WatchSonoma Watch

SMART shortfall could grow by $36 million

Larkspur and Cloverdale would anchor the 70-mile SMART rail project.


The Sonoma-Marin rail agency today will review a worst-case financial scenario of a funding gap that could widen by $36 million if sales tax revenues remain depressed and ridership falls short.

The shortfall increase from $104 million to $140 million is the latest attempt by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency to assess how much money it will have to build a commute line during a struggling economy.

SMART is using an annual estimate of 3 percent growth in sales tax, which is 1 percent less than its consultant, Beacon Economics, recommends.

With that sales tax revenue, the agency foresees a $104 million difference in what it can raise and what it will cost to build the line, which is scheduled to start up in 2014.

If sales taxes grow at 2 percent and ridership is 10 percent less than forecast, the gap could grow to $140 million.

“If you take a very pessimistic scenario, if things are very bad, and that is not what we are expecting, it could be a $140 million gap and we would have to look at other things to cut,” SMART spokesman Chris Coursey said.

SMART estimates that it will cost $470 million to build the initial segment of the line from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael.

It includes $142.6 million to reconstruct the track, $53.7 million for the trains, $44.9 million for a maintenance facility, $42 million for systems, $42 million for a bike and pedestrian path, $40.7 million for stations and $34 million to rebuild the bridge over the Petaluma River.

The ability of SMART to purchase construction bonds depends on sales tax revenues from the quarter-cent sales tax voters approved in 2008.

The new financial estimates also eliminate any expectation of receiving $10 million over 20 years in lease payments from the North Coast Railroad Authority, which has been struggling to resume freight service over the line for the past decade.

SMART staff also will present a list of cost savings that total $106 million. They include delaying stations at Corona Road in Petaluma and in Novato, reducing the pedestrian-bike path by two-thirds, refurbishing instead of replacing the Petaluma River bridge and building a smaller maintenance facility.

The SMART board meeting is at 1:30 p.m. at San Rafael City Hall.


31 Responses to “SMART shortfall could grow by $36 million”

  1. Dave Madigan says:

    @ Jim:

    In the immortal words of Gary Wysocky, “If they want a bike path, the bicyclists can pay for it themselves!”.

    Oops! He didn’t say that about bikes but cars? Oh well I am sure the same logic MUST apply.

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  2. Jim says:

    Take out the bike path and presto-chango 42 million saved.

    Hell. We now have enough money for bus tickets to get the growing homeless population out of downtown Santa Rosa and back to S.F. Might even turn that homeless shelter/assylum we call a downtown library back into a civic building.

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  3. joe right says:

    Did ANYONE think this thing could possible EVER pay for itself? How long before you simply call it good money after bad?

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  4. GAJ says:

    As I posted in the other Smart thread, you need to go back to the PD article from last August to see the huge layers of fat in Administrative costs alone:

    Beware though, the further down you read the higher your blood pressure will go.

    I mean, they pay zero for their retirement and can retire at 55??

    Give me a break.

    “To date, 10 positions have been created, including six executive jobs carrying salaries above $100,000 a year.

    SMART staff salaries and benefits for the fiscal year, including the salaries of four additional employees, are expected to cost $2 million.

    Much of the technical work is being handled by six consulting firms. They are designing the vehicles, signal systems, train-control system, track, stations, bicycle and pedestrian path and bridges.

    The consulting firms are being paid $11.8 million in the current fiscal year. Those firms, most of which now have offices and staff in Sonoma County, employ about 100 people.

    The person in charge is General Manager Lillian Hames. She is paid $176,150 annually, plus 7 percent in deferred compensation and a car allowance of $634 per month.

    Chief Financial Officer David Heath, who was Santa Rosa’s financial officer, started Aug. 1 and earns $165,000 annually, with deferred compensation of 4.5 percent and a car allowance of $430 a month.

    Other key positions and their salaries are senior rail engineer Bill Gamlen, $147,000; real estate manager Rob Krantz, $129,000; rail planning manager John Nemeth, $113,000; and community outreach manager Chris Coursey, $103,000.

    Additional staff positions paid less than $100,000 a year are administrative assistant; senior administrative-executive assistant; real estate assistant; contracts analyst; and clerk of the board.

    The position of programming and grants manager, which will pay $98,000 to $130,000, has not been filled.

    SMART pays 85 percent of the cost of the employees’ choice of Kaiser Permanente or Pacific Care health plans.

    The staff members are part of the CalPERS retirement plan and their pension benefits are fully paid by the agency. SMART pays both the employer’s 12 percent share, which is mandated by the plan, and the employees’ 7 percent share of the monthly cost.

    The plan provides for a retirement paying 2 percent of the worker’s annual salary per year of employment, beginning at age 55. There is no medical coverage for retirees. SMART employees do not receive nor do they pay into Social Security.

    In its June 25 report, the Marin County grand jury questioned whether SMART’s policy of contributing 19 percent to employees’ CalPERS plan was too generous and recommended it be re-evaluated.”


