WatchSonoma Watch

SMART rail officials face tough cuts

The site plan for the Corona Road station in Petaluma


Elected officials are trying to save two proposed commuter stations in Petaluma and Novato that could be cut from the SMART train plan because of funding shortfalls.

Not opening the two stations, one at Corona Road in northern Petaluma and the other at Atherton Drive in Novato, could save an estimated $16.8 million.

That unpopular option was discussed Wednesday by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board as it reviewed ways to cut $88 million from the rail line, which is scheduled to open in 2014 between downtown Santa Rosa and San Rafael.

Money is available for downtown stations in both Petaluma and Novato, but the cities also are pressing for construction of the second stations that were promised when Sonoma and Marin county voters approved the rail plan and a sales tax increase in 2008.

Petaluma Councilwoman Tiffany Renee said the Corona Road station would be a hub for 14,000 potential jobs and a regional link for Santa Rosa Junior College students.

“When you take out a station like Petaluma, you’re actually decreasing ridership in other stations,” Renee said after the meeting. “I think Petaluma could assist SMART in helping to purchase that land. I think the council should look at it before the opportunity sunsets.”

Another appeal came from Carole Dillon-Knutson, a SMART board member who serves on the Novato City Council. “I hope that you take another look at that site,” she said. “Otherwise, Novato people will feel when the train goes by them that they were left out of the SMART process.”

The board also considered cutting one-third of the budget of the proposed bicycle path, to save $14 million.

Decisions on what to cut will be made at the next SMART board meeting on April 20.

“Before April 20, we would like to have some more definitive options,” said Valerie Brown, chairman of the SMART board and a Sonoma County supervisor.

Hoping to convince SMART to change its mind, the Novato City Council passed a resolution Tuesday night opposing the deferring of the Atherton station, Dillon-Knutson said.

Judy Arnold, a Marin County supervisor who serves on the SMART board, said an informal survey found that 3,000 people who hold jobs located near that station live within walking distance of proposed SMART stations.

“I think we made the case that if they’re trying to build ridership, to me this is not the station to cut,” Dillon-Knutson said after the meeting.

But she said she doesn’t know of any alternative funding proposals that are currently in the works.

In Petaluma, a SMART staff report said that $11.5 million could be saved by not building the Corona Road station. Renee suggested that Petaluma could loan SMART $7 million in redevelopment funds to help purchase the land.

But other Petaluma City Council members reached by phone thought that might not be possible.

“I don’t think we have $7 million in redevelopment that isn’t already earmarked,” said Petaluma Councilman Mike Healy.

Bicycle advocates who attended the meeting were more accepting of their fate.

Deb Hubsmith, advocacy director for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, asked that any cost savings achieved while building the bicycle path should be spent on the bicycle path, not other parts of the SMART train project.

“We know how incredibly important this path is to both of our communities,” said Christine Culver, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

The list of savings also includes deferring ticket vending machines, $4.3 million; a fiber optics system, $4.5 million; and the replacement of Haystack Bridge, $15 million.

Board member Joan Lundstrom suggested writing a back-up list of further cuts, because even if all the changes were made, the expected funding would still fall $21 million short of the estimated shortfall of $109 million.

Board member Barbara Pahre agreed. “I think that the list is probably a good one, because someone doesn’t like everything,” Pahre said. “And … we probably need to go a little deeper.”

27 Responses to “SMART rail officials face tough cuts”

  1. Petaluma Resident says:

    Imagine having a Board that is comprised of former railroad employees, true mechanics and people who love trains. Imagine people who know what it is like to own businesses on this board who knows what economics is all about and how to use local ingenuity to get things done. Then I’ll show you a non-Government entity that (like in Arizona) is actually working!

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  2. Petaluma Resident says:

    To all the naysayers in doing a field poll of my own from 250 people I had asked while they were going to the Santa Rosa VA if they would take the train instead of driving, over 235 people said yes. Many were veterans who live in Cloverdale, Ukiah and in Marin and Petaluma. They would be very happy to support this project.

