WatchSonoma Watch

GUEST OPINION: The hidden costs of SMART repeal effort


Lisa Wittke Schaffner

Lisa Wittke Schaffner is CEO of Sonoma County Alliance. Gary Helfrich is executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

Four years into the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression, everyone is looking to boost the economy and invest wisely. In the North Bay, voters have provided the opportunity to do both: the SMART train and pathway.

A commuter train packaged with a visionary multi-use pathway, Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit is a wise investment in our economic, transportation and environmental future. That’s why the project has attracted broad-based support in the form of the SMART Riders Coalition: business groups such as the Sonoma County Alliance and transportation groups such as the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition have joined with labor, environmental and social justice organizations to protect SMART.

Gary Helfrich

SMART has already created at least 250 jobs, and contractor Stacy & Witbeck says SMART will create at least 1,000 more good jobs by year’s end. That’s with the first construction contract, awarded last week; SMART is prepared to award at least two more contracts this year, bringing more jobs.

Once SMART is up and running, the project will further stimulate the economy by encouraging users to enjoy the restaurants and shops that already populate most SMART station areas.

SMART will offer North Bay residents an enjoyable alternative to traffic congestion along the Highway 101 corridor. Imagine vineyard views and a glass of wine on the way home from a meeting, or reading to your grandkids on the way to the corn maze in Petaluma. Increase your range and physical fitness by riding your bike along the SMART path to your station of choice, or enjoy a walk with your dog. SMART will create an essential backbone currently missing from our North Bay transit system. Its presence will round out the transit system and help it expand. All this will contribute to meeting our region’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

SMART began construction last week on the first phase of the project’s initial segment and expects to begin the second phase of that segment, including the multi-use pathway, later this year. SMART continues to plan for the full, 70-mile project. In the interim, it will offer express bus service to reach north to Cloverdale and south to Larkspur. With all this progress, it’s clear that SMART is right on track to completion.

But beware: A misguided effort to repeal SMART’s sales tax measure, passed in 2008 by 69.5 percent of voters, could derail the project, leaving taxpayers with nothing to show for their investment.

The RepealSMART campaign claims to concern itself with protecting taxpayers’ interests. Don’t believe the hype. SMART foes have already needlessly cost taxpayers $17 million in additional bond interest. That’s just the beginning: If the repeal effort succeeds, taxpayers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. For example:

In December, SMART had $5.8 million in active local contracts. That’s money already spent.

SMART has already spent funds associated with operating the district during the four years since Measure Q passed.

SMART estimates the taxpayer cost of a measure to repeal Measure Q at $800,000 to $4 million.

SMART’s legal team says that if there’s an election in November, SMART would have about $200 million in outstanding contracts that it would be required by law to honor. That means if the repeal succeeds, the courts are almost certain to require the continuation of the quarter-cent sales tax for at least eight years to pay off the debt.

In summary, RepealSMART will cost North Bay taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars for absolutely nothing, depriving us of transportation choice. Talk about a waste of money. We’d rather protect taxpayers’ SMART investment, support the successful completion of the project, enjoy the train and pathway and leave a legacy for generations for come. Wouldn’t you?

49 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: The hidden costs of SMART repeal effort”

  1. Commonsense says:

    Check out the census data, the only areas on the current route with enough population density are Santa Rosa and San Rafael, the remaining stops in between have drastically smaller density (Novato, Petaluma, Rohnert Park).

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  2. Commonsense says:

    I also have lived in many different areas, including downtown Oakland, and used public transit often in most of them, especially the more urban centered areas. It made sense to use it in those areas based on the density of the population and geography. However, that is not the case here in Marin and Sonoma Counties (at least not currently). Your own post indicates that it “doubled” your commute time, but was worth it to you to enjoy reading vs. driving. Well, that is great, but now all of have or want your lifestyle or personalty, isn’t that one of the great things about this area, diversity. For, me and many others I”ve spoken to both here and in other countries and states, it’s a big deal to double ones commute time and it proximity to the “hub” or stations does matter to many.

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  3. Canthisbe says:

    ‘” If subsidies did not exist, how could we really get anything done? A home owner paying $10,000 in property taxes way out at the end of a rural County road cannot support the maintenance of that road, or the power line that serves them, they need that to be incrementally subsidized by the rest of us. Same with insurance and most other things in our life. I’m ok with that”.

