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.”