    People WANT trains back. It doesn’t have to be foreign-made trains and based on a Northern California employee (railroad) who has looked at the tracks between Petaluma and Cloverdale – there should be no reason in getting the older trains on the tracks. The tracks are rideable. For the meantime, there would be ridership. There would be customers. And I would love to support this as I would be a commuter using this service instead of being in heavy traffic along 101 or having to keep on using uncorporated roads to get from the Santa Rosa airport to Petaluma.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 9

  3. Common Sense says:

    I’d really like to know where they are getting the estimates of ridership from? We are not Europe or Japan and we are not geographically set up like other areas that have successfully implemented a mass commuter train. I, for one, enjoy that distinction, but it appears others within our community are not. Being one person who commutes daily from Marin County to Sonoma County, I can safely say I will not be using the train, if it should ever come to fruition, because it will not be a effective or efficient mode of transportation for me from my home to work and would require a drive by car, a train, a bus and then a bus, a train and a drive by car. That type of commute doesn’t conserve anything. My understanding is that the goal, is to convert the southbound commuter, well, still not sure how that will work. My husband commutes to SF from Northern Marin and I can tell you he won’t be using the train, due to his final destination in SF. So, again, where are they getting these rider numbers. And how are they going to be more financially viable when it appears many, if not a majority will have to drive a car to a train to a ferry and then a bart or bus ride, depending upon where in SF you’re going?

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  4. GAJ says:

    I have to laugh; still not a single proponent has come forth with exactly how they are going to use this train on a regular basis year round.

    The silence is deafening.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

  5. The Hammer says:

    This is not what the voters approved. Needs to go back for a vote on the new and reduce line and service.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

  6. GAJ says:

    No joke, Kevin.

    Unbelievable, isn’t it?

    But the Mercedes would HAVE to be a hybrid or a plug in electric…and they’d have to, of course, be green in color.

    And we’d have to pay all costs in perpetuity.

    Nevertheless, the savings over the current plan would be HUGE! ;)

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  7. Kevin says:


    It would be cheaper to buy them all Mercedes.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  8. GAJ says:

    Please explain to us how you, the proponents of this boondoggle, are going to use this train on a personal basis.

    It would be cheaper to buy ALL the potential riders of this train a Vespa and be done with it!

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

  9. Steveguy says:

    Repeal the SMART Tax. They have lied and scammed enough !

    They assume massive monies from other agencies. Not going to happen. They won’t be able to get more bond funding with their false numbers.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 1

  10. Steve Klausner says:


    “The visionaries who conceived of the SMART line were thinking generationally, looking to create a mass transit spine along the 101 corridor, which will serve as the locus for development in the region.”

    Well they sure fooled the regular people who thought they were only voting for a train.

    Your visionaries ideas for development will not prevent sprawl, only zoning can do that. We are going to end up with your high density development in addition to sprawl.

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 3

  11. Kevin says:

    The SMART board is like the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.
    No matter how many arms and legs are cut off and spouting blood they keep saying “Just a flesh”.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 2

  12. Dogs Rule says:

    There is no train, and these people get paid anyway. It’s all talk- no train. For the millions poured into this, we could have had the best bus service the world has ever seen – which is a more flexible transportation solution anyway.

    Thumb up 28 Thumb down 2

  13. Grey Whitmore says:

    I sleep well every night know the naysayers and there “cute” little remarks about “DUMB” won’t stop this very important project.

    Just remember that when it comes to fruition and you want to ride it.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 30

  14. John Galt says:


    First, you don’t “keep consuming 25% of the worlds oil reserves”- that is a non-sequitur- you can’t keep using up reserves, or they would be gone. I think what you were trying to say was that we keep using 25% of the world’s oil PRODUCTION. That may be the case.

    But you are looking at the wrong metrics. I’m going to take your statements at face value- I don’t know if your numbers are accurate or not (you know- lies, damn lies, and statistics), but we’ll assume they are.

    We use 25% of the world’s energy production because we have 25% of the world’s ECONOMY- economic production requires resources, and provides benefits to the populace.

    You may want to shift that economy elsewhere, by reducing the energy availability to the US economy, but I’m slightly fond of US exceptionalism, and our position as the powerhouse in the world economy.

    Our standard of living- our ability to choose how we live, our ability to explore and development alternative technologies, is all provided for by our economic might. When you are just struggling to survive, as so much of the world is, you are not in a position to elevate the standard of living or create solutions.

    So continue your guilt-ridden self-flagellation, but none of your righteous indignation would make a lick of difference if we weren’t as strong economically as we are.

    These ideologically driven pet projects are a major drain on our resources- they make no economic sense, and are impose an unsustainable tax burden on society. Keep it up, and this recession will become a permanent state of affairs.

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 3

  15. BigDogatPlay says:

    All of the economic assumptions factored into the computations were largely pipe dreams even in flush times. The train is part the point of being even remotely sustainable as the board continues to fritter away taxpayer money with little hope of an economic resurgence on the horizon.