    A statement like that makes you a liberal, not a “fellow conservative”. If we spent too much money subsidizing rural county roads, the solution to that problem is to spend less on subsidizing rural county roads, not blow millions subsidizing an amusement park train (see all the comments about how much fun grandmas are going to have taking their grandkids for a ride on the train. And most insurance for most of us is not subsidized. I’m not so sure that “most other things in our life” are subsidized either, but if they are, that’s probably why our cities, counties, states and the county are broke.

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  4. JustAThought says:

    What we need to do is take the existing funds from SMART and reallocate the money to build an aerial monorail system from Railroad Square over the Santa Rosa Plaza and across to the 3rd street parking garage in front of Aleworks. This would address the issue of the downtown divide and end the debate over SMART. With stops on the top tiers of the Plaza and third street garages, it would be a lot less expensive than SMART and provide Santa Rosa’s downtown with some much needed character, as well as making the businesses located in and around Railroad Square a lot of more attractive and accessible to tourists and residents alike.

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  5. Unfazed says:

    Bly and his fellow travelers on the Alliance board is propaganda to further the myth that the little train will bring everything from clean air to world peace in one fell swoop.

    The only thing is will bring is more debt, spending and taxes for an over taxed underserved public.

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  6. CitizenUnited says:

    Seriously, Lisa and Gary your are so so out of touch with the people in this community.

    It is this kind of ‘fantasy’ views that has resulted in all forms of govt to be in the bankruptcy pit of despair.

    Yes we have an obligation if Repeal Smart fails. But more importantly let us question the Politicians and surrogates motivations.

    Yes we do need improvements in transportation, but if Private business is not going to risk its own money to build it and operate it then why should the voted be subject to an every increasing TAX liability and ongoing financial obligations.

    I’m all for SMART 101 but not a PUBLIC funded venture.

    Anyone for Soylandra ?

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  7. John Bly says:

    @canthisbe-finally, some intelligent dialogue. I agree with part of what you say. We simply disagree on whether this has already been considered by voters or not. I think it has as I attended nearly all the public meetings in 2006 and 2008 and heard most of the arguments the repeal folks are stating now. I do not think anything was grossly misrepresented, and I clearly knew the estimates of cost would change once the engineering and technology were more thoroughly considered. The fact is that I considered all that and voted for the train while many of my fellow conservatives did not. If subsidies did not exist, how could we really get anything done? A home owner paying $10,000 in property taxes way out at the end of a rural County road cannot support the maintenance of that road, or the power line that serves them, they need that to be incrementally subsidized by the rest of us. Same with insurance and most other things in our life. I’m ok with that. As I am with SMART. I will Decline to Sign.

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  8. Social Dis-Ease says:

    It’s gonna be expensive,
    but that’s just an estimate.

    It’s gonna cost a lot more than just money.

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  9. Social Dis-Ease says:

    As many of you know, the reason for the inexplicable resolve regarding this train, the OneBayArea crap and redevelopment is because they work together in this scheme (scam) called ‘Smart Growth’(Agenda 21).
    It is literally central to their whole oppressive utopia that they have in mind for us.
    This brave new world is a place that does not include choice in terms of where you are allowed to live, it provides for the eventual decimation of private property (provable upon request).

    What we have here are public officials paid by us, trying everything they can to adhere to this oppressive Agenda at all cost despite the public’s input and request that it be brought to a vote.

    There is movement underway at this time to examine our allegiance with ICLEI, and to hear an explanation as to what the benefit is to the people.
    This is coming to be known as ‘THE QUESTION’.
    Why do we belong to ICLEI?
    This question speaks directly to all this uncalled for oppressive, expensive infrastructure that is turning normal citizens into activists.

    I didn’t move to Sonoma County to live in a stacked ‘n packed commu-condo.
    I paid a big price (and taxes) to live in the country.

    Remember, only 5% of America is developed, which anyone who has flown can attest to.

    When you observe the concrete, tangible resistance to bringing this subject to light, you will find the same adversarial stonewalling that has been a characteristic of the Smart Train discourse with the People.

    This will force even a casual observer to ask another question.

    What do they have to hide?