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  5. The train was only an excuse to declare the area a transportation corridor so that they could rezone all the surrounding lands for high density development.

    The train never needs to happen. They got their zoning. They got their funding from MTC for high density residential development. They got their Gateways Redevelopment Project and their grants from transportation authorities for housing. That’s what it’s about. They don’t care if the train never happens.

    The SMART board is like most other government boards–it exists to keep itself going and pay the staff salaries and pensions.

    The tracks were repaired so that the trash company could send trash out of town on rail and run freight. It was never about you getting to work. Stacking as many people as close together as possible, and having an excuse not to build any parking for the housing units is what it’s about. Even if there’s no train they can still say there will be one, and then they don’t have to build parking. Even the station won’t have parking. It’s the fanatics like Wysocky and the rest of the bike nuts that are pushing the Agenda most openly, but they all drank the koolaid.

    We tried to tell you.

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  6. Don says:

    This should be a new project for the Sonoma County Grand Jury. This truly may be the only way to get to the bottom of this boondoggle. We need to pay attention to our elected officials on how they handle this situation. Are they truly trying to live within their means, or is it business as usual. Spend Spend Spend! How can we keep spending money that we don’t have.

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  7. Clay says:

    Okay, now wait a minute. I’m not the brightest bulb in the bunch, but I happened to notice in the “Related Articles” section the headline from a November 2010 article- proclaiming a $350 million shortfall.


    An somehow now it’s INCREASING from $104 million to $140 million?

    Do they mean to tell me that they chopped the rail line down to just over half of the original plan, and STILL came up $140 million short?

    If this is true, I think I’m going to blow a gasket….. this is beyond ridiculous- it HAS to be stopped.

    They don’t get the privilege of mis-managing my money this badly anymore. I’m done with this!

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 4

  8. Clay says:

    Re. dissolving the district- there are two ways to do it- the first is for the SMART Board to vote for it. The second is described below.

    Here is a link on the SMART website to the bill that created the SMART district.


    Chapter 9, the last chapter, is about dissolution. This is what it says:

    “…..he board may call an election at any time for the purpose of submitting to the voters of the district the question of whether the district shall be
    dissolved. Upon the filing with the secretary of the district of a petition
    signed by voters within the district equal in number to at least 25 percent
    of the total vote cast at the last general statewide election, asking that the question of dissolution of the district be submitted to the voters of the district, the board shall call the election.”

    It goes on to talk about the requirements for the election itself.

    Total ballots cast in the November election was 186,920 for Sonoma County, and 115,685 for Marin. 25% of the combined number is 75,652.

    So to force an election to dissolve the district, petitions with 75,652 signatures from voters within the District (there are 400,000 total registered voters between the counties) need to be submitted to the district secretary, and then within 60 days they have to hold the election, which requires a simple majority vote.

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  9. Clay says:


    It has been mentioned here before that it is possible, through the petition and ballot measure process, to repeal the SMART district. I have done a little looking around to find out more, but have not yet been able to find specifics on how that would be done.

    I’m willing to work at it, as are others, but organization will be key. There is a Facebook group that has been created, and it is a start towards sharing information:


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  10. cyclist says:

    Build the track and the trail. Then cut the administrative staff until we have the money for the trains.

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  11. SRK says:

    Maybe we need to downsize our expectations. Surely a bike path and a slow trolley is doable.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 8

  12. ODB414 says:

    It took about 9 times on the ballot to get the SMART train passed. Shouldn’t we get an equal amount of opportunities to repeal it?

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 6

  13. Hello People! says:


    Lawsuit, you need someone who has the time and funding.

    The truth need to come out who is getting paid what, how much has been spent and where.

    This is scary people your hard eared tax dollar are meant to better our communities not to setup a civil servant for life for a few years of work.

    They are stealing from you and your children’s future. Would you let someone take money from you wallet or someone steel from you home?

    Don’t just post here but email these people how you feel.

    Interim General Manager
    and Chief Financial Officer
    David Heath
    Work: 415.226.0895
    Email: dheath@sonomamarintrain.org


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  14. Steveguy says:

    The Sales Tax revenue is ‘only’ around $18 Million a year or less. The train will run (if it ever runs) at a deficit.

    The SMART (?) Board has run on assumptions of large amounts of State and Federal and Redevelopment monies to add to their money pit. They will get some, but not near as much as they thought.

    The voters were lied to, taken ‘for a ride’ by this clueless group surrounded by money vultures.( Who actually paid for the campaign !) But it sounded ‘so green’ that they hoodwinked you all.

    This pie-in-the-sky pipe dream should be stopped. The public is getting fleeced and it makes me sick.

    Stop Smart !

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  15. 800 lb. gorilla says:

    We keep scratching our heads, trying to make sense of the Smart thing, the redevelopment thing, the ‘public/private partnership’thing,the reconfiguring our towns for bicycles thing, the orchestrated impoverishment of our public services thing,etc.,etc..It’s ALL THE SAME THING!Agenda 21(Sustainable Development et all)So if you smell something weird and you hear heavy breathing…get rid of the gorilla.