    End it….. end it now. Either that or go light rail for a lot less capital outlay and push to expand service out across the cities where it can do some good.

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 3

  16. wilson says:

    I think that the idea of a commuter train in the North bay is a good idea. However the SMART folks have had nothing but DUMB ideas on how to make it happen. And in the current economic state of our country, we simply cannot afford it.

    But what really gets me is one little fact that this article fails to mention. The last that I heard, the owner of the property that DUMB wants to build the Corona Station on has no intention of selling. Oops. Plus this location is basically in the middle of nowhere and we would be much better served by a train station closer to Old Redwood Highway. But then, as DUMB SMART is, no wonder they have the wrong location for this as well as the northern Santa Rosa station.

    Repeal the tax now and stop the bleeding!

    Thumb up 32 Thumb down 3

  17. Guard Dog says:

    Dump smart save $$$,$$$,$$$

    Thumb up 27 Thumb down 3

  18. Phil Maher says:


    Notice the quote from Windsor Vice-Mayor (SMART Board Member), Deb Fudge, when it comes to her concerns as she voted against the town spending $1 mil of redevelopment money for a project because it has funding issues- “It’s now too risky and we don’t have enough information.”

    So a project with essentially the same issues, and a price tag that’s 1000x that amount is okay to push through? Where exactly is SMART’s funding going to come from? Not quite sure Madame Vice-Mayor? Please give the decisions you were trusted to make by appointment the same careful consideration as those you make on behalf of the citizens who elected you. What hypocrisy!

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 4

  19. 505Alive says:

    Meanwhile, where’s the freight train?

    In this poor economy, it is more apparent that the job opportunities up north are decreased by the lack of economical transportation of freight, as they are anyplace that doesn’t have a railroad. To be more clear, some industries cannot exist without the railroad, so they don’t exist up north. And thus, the jobs associated with those industries do not exist up north either.

    In addition, those industries that can exist with truck or rail freight, are hurt by the lack of rail freight, due to the higher cost of truck transport. Consequently, they make less money, and their employees do to.

    About $60 million of our tax dollars have been spent to make this railroad operational for freight. This would bring more jobs up north, and allow some people to work up north near their homes instead of getting in the 101 traffic jam every day.

    SMART would not move more jobs up north; it only allows another way for people to commute to the south.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 3

  20. Alex says:

    It is time to end this shenanigans once and for all by repealing the tax. Pay whatever debts are left to end this nutshell game and give the money back the cities based on the percentage of the population. All of the money given back to the cities will have to be used for roads only…God only knows with these potholes all around they need some serious fixing. This is just another public transportation failure. If not repealed, this will be a constant whine in wine country forever…just look at BART, MUNI, CalTrain…it never, never, never, never gets out of debt. It is a constant drain. Don’t be DUMB; Become smart by getting rid of SMART.

    Thumb up 36 Thumb down 3

  21. Grey Whitmore says:

    Nice to see that 1/5 of the comments so far are getting that we live in a whole world. A world were American’s cannot keep consuming 25% of the worlds oil reserves, while having only 4.5% of the worlds population.

    But so what so many American’s say … it is my God given right to live anyway I want no matter what the consequences to the rest of the world.

    Nice to see at least Eric Newman understands that only long range projects transportation projects are part of the solutionn.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 39

  22. Greg Karraker says:

    Here’s a simple cut: Last I heard, SMART is still planning to build one station in Cotati, and another in Rohnert Park, about 1 1/2 miles away. Not only is this redundant, it will slow the train to Toonerville Trolley speed. Cut one or the other of these redundant stations.

    I recommend cutting Cotati because they are even less qualified to build anything of value around the station than Rohnert Park is.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 5

  23. On To Truth & Justice says:

    It seems with a deficit of $126 million the SMART Board is waking up to the fact the train has become the rail of tears. Cutting stations, deciding whether to fix old bridges, the Haystack which floods regularly and is estimated to cost $35 million to replace are all items in cost cutting cross hairs of the Board.

    The bikers won’t get their bike paths in the end because it cost $28 million to complete just 2/3 of the route.

    Under consideration is a one year delay in stating train service. Cost saving $12 million. Right now the Board says it wants to start service in 2014 but they won’t have the dollars then to get this thing on the tracks.

    The Board is also considering eliminating the shuttle service saving another $7 million.