    Search: Smart Growth Fraud so we all know what the nightmare is all about.`

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  10. Canthisbe says:

    The issues are more complex than arguing that spending hundreds of millions of dollars will “put 900 jobs out into the community”. Those hundreds of millions of dollars have to come from somewhere. In the end, they are going to come from the taxpayers in Marin and Sonoma Counties even if some of those $$ make a trip to Washington D.C. or Sacramento before less of them come back. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars taken out of one set of pockets and transferred to another set of pockets. Of course there is some overlap. If we’re taking $45 out of your pocket and then putting thousands of dollars back in your pocket and millions more into your organization’s members’ pockets, then like some people, you’ll think it’s a pretty good deal. But if you’re in the vast majority group and you’re going to get $45 taken out of you pocket and get none of it back, maybe not as good a deal.
    Also, even if we agree that spending hundreds of millions of $$ will create 900 local jobs, there’s still the question of what should those jobs be. What is the best use of that money? Maybe some road repair jobs, maybe fix some street lights, may be something else. Maybe the majority of the people would like to keep their $45 and decide what jobs to spend it on themselves. And keep in mind that the 900 local jobs is just an estimate and we know that estimates sometimes are way off and that you can’t rely on estimates. Based on past Smart estimates, that “900 local jobs” may really only be 300 or 400 jobs for a couple of hundred million $$.
    So, let the people vote on it and see what they want to do.

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  11. Kirstin says:

    John Bly, you and other pro-SMART people are wrong about the $17M. Here is why: http://novato.patch.com/blog_posts/did-the-repeal-smart-campaign-cost-smart-17-million.

    Measure Q tax money will only build the about 37 miles of the 70 mile length that was promised. See the cost increase from that perspective?

    Would you please show me where there are details about the jobs SMART is supposedly providing? Haven’t seen any yet.

    Highway 101 serves about 140,000 one-way trips every day right now at the Sonoma/Marin county line. Surely it will be more in 20 years. SMART is only expected to serve about 3600 one-way trips (if the entire 70 miles is built) in 2035. It follows that it makes more sense to spend money on what serves so many more people than on something that will serve so few of us.

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  12. John Bly says:

    @clay Mitchell-those “pesky” tag lines that say these are “estimates” do get in the way don’t they? How many jobs do you “estimate” you have eliminated by causing $17,000,000 more costs for the bonds? Real people doing real jobs spending real money in the community is what you are trying to stop. How do you come up with a 40% increase in estimated construction costs? I’m not seeing that. You are not going to convince me that your effort is doing good for those of us that are willing to pay about $45 additional per year to put 900 jobs out into the community. That is worth it. Although I don’t, and I suspect you don’t, use Highway 101 on a daily basis, are you just as irate about subsidizing it’s costs for those that might use it more? Your argument starts to lose its merit when you start trying to apply total user costs for everything. Decline to Sign.

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  13. Canthisbe says:

    The Repeal Smart people can criticize Smart as much as they want but the Smart Board was able to bring their lunch meeting in for just around $4,000. (See article above.) With the same tightfisted spending of taxpayer money, they should be able to complete the Smart project for under a billion $ – but that’s just an estimate, nothing to rely on.

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  14. Steveguy says:

    To add to a previous point. Does anyone know about the details of the 2 year delay due to “environmental concerns” ?

    What does it take to rebuild an existing track ?

    This claim must be false, and I have heard nothing about any environmental concerns or opposition anywhere. Maybe a tidbit about some bridge rebuild and a wetland in Novato, but why have some 2 year delay for making old stuff new again ?

    Why is there acceptance for that SMART statement ? And if it a true statement, who are these train-stoppers ? Is it the Feds that we beg money from, then tell us we can’t build it yet ? Do we really have to count salamanders in order to do a one time rail-bed fix ?

    It makes no sense to me.

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  15. Mr. Bly-

    I have gone back and re-read those items…. and of course SMART included the requisite disclaimers to avoid liability. Then, as now, it was the supporters of the project who played fast and loose with the numbers, and presented unrealistic arguments and promises.

    I will also point out that back then, SMART didn’t go out of their way to make it clear that their numbers at the time were conceptual estimates (0% engineering done), and therefore thoroughly unreliable.

    Let me isolate just a few claims from the ballot arguments:

    “cutting emissions by 31 million pounds annually.” (closer to 6 million pounds annaully, and even that uses suspect methodology).

    “Independent Citizens’ Oversight” (no independence- oversight committee is appointed by the Board)

    “Include a companion bicycle/pedestrian pathway between Larkspur and Cloverdale” (misleading- makes you think they were planning to go to Cloverdale from the get go- in actuality, everything from Healdsburg north was not in the original plan).

