WatchSonoma Watch

Hundreds attend SMART ground-breaking in Petaluma

SMART Chairwoman Valerie Brown, right, receives a hug at a groundbreaking ceremony Friday in Petaluma for the SMART rail system. KENT PORTER/PD


North Coast politicians and transit supporters gathered Friday in Petaluma for a ceremonial ground-breaking for the commute train that will run between Sonoma and Marin counties.

“This is a historic moment. It has been a long time coming,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma. “We simply can’t meet our transportation needs by building roads. It’s not cost-effective. It is not smart.”

The ceremony for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District was held at the historic Petaluma depot and attracted a crowd of 400, many of whom took turns with the 49 golden shovels to turn over a mound of dirt crossing the tracks.

The gathering came 30 years after politicians in both counties began working to preserve the Northwestern Pacific Railroad right-of-way as a future transit corridor, a decade after the rail transit district was formed and four years after voters passed a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the train.

“It’s been a long road,” said Cloverdale Councilwoman Carol Russell, a SMART director. “It is how long it took to build the Golden Gate Bridge.”

It attracted dozens of former and present-day politicians, some who were part of the early efforts to preserve the rail line, which Southern Pacific had attempted to abandon.

Gary Giacomini was on the Marin County Board of Supervisors and part of the effort to get the rail right-of-way purchased by a newly formed agency of Sonoma and Marin counties.

“It is amazing how long things take,” Giacomini said. “Hopefully this will prove to be the most visionary move in the North Bay since the Golden Gate Bridge.”

The agency has faced multiple challenges over the past four years, with a recession forcing SMART to scale back the initial line and delay the beginning of service.

In addition, missteps by the SMART board that may have eroded some public confidence prompted an unsuccessful tax repeal effort.

SMART Chairwoman Valerie Brown, a Sonoma County supervisor, said the effort to repeal the sales tax, passed by 70 percent of Sonoma and Marin voters in November 2008, was the most troubling.

“That was absolutely a worry, that we had to be back on the ballot and fight it out again,” Brown said.

The event also was attended by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; state Senators Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, and Mark Leno, D-San Francisco; and state Assemblymembers Michael Allen, D-San Rafael; Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata; and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

There was a lone critic at the ceremony, Paul Johnson of Petaluma, who held a sign aloft criticizing the $300,000-plus salary of SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian, but Johnson said he was not a SMART opponent.

“I’m not against this, I am absolutely for it. It is a great project, but what I don’t like is some of the ways they are spending money,” Johnson said.

In the past two months, SMART has sold construction bonds and awarded a $103 million contract for the initial work to build the line and stations from Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa to the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael.

It is preparing to award another construction contract within the next few months to build between the Civic Center and downtown San Rafael.

Trains are scheduled to begin running on the initial line, 38.5 miles, in late 2014 or early 2015.

The line is to be extended north to Cloverdale and south to Larkspur as additional funds become available.

11 Responses to “Hundreds attend SMART ground-breaking in Petaluma”

  1. Independent says:

    Its sad really to see so many people taking a one sided stand to this project. Of course as with many other transportation projects people object before even finding out the truth about them, they can’t handle the truth, rather they would just sit around and let the existing infrastructure crumble around them, then throw in one measly cent to fix it. Aber natürlich wissen wir, dass Männer verachten, was sie nicht begreifen, Simply put.

  2. Skippy says:

    “Those that cannot have a perspective to the realities of the future remain stagnant with their small minds.”
    I assume you are referring to the $86,000 per year per rider that non-toy train riders will have to fork over so elitists can feel good about themselves for 4 hours down and 4 hours back.
    Those realities?

  3. Jake Mackenzie says:

    For the record , Chair Brown was giving a hug to Chalres McGlashan’s widow,Carol Missledine. See text under the photo.

  4. There is a train coming says:

    As someone stated on another site – “Those that cannot have a perspective to the realities of the future remain stagnant with their small minds.”

  5. Graeme Wellington says:

    @Paul – all the numbers come from SMART itself. They are fine telling us how much it’s going to cost to build, how much it will cost to run each year and the projected number of passengers and the supposed number jobs they are creating. All I am doing is dividing it up by criteria everyone seems to be oblivious to.

  6. Caught Up In The Hoopla says:

    The biggest welfare program for the 1% in years. There goes the roads for the toy political train.

  7. Paul says:

    Where are you coming up with these numbers Graeme?

  8. Graeme Wellington says:

    I want the photos of this “celebration” presented again when the bill comes in. Commute train? Doesn’t the Press Democrat ever do fact checking?

    Can the repeal SMART people please try again?

    Lynn Wollsey? Oh God! These people are tweaking their noses at the stupid taxpayers. The spending is completely out of control. $86,000 per passenger per year in taxpayer subsidies. It’s insane. No sane person can possibly think this is a proper thing for taxpayers to be bankrolling.

    You don’t spend billions creating a supply hoping there will be demand. No one will spend 4 hours each way commuting. 50,000 commuters can’t be helped by a 150 passenger train. 1000 jobs at a million dollars each isn’t a good thing.

    You SMART supporters are certifiable.

  9. 49 golden shovels. What could possibly be more appropriate? I don’t even need to ask exactly what material it is that they were shoveling.

  10. John Lennon says:

    Congrats to the city of Oakland for taking all our “local” Jobs for the contruction contract.

    Shame on SMART and Shame on the ignorant people that let this happen.

    This is the very definition of White collar crime. Ken Lay and Jefferey Skilling would be proud.

  11. J.R. Wirth says:

    Let the boondoggle begin! We can all look back on this project one day and say, wow, now that was a disaster. They may as well be launching a hydrogen filled zeppelin.

    I’m glad they could get that crappy used bridge from Texas for that spanking new train, better than cutting salaries.