
Gee, I guess maybe we should cancel SMART, and just spend our $ widen Highway 101 to like 10 or 12 lanes in each direction. That would solve the commute crisis, and we certainly need more cars on the freeway, so the big petroleum companies can make more $...Yeah,more gas, more cars, more, more...
Mark Schoenbaum August 02, 2011 at 02:35 PM
No, you're right. Let's spend 1 BILLION DOLLARS building and operating a train that nobody is going to ride so that we can feel warm and fuzzy about all of the cars it will not remove from 101.
Trent Anderson August 02, 2011 at 03:09 PM
Why are we so DUMB here in the US? Every time we go to Europe, its the train. All over London, over to Paris, down to South of France, over to Italy, or to Spain, Switzerland, all over Europe...lovely, comfortable ride, good food, lovely scenery. So, why do people think no-one will ride the SMART train? What, no tourists would take the ferry and then ride up to the wine country? We would certainly ride it all over the place...up to Petaluma to visit our friends and family, my son would use it to commute from Petaluma to San Rafael...??? If no one would ride it, why did a majority vote for it in the first place?
Clay Mitchell August 02, 2011 at 03:32 PM
Juliette- The answer to your question is that based on SMART's numbers (trust them at your own risk, cause they are subject to change substantially), riders fares would only pay 21%-23% of operating costs. That means that for every dollar that a rider spends to ride, taxpayers would have to pay an additional $3.35 to subsidize the trip. So on a $5 fare, taxpayers would be kicking in $16.75. This is a dismal "farebox recovery"- by comparison, BART fares pay 64.5% of their operating costs- almost 3 times the ratio projected for SMART. Thank you for your willingness to help- we will be contacting you at the appropriate time, once the petitions have been finalized.
Valerie Taylor August 02, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Those wanting to stop the train and pathway project in the north bay have no solution to offer. When gasoline reaches $10 a gallon, and a large portion of population stops driving because of age, we will have a mobility crisis. I don't hear any complaints about $100 million a mile for two highway lanes, just complaints about $5 million a mile for the train and pathway project.
Clay Mitchell August 02, 2011 at 03:42 PM
Trent- The reason we think nobody will ride it is because that is what the transportation experts that SMART has hired to study the issue have told us. They have told us that the initial segment is expected to have 2860 daily "trips"- which is a one way trip. If each of those people also rode the train home (meaning round trip), then that represents 1430 people using the train on an average day. Over $400MM to build a system that takes less than 1500 people off the roads, which would also require a $12MM annual subsidy to operate? Just out of curiosity, what else could be done with that kind of money? The fact of the matter is that the Western United States are much more spread out than Europe- this is true of the North Bay as well. This is not an urban area with the population densities to support this type of mass transit. As romantic as the thought of a train may be, we have to look for more appropriate solutions. To me, DUMB is trying to apply an incompatible (and ineffectual) transportation solution to our specific situation. The only way this project becomes feasible is major high density development clustered around the stations, which would change the rural nature of our communities. If that's the discussion we want to have, let's discuss that proposal- before we decide to throw massive amounts of cash at this project that really doesn't help our transportation situation in any meaningful way.
Austin Morris August 02, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Valerie's point is acknowledged; but too the rate for 'return on investment' when then thought of as 20 / 1, clearly the highway comes out on top for maximum utility of purpose and economy.
Clay Mitchell August 02, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Valerie- I'm afraid the cost will be much more than that. SMART's most recent numbers indicate a $400MM+ price tag for a 37 mile track, which works out to over $10MM per mile. I don't know how you analyze the effectiveness of a project, but for me, I look at how many people are going to benefit from a particular project and compare that to the cost. Let's use this metric to examine SMART and the Novato Narrows project. SMART's numbers indicate roughly 1500 people projected to use the train... for a cost of about $400MM. On a per person basis, that works out to spending about $267,000 per daily rider to construct. Per Cal Trans, about 70,000 cars cross the County Line on Hwy 101. If that project costs $750MM (don't know how accurate that is- my understanding is that the cost is in this range... partially due to the legal/environmental challenges)- Even if each of those cars only carry one person (which we know is not the case for all cars and buses), that would be a cost per user of just under $11,000. Seems like a more effective use of transportation dollars. And while I would like to be focused on transportation solutions, if we don't stop this project, there will be no transportation dollars available for projects that actually ARE effective. But here is one that should be examined: http://japantechniche.com/​2008/12/16/dual-mode-vehic​le-dmv-developed-by-hokkai​do-railway-company/ Uses the tracks, and much more flexible.