    “A maintenance facility in either Cloverdale or Windsor.” (Or Santa Rosa. Or Petaluma. Which would require a SEIR, which has not been done).

    And my personal favorite:

    “Measure Q fully covers SMART’s train costs for 20 years.”

    The biggest issue is the increase in costs- in a time when costs should have been down. How does one account for a 74% increase in RE acquisition costs between 2009-2010? Or a 40% increase in construction estimates (some of which is being off-set now as the bids come in, but certainly not all)?

    If you go back to 2006, you will find that SMART did public opinion polling prior to their first crack at the sales tax. They found that while a 1/2 cent tax was what was needed, the public wouldn’t support it. So they lowered their projected costs, said they could do it with a quarter cent, and took it to the voters.

    There were plenty of unrealistic expectations set by SMART and its supporters, and revisionist history is not going to change that.

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  16. Steveguy says:

    Hidden costs for the Repeal effort ? How about SMART’s own ‘hidden costs’ ?

    They promised a whole train, now we get 1/2 a train with no bike path.

    SMART says ” a downturn in sales tax revenue” is the cause. I see no other agency saying that sales tax revenues have gone down 50%. NONE, zero, notta..

    How does SMART get away with that, even though they were able to get millions of extra from the Bay Area Bridge tolls and other sources ? And guess what- we paid for those planners and consultants to be wrong by 50%.

    Now they say a delay of 2 years due to environmental concerns. I know of no environmental group that is pressing on SMART’s plans to rebuild an existing track.

    I must say as a bike rider that the bike path is fairly useless. For most people the train tracks are creepy, and live too far from it. I have had no problems riding my bike all over on normal roads. I can get from Windsor to Petaluma or Kenwood just fine now. For years I took my bike on the Sonoma County transit to near work, and most times rode home, running errands along the way. I have also taken my bike to San Francisco on the Golden Gate Transit buses. Very convenient, so I should be a poster boy for transit. I am very concerned that SMART will take away from other transit funds, both bus and bike lanes.

    Hey bike riders, how many of us would actually ride this path ? There are far better street options for commutes, and way better recreational ride paths around. Really.

    And drivers– get this– they will have to put up a pedestrian crossing light at every street that crosses the tracks now. Mostly for local dog walkers and bums.

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  17. taxpayer says:


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  18. Graeme Wellington says:

    @Try Transit – I have figured out the schedules. It will take four hours each way to commute from Santa Rosa to San Francisco. I have figured out there are 50,000 commuters. I have figured out there are 150 seats on the train and that they depart 30 minutes apart. Seven trains spread out over 3 1/2 hours can handle 1000 commuters. Is that worth $86,000 per passenger per year in government subsidies, i.e., taxes all of us have to pay to keep it operating? I have figured out that 1000 jobs will cost us a million dollars a job. How much sense does that make. So, figure it out yourself.

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  19. Kirstin says:

    John Bly, what’s the problem? Do you think that in a re-vote less than 50% of the population will vote again for the SMART tax passed in 2008 under different circumstances? Golly! Guess you don’t have much faith that the population here supports SMART’s drastically revised plan, hm?

    Seriously, it really makes no sense for SMART supporters to argue that the 50% threshold is unfair. No it isn’t. BOTH sides have the exact same playing field. The one that gets at least 50% + 1 wins. Supposedly, in the poll taken a few months ago, SMART was still getting about 58% (can’t recall the exact number) approval. So, why so scared of another vote?

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  20. Canthisbe says:

    Try Transit

    “Commonsense says that most commuters will be those who can walk or bike to the train station but that is not true”.

    Statistical samples of one are generally considered to be unreliable. The fact that at one time you used a commuter train where you boarded and got off outside of the walking distance of your house and office does not disprove what Commonsense said.
    I used a commuter train too and my casual observation was that about 20% of the riders walked to and from the “home station” and that about 90%+ of the riders walked to and from the “work station”.
    While you can argue the “walking distance” issue, it appears that “walking distance’ at at least one end of the commute is an important. Most people do want a travel adventure every workday especially at the end of the day.
    lived and worked outs

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  21. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @IL – “@LBR You are incorrect – the population desities are similar.”
    I got my information from the link YOU provided. It said that there was nothing in between the cities, except for some small “villages” and that most was open country side. That was their argument for why this “Intercity” piece of track was a waste. With SMART, you have Novato, Petaluma and Rohnert Park in between San Rafael and Santa Rosa. Included in this stretch are large employers (Fireman Fund) and colleges (SSU and SRJC). @CS also talks about densities, but you need to look at the population near the tracks, not the whole counties. Marin and Sonoma developed along the RR, and that is where most of the population continues to be now.