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 4

  16. Alex says:

    Will someone enlighten me on public transportation that is not a drain? I know BART, MUNI, Caltrains, etc are all drains and constantly overfunded for horrible service. What makes anyone think this will be better? Oh that is right, how slick call it SMART and the dumb will vote for it. You get what you vote for..now you are stuck with it…you will get your sprawl and all the ills along with it…Hello East Bay north of the gate..Sonoma County is dead.

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 3

  17. Steele says:

    Sorry for my ignorance but how could this be stopped?

    Does any one know what the procedure would be to stop this mess?

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 6

  18. Social
    Minds (get an)
    A+ in

    I don’t see anything SMART about it!

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 6

  19. jeffx says:

    Some people want the tag of “train” to show they’re “green”. I am glad that i moved out of there …

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 6

  20. Reduce DUMB salaries/benefits says:

    The DUMB board should reduce the pay and benefits of DUMB employees. There are literally hundreds of qualifed people who would take Chris Coursey’s job (ie. spin the facts) for half the amount the taxpayers are paying him.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 5

  21. GAJ says:

    A truly stupid idea from the very beginning just like the high speed rail from LA to SF.

    “Feel good” money pits that simply confirm, for the umpteenth time, that the oh so much smarter progressive voters in California………………aren’t.

    What stupid thing will the majority vote for next time?

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 6

  22. Steveguy says:

    A perpetual money pit to be drawn from by those that backed the train. They lied to the voters for their own gain.

    We should be able to have a vote to stop this boondoggle, but it’s too late, as too many are reaping too much money from SMART at our expense.

    Stop SMART

    Thumb up 35 Thumb down 8

  23. Phil Maher says:

    Gotta have the track, gotta have trains, gotta get across the Petaluma River, gotta be able to maintain the trains, gotta have at least some stations to pick up whatever riders will actually use it. Already, they’re putting forward ideas of cutting the bike path by 2/3. $36 mil shortfall, $42 mil bike path, where do you think the cuts are coming from? Sorry cyclists, you worked hard, and were entirely the reason Measure Q passed, but by now, the inevitable must be becoming quite obvious. We’re all being taken for a ride, but you were duped worse than anyone, and, anyone who’s read any of my previous comments would know that I have no problem saying, “I told you so”. While you might not like my gloating, what’s worse, me being right, or you getting screwed? In fact, when you examine the perpetual string of evidence, the opponents of this project have been right at every turn. We see the future, while you helplessly hold onto a dream against all practical odds. There’s a lot of money there, regardless of shortfalls. Think of what you could have with just a fraction of it- All your hopes and dreams could come to complete fruition. You could succeed, in spite of someone else’s failure. Now all you have to do is get it back somehow. And if you really care, you will.

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  24. Dogs Rule says:

    This is the biggest fraud on Californians since the lotto was going to fix the schools. Smart train = dumb rip off train and of course, it’s the ordinary person paying for the follies of an organized few.

    Thumb up 38 Thumb down 7

  25. SRK says:

    Wonder what the status is at the Japanese plant that came in with the low bid on rail cars?

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 7

  26. BigDogatlPlay says:

    Cutting more stations, reducing the bike path…. etc. etc. etc.

    Is anyone starting to feel like they were sold a bill of goods yet?

    Thumb up 45 Thumb down 6

  27. Don Martin says:

    The shell game continues. What ridership is the SMART Board talking about? No train has entered service and won’t for two years, if ever.

    Is the real deficit $36 million or $140 million? These are all guesses by the people who haven’t been right yet in guessing costs.

    This SMART train to nowhere remains a dream of the progressive elites who envision directing our future transportation and where we live with projects like this train.

    This is a train which is unaffordable now and in the future with operating and maintenance costs subsidized as always by the taxpayers, not the riders. If this thing ever gets of the tracks, with the planned cutbacks it will be operating a few trains a day with very few riders and a schedule that meets no rider needs.

    It is too bad the SMART Board does not put a hold on this whole project and see what happens. Better yet, cancel the sales tax and disband the Board and project before more tax money is wasted.

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  28. Hello People! says:

    So who is paying for what?

    It seems to me 2 agency are paying for the same work on the project

    “The North Coast Railroad Authority has spent $68 million in state and federal funds repairing 62 miles of track between Windsor and Napa.” Same track from Windsor to Novato!

    “After being derailed for 12 years, freight trains could begin rumbling through Santa Rosa by next month” March 2nd, 2011


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  29. Wilson says:

    SMART is really DUMB

    For goodness sake, please put a stop to this money pit before one more dime of taxpayer money goes down the drain!!!!!!!!!!! End it now.

    Thumb up 39 Thumb down 7

  30. John G. says:

    Yup. Smart now means stupid.

    Thumb up 39 Thumb down 7

  31. The Hammer says:

    Simple, no funds, no project. This isn’t want the voters voted for.

    Thumb up 43 Thumb down 7

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