Phil Maher August 02, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Valerie, SMART becomes less and less of a solution at every turn. We currently have a grossly underutilized bus system that can be tailored to fit the needs of many for far less money. As to 101- it's going to be widened, regardless of SMART, and from the standpoint of alleviating congestion by taking cars full of people that are actually getting to their destinations effectively and efficiently, it will do little. Also, SMART's DMUs run on deisel, so when gasoline is $10 per gallon, SMART's fuel costs will be even higher. Marin's effective station-station trackage for the IOS is currently a mere 6.8 miles. It really does nothing, and if you include TAM's $8mil "donation" the actual costs per mile rise to over 5x the amount you stated...for a system that really doesn't serve the purposes that it was intended to serve. Finally, we want the taxpayers to be able to vote on this with the current and future costs and systems being clearly and honestly stated. If the voters again ratify their previous decision, so be it, you get the train and all that comes with it.
SHROYER FOR SUPERVISOR 2014 August 02, 2011 at 04:07 PM
I don't want SMART to become the GANG TRAIN! Think about how easy it will be for all the gangs to connect via SMART...I also don't like how SMART has squandered the people's money like drunk sailors. There is also high-density housing that comes with SMART that they didn't tell you about. I actually voted for Measure Q, but with what I have learned, I made a mistake. I want to sign the petition fast!
Juliette Anthony August 02, 2011 at 05:16 PM
I wish that they would spend some money on the promised bike path without the train. There have also been constructive suggestions about using the right of way for busses, clean busses which are way less expensive and are flexible about where they can go. But of course that doesn't meet the needs of those at North West Railroad who want to use SMART as a way to get money to subsidize their freight, nor does it meet the promises made to developers who want new opportunities to develop in the East Corridor of Marin provided for by train stations. There are very deep pockets behind the scenes who have vested interests in the SMART train. Without it, they will not achieve their multimillion dollar profitable projects. We do need public transportation, but it can be done much more economically than by the SMART train.
Sam Roth August 02, 2011 at 06:09 PM
The first thing the SMART board did was to give themselves pensions. What about security? Will it have a police force like BART? Sounds too expensive. This thing is going to be chronically short of money and the dumb politicians will be repeatedly asking the taxpayers to rescue it. How/Where do I sign the petition?
Valerie Taylor August 03, 2011 at 02:54 AM
Kenn, The southern terminus for Phase I is central San Rafael. This has been in place for a couple of months now. MTC required it because, as you say, the Civic Center is not a major transit hub; central San Rafael is.
Valerie Taylor August 03, 2011 at 03:00 AM
ALL public transit is subsidized, as are all public schools, public libraries, police and fire, etc. But at least public transit charges a fare, so some money is recouped; not so with the heavily subsidized auto-based transportation system. The subsidy for autos is HUGE - our taxpayer dollars pay for highways, remember? At $100 million a mile, 20 times what SMART costs. And then you have to buy, insure, fuel and maintain the vehicle. Then there are the taxes you pay for gasoline, and - this is not really a stretch - the billions of dollars this country has spent on wars for oil in the Middle East. SMART uses much less oil-based fuel per person than an auto, and can be retrofit to run on electricity. For your $5 million a mile for SMART, you also get the stations, the vehicles, and the bike path. SMART is a bargain.