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  22. Canthisbe says:

    When the first time a Smart train turns a bicyclist into rail grease (a real railroad term – not slang), they will be demanding that the trains do not exceed the speed of bike riders and that bridges (at $20 Million each) be built over the rails so that they can cross the rails safely without looking both ways.

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  23. Try Transit says:

    Commonsense says that most commuters will be those who can walk or bike to the train station but that is not true. I commuted regularly by train when I lived on the SF Peninsula. Over the years I lived and worked in various locations along the Peninsula and never lived close to train station. I would drive to the station and then catch a bus to my office once I arrived at my location. The busses were timed to make it convenient and easy. It was pleasure knowing that I just had to worry about the few miles to the station. Then I could relax and read and let someone else do the driving for the rest of the commute. Walking a few blocks to my office became a nice meditation to start my day and burn a few extra calories.

    Comments on this website make it clear that many people in Sonoma County don’t understand how transit works or can work. Once you figure out the logistics and schedules, it is great. Why are people so afraid to get out of their cars? Why are people so insistent on driving and parking with a few feet of their destination? Even here in Sonoma County, I take a bus to downtown SR that takes about double what driving my car would take. But again, I get to read the whole way, don’t have to worry about road rage, texting drivers, or parking, and I enjoy the final walk to my office to ponder my day ahead.

    Its natural to be afraid of the unknown, but as someone who has experienced the many benefits of bus and train commuting, it is clear that this train will be an important asset to the people and visitors of Sonoma and Marin. We just need to learn how to use it and put our fears behind us.

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  24. NoQuarters says:

    Louis Cambell

    LOL, your funny
    post are names
    I like my truck, don’t want to see it catch fire
    I enjoy my store front, don’t want to have to board it up

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  25. From the Street says:

    SMART is that $1200 hammer we all have heard about when the government builds bombers. Well, SMART is our local version of a cold war bomber.

    Costs too much, doesn’t do what it was intended to do and is way behind schedule with nothing but expensive cost overruns.

    Sign the Repeal Petition and let the voters decide. Something we could not do with that $1200 hammer in the cold war days.

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  26. John Parnell says:

    Mr. Mansourian’s big message of contract impairment is what he told his Citizens’ Oversight Committee was a “bulletproof” political strategy. I have not seen the new contracts, but wouldn’t be surprised if he purposely left out any escape clause to scare people. Good way to try to keep that $342,000/yr job.

    Mr. Mansourian has also been telling everyone that we will be on the hook for the trains, whether we take possession or not. This has been widely reported as fact. However, it is not true. The escape clause in the Sumitomo contract was publicly discussed at multiple SMART board meetings.

    I find this “contract impairment strategy” to be political extortion , and fiscally irresponsible. But that is SMART’s big strategy now. Spend as much as possible as quickly as possible. Contractually obligate us for as much as possible, so people think it is too late to stop this fiscal train wreck.

    Louis Cambell – As far as I know, everyone with RepealSMART uses at least their first name, and myself & Clay Mitchell always use our first & last names. Many people accuse every anti-SMART comment as being from Repeal SMART, but it isn’t true. It may be just the voice of the people, and not RepealSMART.

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  27. DeeDee says:

    “Once SMART is up and running, the project will further stimulate the economy by encouraging users to enjoy the restaurants and shops that already populate most SMART station areas.”

    Great, chug your wine and gobble your food cause this is a commuter line for workers and will shut down 8pm weekdays with no weekend service.

    But the good news is the tracks are in place for NCRA to work with the Napa Wine Train to roll tourists out of Marin into Napa during off hours and weekends for wine and food.

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  28. John Bly says:

    If you go back and review the published information in 2008, what the estimates were, what the schedule was, and the fact that until designs are completed the disclaimer that the estimates are just that-ESTIMATES-there has been no misrepresentation, no fraud, no broken promises, and no conspiracy by SMART. What’s left for those that oppose the project for whatever their reasons? To claim that it should get revoted on for a simple majority repeal when it was already voted on with a 2/3 majority. No. Decline to Sign.

