By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District is considering an election ordinance that lowers the number of signatures needed to put a measure on the ballot to repeal its sales tax.
However, the proposal would send SMART opponents back to the starting line by requiring them to submit a copy of the initiative for approval before it can be circulated.
The critics began circulating petitions in late September and began a public campaign at shopping centers on Oct 1.
“The ordinance is in order for the public to be protected, so they know what they are signing and what they are signing is what they are being told,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART general manager. “It is a process to have a legal person in charge of this, to have a neutral analysis of this.”
Members of RepealSMART.org, which is circulating the petitions, complain the proposed ordinance is unfair.
“It sounds like gamesmanship, it sounds like obstructionism,” said Clay Mitchell of Windsor, co-chairman of the repeal campaign.
At issue is which section of state law or election code applies to the RepealSMART effort to get a measure on either the June or November 2012 ballot seeking to have the 0.25 percent sales tax repealed.
The statutes set differing requirements for the minimum number of valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.
Under Proposition 218, which voters passed in 1996, it could be 15,000, but that threshold that has never been tested in court, said Kris Vosbourgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
Under a section of the state election code, more than 37,000 would be needed, which is the figure the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters office is advising proponents to use.
That code section does not require the RepealSMART proponents to submit the measure to Sonoma County government attorneys to be reviewed for accuracy.
The RepealSMART petition has a six-paragraph summation of reasons the tax should be repealed, the chief one being the downsizing of the commute rail service because of funding shortages.
SMART attorneys contend that the ballot effort falls under another election code because SMART’s founding legislation does not provide procedures for an initiative, thus requiring the district to adopt them.
The proposed SMART ordinance is expected to be disclosed Friday as part of the agenda packet for the Wednesday meeting of SMART’s board of directors in San Rafael.
However the gist of the ordinance was contained in a letter sent to the opponents on Sept. 23, a day after RepealSMART.org announced that it had begun collecting signatures and nine days before it began a public petition-signing campaign in Sonoma and Marin counties.
It would appoint SMART’s general manager as the election official in charge and require RepealSMART to submit a copy of the proposed initiative so SMART attorneys can “prepare a neutral title and summary of the proposed measure.”
A second letter, prepared by attorney Michael G. Colantuono of Penn Valley, who is special counsel to SMART, was sent to tax repeal advocates on Oct. 7 restating SMART’s position.
“We are playing by the law and our job is to protect and make sure the voters are treated according to the law,” Mansourian said. “It has nothing to do with fairness or unfairness, we all must comply with the law.”
Mitchell said his group is frustrated by maneuvering.
“Why has it taken so long? We put them on notice in June; we asked for guidance in July. We just want straight answers.”