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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.”

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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