Valerie Taylor August 03, 2011 at 03:08 AM
I see - so your best anti-rail estimate is that SMART is 1/10th the cost of the highway, rather than 1/20th. I believe the ridership estimates are low, because they do not take into account the relentless increase in the cost of gasoline, and the inevitable aging of the population, leading to a large number of residents not driving. I do not believe in vehicle gimmicks. I do believe that ultimately the transfer between the train and the ferry needs to be seamless. This will occur when \SMART overrides larkspur's spurious objections to a rail overpass over Sir Frances Drake, and puts the Larkspur Ferry station where it belongs - at the ferry terminal.
Valerie Taylor August 03, 2011 at 03:20 AM
Toni - it's this kind of pull-up-the-drawbridge attitude that makes Marin the laughingstock of the rest of the Bay Area. Yes, there will be higher-density housing - highly desired by empty nesters and young couples without children. No yard to groom, living right in the heart of town, don't have to own a car, can walk everywhere. The Urban Land Institute (ULI), in a report co-sponsored by the Sierra Club - "Higher-Density Development: Myth and Fact" - says this kind of housing has held on to its value through the downturn, unlike the single family suburban homes spread all over the hills. I hope you will Google this and read it before you write off higher-density housing.
Brigham Thompson August 03, 2011 at 03:42 AM
Where do I sign this petition? Count me in...
Rick Fraites August 03, 2011 at 04:49 AM
The SMART train runs on....what? I'll take a wild guess and say it will be some sort of fossil fuel, perhaps diesel. SMART brings with it an average of 2,200 housing units within a 1/2 mile radius of each rail stop. Some housing is existing and some will be added. The theory is that if you build it, they may ride......the train. Good luck with that one. When the SMART backers put this railroad scheme before the voters, the request was for a 1/4 cent sales tax for twenty years. The ask should have been for a 1/2 cent sale tax but that figure didn't poll as well. So, now Marin/Sonoma Counties have a chronically underfunded rail system that may fulfill the campaign hype/promises just before the twenty years come to an end.
Valerie Taylor August 03, 2011 at 02:38 PM
Initially it will run on diesel, but stations are designed for future retrofit to electricity. Yes, they should have gone with the half cent. Unfortunately, this process has been much too influenced by politics, and should have been turned over (bid out) to a professional rail operations firm right after the measure passed. ABAG has mandated increased housing in evey town in Marin and Sonoma. It's coming whether the train comes or not. There may some who would prefer to see it added on the hillsides, but I think most current residents would prefer to see their downtowns enlivened with residents who won't need to own a car. Don't underestimate the popularity of TOD. Young people, priced out of Marin and very eco-conscious, prefer to live in downturns without cars. Maybe even your kids will return from the cities to which they've moved if they can afford to live here!
Juliette Anthony August 03, 2011 at 03:47 PM
This train does not go anywhere that young people would want to go. The center of San Rafael is not San Francisco, and neither is Santa Rosa. Infill housing, recommended by the Marin Environmental Housing collaborative, offers a variety of good places for housing and whatever developers conspired with the designers or designer of the 1/4 sales tax to push this through may be better served to proceed with their housing efforts without waiting for a train that now needs an additional 45 million to even get started. We did not vote for the train in its current configuration. We voted for a train from Cloverdale to Larkspur. The voters are not fooled by this makeshift take our money scheme.
Rick Fraites August 03, 2011 at 04:11 PM
Shoulda-woulda-coulda. We have what was given us by the SMART backers. A rail line running on empty. Now SMART may be converted to an electric powered system?! Who knew? That conversion should cost an additional bundle of tax dollars. A conversion that has never been discussed at any SMART board meeting...so far. If urban sprawl is a concern then other towns in Marin County should emulate Novato and all the towns in Sonoma County by creating Urban Growth Boundaries (UGB). Many cities have ordinances to control building on steep hillsides and ridgelines. Yes, there is a need for more affordable housing and that housing shoud be directed toward downtown locations. However, housing shouldn't be forced upon a community by outside forces, such as SMART/MTC/ABAG. Unfortunately state law mandates these housing quotas, and that is the little secret that was missing during the SMART election. Not only will the residents of Marin & Sonoma Counties get a highly underfunded rail line, they also get a freight train load of development.
