By STEVE HART
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Volunteers began a push Saturday to repeal funding for the Sonoma-Marin commuter rail project, gathering ballot petition signatures at shopping centers from Corte Madera to Santa Rosa.
They found strong feelings on both sides of the issue.
“Either they’re really into it or they’re really not,” said Joanne Hansen of Santa Rosa, who was soliciting signatures outside the Safeway store on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa. “I thought one man was going to spit on me.”
Still, she had two dozen signatures of people who want another vote on the $380 million Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) project. RepealSMART’s Facebook page was helping drive interest, she said.
Voters agreed to finance the rail project in 2008 with a quarter-percent sales tax. The group’s initiative asks voters to repeal it.
The Novato-based group intends to gather more than 40,000 signatures by Jan. 28 to put the measure on the ballot in Marin and Sonoma counties. If it qualifies, it would go before voters in June or November 2012. But the group may need only 15,000 valid signatures to qualify the measure because election law is unclear on the number required.
Since 2008, the rail project has run into funding problems, forcing SMART to reduce the North Bay rail line from 70 to 37 miles. Commute trains originally were slated to run from Larkspur to Cloverdale starting in 2014, but initial service now is planned for a shorter San Rafael-to-Santa Rosa segment. The project also is expected to cost more and take longer to complete than originally forecast.
SMART is an example of a big government program that doesn’t deliver, Hansen said Saturday.
“I’m tired of getting promised stuff that we don’t get to have,” she said.
Jim Bennett of Santa Rosa said he signed the petition because SMART is “an enormous waste of money.” He said the project is part of a misguided social-engineering scheme that dictates future development around public transportation hubs.
SMART chairwoman Valerie Brown couldn’t be reached for comment, but said last month that voters still support the project.
“When you look at our transportation problems and the effect of having commuter rail, it’s positive for the people of Sonoma and Marin,” she said.
She called the repeal effort “ill-conceived” and said the rail project is moving forward. “This will not affect SMART at all,” Brown said.
On Saturday, RepealSMART volunteers collected signatures outside eight Safeway stores in Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Windsor, Rohnert Park, Novato and Corte Madera. They also circulated petitions at a town picnic in Tiburon.