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  29. Iron Lady says:

    @LBR You are incorrect – the population desities are similar. As for the train being faster than driving – this is only the case if you ignore driving getting a bus to the station, waiting for the train, and then the same at the other end. Even if we ignore this obvious ommission in your argument, I doubt that a train stopping at all the stations along the route will be faster than driving, and if they don’t stop, how will riders use the train? The logic for SMART just isn’t.
    Don’t take my word for it, let the voters have their say.

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  30. Billy C says:

    I think “SMART” could choose better spokes persons. The Sonoma County Bike Coalition
    Has proven to be incredibly demanding of available resources insensitive to the majority’s needs and desires. The Sonoma County Alliance represents builders and developers that would get lucrative contracts from “SMART”.
    There arguments are weak and they do not even have there fact straight.
    Really? Be able to drink wine on the
    train? Should we offer beer on the bus?
    As far as economic benefits go let think about this for just a moment.
    We shell out a BILLION dollars of OUR money so a few hundred local people can work for a few years then pay another 15
    Million a year to support a few hundred riders and the generous salary’s of the “SMART” staff.
    FOLKS we been had. I cant blame the Bike people and the Alliance for trying to keep the gravy train going but this is
    way out of line. Lets stop it while we can.

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  31. Louis Cambell says:

    Its an opinion piece! The fact that some of you think the “press democrat reporter” got something wrong just proves the that you are not paying attention to what you are reading. This is why most of the anti smart comments are no more then uneducated rants.

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  32. Louis Cambell says:

    It’s pretty ironic to call someone a liar and a fraud when you don’t have the guts to use your real first and last names! Ive noticed that most of the anti smart people hide behind fake names.

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  33. Lee says:

    If you build it, they will come.
    I know I will!
    Let’s get it going!

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  34. GAJ says:

    With, at best, 1/20th the riders per mile of track for ANY light rail project nationwide we can all pat ourselves on the back as we hand yet another huge debt to our children and grandchildren.

    Sure, other similar projects have daily ridership in the six figures, but so what…we can afford it!

    Why doesn’t the PD do a story on THAT!

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  35. TRAIN JUMPER says:

    Sure, it will hurt to jump off the moving train…but what if it’s heading towards a cliff? Which is more painful in the long run???

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  36. John Parnell says:

    John Bly – Success to me would be letting people actually have that choice about SMART which you say it gives us. I disagree with you, and think that SMART (and you) want to deny people that choice. It took three times for us to approve a plan presented by SMART, which has changed drastically since. We are now getting only half of what we bought. Let the people decide if we should continue with this, and not SMART itself.

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  37. Commonsense says:

    One of the major selling points of this train has been the relief of traffic on 101. However, the facts don’t support that claim and I’d much rather pay the cost now to terminate a bad idea at the wrong time, then pay the ever increasing costs associated with this project.

    According to the 2010 Census date for the State of California (Marin and Sonoma Counties), the total population of Marin County in 2010 was 252,409 and the total land area (square miles) was 520.3, thus the population density for Marin County in 2010 was 485 people per square mile on average. The largest City in Marin by far (the difference in most other areas of Marin is in the hundreds or low thousands) was the City of San Rafael, with a total population of 57,713 and 16.5 square miles for a total density of 3,504. According to the same census date Marin county had a 7.2% vacancy rate. Sonoma County had a total population of 483,878, with a total land area of 1,575.8 resulting in a population density of 307 per square mile on average. Sonoma County had a total vacancy rate of 9.2%. The largest population density in Sonoma County was again by far was Santa Rosa City with a total population of 167,815,and total land area of 41.3 for a population density of 4,064. The number of areas in both counties with drastically lower population density was startling. However, the difference is easly explained as we have vast areas of open space, parks and ranch/farm land. So, when you compare these same figures with other Counties (like Alameda, Contra Costa or San Francisco) you see that our population density isn’t nearly as great (Census data is readily available). Basically, the farther north one goes from San Franciso and the areas of the East Bay the more spread out people are because those areas are largely rural with smaller urban pockets. In fact, isn’t that one the of major selling points in the area of tourism (note the current issues of sprawl and “big box stores in Petaluma and Sonoma)?
    So, a train for purpose of “easing traffic on 101″ doesn’t make sense given our own population density figures and the makeup of both counties in general.
    That doesn’t even take into consideration that most who commute will only utilize the train if they can easily and timely walk or bike to it from their home and it drops them off within walking distance of their place of work, otherwise one would need to use at least 4 different methods of transport to commute, which would no doubt vastly increase their time spent commuting and make no sense whatsoever.
    Walking paths/bike paths are great ideas and don’t require the SMART Train, they can be done irrespective of this project.