    Right now the Board wants to cut $4,300 for ticket vending machines and $4,500 cutting a fiber optic communications system. These and other small cuts don’t add up to the cost a SMART consultant or a SMART engineer.

    SMART doesn’t have the funding to build a station in Santa Rosa where the two largest county employers have locations, Kaiser Permanente and the County Offices.

    This train to nowhere continues down the tracks on the backs of us poor taxpayers going nowhere.

    When will some group or the politicans in Sonoma and Marin realize this is a no go project that needs to be pulled off the agenda and the roads repaired? It can’t come too soon as this Board is hell bent on continuing to spend tax money on this boondoggle.

    Thumb up 34 Thumb down 4

  24. Phil Maher says:


    The economic assumptions made pre-recession were a bill of goods, nothing more, nothing less. The inclusion of a bike/pedestrian path was a necessary means to an end, that did, and still does, make much more sense in terms of both public benefit and cost.

    Cranky? Sometimes. In favor of more spending on the military and police? NO! Anti-tax? Only when it’s just more money flushed away on the same sorts of boondoggles and social engineering projects that have brought us to our knees. Where will it end? How much is enough…everything? Anti-government? When it’s run poorly by a few who interject their own beliefs, and wrongly pronounce it as them knowing what’s good for us all. Minority? If I were SMART, I wouldn’t be willing to test those waters with another vote. Meaningless? Time will tell.

    “Praise”,”Visionaries”- Wow! With words like that, I can’t help but think of Kool-aid and kissing rattlesnakes. This is a train to less than nowhere, not to eternal salvation. Forgive us SMART, for we know not what we do.

    …but then again, you don’t seem to either.

    Thumb up 31 Thumb down 5

  25. John Galt says:

    Eric- While you’ve made an admirable attempt to marginalize the opposition, you have gone too far, and your dismissive attitude makes it clear that you are ideologically devoted to an idea that is falling apart more and more with each passing meeting.

    The fact of the matter is that your vision of the “21st Century” is something that most people are not in favor of, and is not favorable to quality of life. You have made environmentalism your religion, and pursue it with dogmatic zeal.

    There is plenty of open space. There is plenty of room for moderate, reasoned future growth and development. It is absolutely not necessary to cram ourselves into 4-6 story high-rise apartment buildings cloistered around train stations- and that is exactly what SMART is proposing.

    The TOD requirements would create urban zones all up and down the 101 corridor, enriching selected developers, and bringing with them the problems that accompany urban living.

    This is not an urban area- if people wanted to live in super high density, they would move to San Francisco. I find your suggestion that this is a superior development pattern offensive.

    What you are supporting would ruin the pastoral and rural nature of our communities. It is a huge social experiment, fundamentally altering the way we live, and doing so on the back of taxpayers.

    Look at the ridership numbers- 3000 people per day (assuming round trips) for the entire line? Their building half initially, so maybe 2000 people? At a cost of $400 million? That means we are spending $200,000 per rider to build the thing…. AND we’ll have to subsidize 2/3 of the operating costs! And with that, you only get half a train!

    This is madness….

    Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather spend nothing to build it, incur no bond debt, and re-allocate just half of the operating subsidy to keep our roads paved and in decent shape…. which everyone can enjoy, not just the few who pay to ride.

    And I’d rather actually have a house with a yard that my kids can play in- and a neighborhood park doesn’t count.

    Thumb up 41 Thumb down 8

  26. Waste Of Money and a Fraud says:

    The DUMB train is a waste of taxpayer money and a fraud. What the DUMB board is building is not what was approved by voters.

    Thumb up 42 Thumb down 5

  27. Eric Newman says:

    “SMART train is long-term investment:
    there is light at the end of that tunnel”

    The visionaries who conceived of the SMART line were thinking generationally, looking to create a mass transit spine along the 101 corridor, which will serve as the locus for development in the region. This is the type of long-range thinking that will be required to make the transition to the 21st century.

    The bulk of the detractors of the project seem to consist primarily of anti-tax, anti-government extremists who essentially oppose any public expenditures except for military and police. They can be written off as cranky and meaningless (although quite vocal) minority.

    The more serious criticisms of SMART go back to the basic point that what really should have been built, had we been able to summon the political will at the time, was a North Bay extension of BART. The economic assumptions that were made pre-recession regarding the funding for SMART proved to be too optimistic, and so the line will be built out more slowly than originally planned.

    The train will be built, and we will praise the foresight of those who conceived and implemented the project.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 49

Leave a Reply