Juliette Anthony August 03, 2011 at 04:40 PM
Valerie Taylor is a transportation consultant with strong ties to Wendy Kallins of the Marin Bicycle Coalition. The bicycle folks have been taken in by the notion that they can't have the bike path without the train. Getting them on Board was a very clever move of the prime promoter of the train as a way to get a good group of activists to keep on pushing for the train. We can have a bike path without the train!! And I wonder if Valerie Taylor has a stake in the train going forward as well.
Phil Maher August 03, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Valerie- Aside from the taxpayers in general, the bicycle coalitions are the one who have and will suffer the greatest brunt of the consequences. SMART knows that their support from these groups is absolutely critical, but waning, and that keeping them on-board is not necessarily what they want to do, but what they MUST do. Unfortunately, when faced with the decision of funding rail operations vs the MU path, in light of the massive and sure to grow funding shortfalls, anyone with any sense of pragmatism such as you appear to demonstrate, should easily be able to read the writing on the wall. In all reality, the $17.6mil in Federal TIGER III funding for the path that SMART all but claims is in the bag is highly unlikely to materialize, just as TIGER II funding was denied. This is a very unpopular system at all levels above just SMART and its most ardent supporters. Regardless of your affiliations or loyalties, as to the notion of essentially rebuilding the entire 70 mile ROW as an electrified system, I offer you this- http://www.fta.dot.gov/news/speeches/news_events_11682.html
Will Richards August 03, 2011 at 08:04 PM
At present, Highway 101 is the only practical route for commuters between Marin and Sonoma Counties. It is congested now, and will be congested as soon as the widening to three lanes in each direction is completed. We have been working on that widening for at least a couple of decades, it is still not complete, the cost estimates have increased several fold, and the funds to complete that widening have yet to be identified. The widening to three lanes is mostly within the right of way. Finding the money to buy more right of way for a fourth lane is out of the question. In comparison, SMART costs far less than the Highway 101 widening, is easily expanded to meet demand by adding trains and, if needed, double track. It greatly decreases noise, air pollution, and fuel consumption. If we stop SMART, are we doomed to gridlock? The alternative of buses has been available for decades and has not worked in the past. Why would it work in the future? Rail startups have shown that people like to ride trains.
Trent Anderson August 03, 2011 at 08:52 PM
Will is right on about this. The current expenditure to widen 101 between Hwy 37 and Atherton is going to do what? Currently, the traffic backs up just past the DeLong exit, and that is due to the 2 lanes that begin just past Atherton exit. So, as long as there are still only 2 lanes up to Petaluma, don't ya think there will still be a traffic jam there every day? I love to ride the train, and if it were running, I would likely be on it 3 or 4 times a week, e.g. down to San Rafael, up to Petaluma, Santa Rosa. I would suspect the reason they are not widening it past Atherton, is because there are not enough land owners along the way to tax enough? Does anyone remember how it was in the US before we had Freeways? We used to drive trom Tucson to Tahoe every summer vacation, on a 2 lane road. Then, the trucking industry squashed the rail freight systems..and now we have freeways, more and more and more. That could not have had anything to do with the Automotive & Truck industry could it? I was just lost down in San Diego, trying to figure out how to get around on the freeways. We need MORE cars, MORE trucks, MORE freeways, MORE, MORE, build, build, consume, grow, grow, consume...until the planet collapses.
Juliette Anthony August 04, 2011 at 04:15 AM
I rode the train frequently when I lived in New England and I am a train afficianado. But this train, in this place, is just not supportable. Why not pave over the tracks and let the busses use the right of way and include the bike path. We would get cars off the road and encourage the bicycles.
Lloyd August 23, 2011 at 03:07 PM
Please tell us you are well on your way, if not already there, to gaining the 15000 signatures and are still gong strong. It would be a boost to all our moral to know that sanity exist and people are participating. BTW I am in favor of a train, just not this underfunded, poorly designed version. We need to get rid of this so called Board as they have no experience in running a train but excel at wasting our dollars. Design a real train system apply for federal funding and let's finally start down a successful. supportable track that will benefit us all.

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