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  38. Graeme Wellington says:

    @John Bly – A choice that costs $86,000 per passenger per year in taxes and offers no utility. You can’t commute on it. And even if it operated perfectly — there’s 150 seats on the train and 50,000 commuters. And even if 1000 dedicated four hours each way to commute it would take seven trains to do it and there’s only one train every half hour. The reality is there are no benefits that matter and costs beyond comprehension – forever.

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  39. Anderson says:

    A train connected to BART would be great. SMART is not it.

    Study the faces of these two article authors. These are your neighbors who happily lie to your face and pick your pocket for a boondoggle.

    Then when it becomes one more government travesty that costs taxpayers millions and millions, they simply say “OOPs” and walk away, some with big pensions.

    Either do it right, or don’t do it at all.

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  40. John Bly says:

    This project will offer people a choice they do not have now in travel between Marin and Sonoma County.
    What is “success” to the Smart supporters? Having an option other than Highway 101.
    What is “success” to the other side? Costing taxpayers millions of dollars and patting themselves on the back for doing so.
    I think it is worth the $45 a year in extra sales tax to the average citizen in Marin and Sonoma County to have this project continue to move forward. That makes a lot more sense than paying something for nothing as the Repeal folks are asking people to sign up for.
    Decline to Sign!

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  41. Graeme Wellington says:

    Where is the Press Democrat reporter looking into the details of the supposed 250 jobs already created? Why doesn’t an editor assign a writer to detail the actual job number and the details?

    And as others have already pointed out, the cost of cutting our losses is far far less than the billion dollars it’s going to cost the taxpayers to build a useless train and then 15 million a year of tax money to maintain a useless system.

    Why no Press Democrat expose or feature about ANY successful LRT or commuter train system anywhere in the USA? If these things actually had the benefits being claimed by SMART supporters – why is there no example of it actually providing the benefits in the places where these things have already been built? Why do we believe things will turn out different here? Why? Where is the logic? How many times can the public be deceived? Can we just learn the lesson of all the other cities and save the billion dollars and 15 million a year expense and put it toward something beneficial?

    There is a National economic upheaval going on. There has been no development of restaurants along the train station routes. The development along the route is caused by government subsidies. YOU pay for that too. Is it worth $86,000 per passenger per year in government subsidy so a few people can ride a train to a restaurant?

    Read this opinion with a critical and logical eye and consider the costs. It’s costing a million dollars a job – if we accept the claim that it will create 1000 jobs. We can’t come up with something less wasteful?

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  42. RAW says:

    There is a fact SMART supporters miss every time. Lies, incompentence and fraud. This project started with a huge lie and tricked the taxpayers into voting for it. If it had cost 10% more, that could be understood with the rise and fall of materials. But an underestimate of 50%? Who put these numbers on paper and who shold have gotten fired or jailed for it. How can you possibly explain a 100% increase in costs? The only explaination so far is the mantra, must have a train, must have a train.

    I do not trust anyone connected to this project. They are at the least, glassy eyed and naive, at the worst, crooks and con artists.

    This project will go through probably. It will be a huge burden in the future and by the time everyone has had enough, no one from the beginning will be around to blame, except the taxpayers. Some of which are trying to do the right thing now before the fraud can continue. If we have to honor $200 million in contracts, then honor them, and put them to work fixing roads and infrastucture.. Or cancel them and spend $10 million in court to put off a settlement for 5 years and MAYBE have to pay $200 million later, rather thatn the Billion this fraud will cost before it is completed. Completed, not done. It will bever be done. The subsidies will require massive taxpayer involvement forever. I say gut it now and go to court for 5 years. A lot cheaper than the fraud.

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  43. Kirstin says:

    As I commented elsewhere, the message that needs to get out there is that the money spent for an election now is nothing compared to the total costs of the SMART train. And since the train is expected (by SMART’s own projections) to serve only a tiny percentage of our population, and the revised plan will only build approximately 1/2 the train and 1/3 the bike paths for the amount that was — we were told in 2008 — supposed to build the entire 70 miles, Sonoma/Marin voters are entitled to be the ones to decide whether they want to go ahead with this or not.

    Some people are SMART enthusiasts to the point that they don’t care what the facts are. But the falling support (see the last, widely publicized poll vs. the election margin in 2008) among the public indicates that many residents here are not willing to build something so expensive if the numbers don’t support it. But SMART could care less.

    Also, must be pointed out again that this article is wrong about the $17 million, as explained in this article: http://novato.patch.com/blog_posts/did-the-repeal-smart-campaign-cost-smart-17-million.

    Another incorrect ‘fact’ concerns the amount an election will cost. I quote Clay Mitchell here: “And according to a SMART staff report prepared by their General Counsel and presented on August 17th, 2011, the cost of the election would be $400,000 to $900,000, nowhere near the $4M top end figure that these two claim.”

    When voters really get the facts about SMART, they want to sign the RepealSMART petition, and there is still time!

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  44. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @IL – “The train in the west of Ireland has remarkable similarities to SMART”
    I’m sorry, but this is bull. This section of the Ireland train connects two cities, with nothing between. SMART has density all the way along. The Ireland train is using cast-off equipment from other areas, SMART will have new equipment. In Ireland, you can drive much faster than this train, whereas SMART will be faster during rush hour. Also, Ireland is having an economic meltdown – much worse than we’re having, and our economy has hit bottom and is beginning to improve.

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  45. GAJ says:

    Better to spend millions today to kill a misguided plan that will waste hundreds of millions over the next several decades.

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  46. Chris Snyder says:

    This is dead on taxpayer dollars will be wasted if this repeal effort gets on the ballot. Even more taxpayer money will be flushed away if the repeal effort succeeds.

    Bravo Lisa and Gary well said.

    Decline to Sign anything relating to SMART

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  47. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: Iron Lady – very nice reply, and one that I can agree with 100%. I too was amused with the remark “Glasses of wine on a commuter train” and my first thought was that since the trip will to take so long for the ‘commuters’ to get home, they might have two or three glasses and then what, get in their car to drive home? (Conductor: We’re running late again… have another glass on the tax-payers, I mean the house.)

    Maybe SMART plans on having ‘commuter-designated drivers’!

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  48. NoQuarters says:

    its why they have to go
    Hidden cost?
    if this is allowed as moonbeam wishes, this rail system will have so many EIRs forced onto the whole project, yes hidden cost
    see how you unions vote look at the Keystone project, i am sure your all very proud of Obama

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  49. Iron Lady says:

    Glasses of wine on a commuter train? What romanticized rubbish. What will the cost of a ticket be? How much will taxpayers have to subsidize it? An eerily similar train was completed in Ireland 2 years ago and has failed dismally to meet the proponents rosy projections. Why the rush to spend money so SMART can say “its too late, we already spent all the money”. It’s never too late to review a project that is so far from what the voters approved. Its never too late to spot wasteful spending of other people’s money by Ivory Tower boards and the special interest groups that promote them.

    The train in the west of Ireland has remarkable similarities to SMART and was featured this week in the Irish media, see attached video report (about midway through).
    Here are some relevant facts:
    Train line was shut down in 1976 and reopened in March 2010 at a cost of $134m. There was projected to be 100,000 paying passengers per year growing to 200k in 5 yrs.
    Actual ridership after 2 years is 34k, or 8 passengers per trip. The result is a subsidy of $107 per passenger per trip equaling $3.8m per year.
    The proponents of the train say, even today, that it will relieve traffic and passengers will come. An economist quoted in the interview says rail service makes no sense unless between population centers of 1 million people at each end. The Irish train has 73,000 people in Galway and 90,000 in Limerick respectively. Santa Rosa has 167k and San Rafael has 57k population, remarkably similar.
    Can we not learn from others who have wasted so much taxpayer money and are now on the hook to subsidize the mistake for the foreseeable future at millions per year? Don’t let SMART waste any more of your hard-earned money; take action, sign the repeal effort to get this debacle on the ballot so the people can vote on it in the light of reality.
    Note: The Train is called “Western Rail Corridor” and is on Wikipedia. I converted costs in Euros to Dollars at the current exchange rate.

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