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SMART goes on the road to explain project

By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Re-energized directors of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system unveiled a new slogan and train color scheme Tuesday in a presentation intended to bring north Sonoma County residents up to speed on the planned passenger service.

“There is a train coming to town” is the new slogan for the sleek, green-and-silver motorized train cars that are expected to be running by late 2015 or early 2016 between Marin and Sonoma counties.

Even though funding shortfalls have made it uncertain when the trains will reach Healdsburg, Windsor and Cloverdale, SMART is planning express bus service to link those communities with the train in Santa Rosa.

The delay of the train service didn’t seem to bother about 40 people attending the informational meeting in Healdsburg. They heartily applauded Cloverdale resident La Reva Myles’ impromptu a cappella rendition of “Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie” and the refrain “Take me right back to the track, Jack.”

Tuesday’s meeting comes on the heels of the failure of SMART opponents to gather sufficient voter signatures to force an election to repeal the sales tax funding the train system. It also cleared the way for the district to accelerate plans for building the two-county rail line.

Windsor Mayor Debora Fudge, a SMART board member, described Tuesday’s program as part of an emphasis on public outreach by the SMART directors, a type of “speaker series” to service clubs, chambers of commerce and other groups.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there,” she said in an interview prior to the meeting at Healdsburg City Hall chambers. “This is a chance to take all 12 board members, to get out into individual communities, keep people updated and let them ask questions.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, SMART officials described commuter trains that at peak times will run every 30 minutes at speeds up to 79 mph. There will be less-frequent service on weekends.

When a quarter-cent sales tax was approved in 2008 by voters in Marin and Sonoma counties to fund SMART, the project was described as a 70-mile line with an accompanying bicycle and pedestrian path that would stretch from Larkspur to Cloverdale.

But the downturn in the economy and resulting sag in sales tax revenue resulted in a new plan — a system built in stages, starting with service from central San Rafael to north Santa Rosa at Guerneville Road.

That 38.5-mile segment is expected to be complete in about four years.

SMART directors say work is under way on the first phase, which within months will create 1,000 jobs in construction, engineering and surveying.

SMART officials are unwilling to say when train service might be extended to Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale.

“Anything we say now is guessing,” Fudge said. “I’ve learned never to give a number.”

Prior to the meeting, SMART board member Carol Russell said it would not be 5 or 10 years before construction work begins to restore the rail line north of Santa Rosa.

“I’m saying it is two to three years,” she said. “I really and truly believe we are absolutely on track.”

Until trains run north of Santa Rosa, the plan is to have feeder buses take commuters from stations in Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale to waiting trains in Santa Rosa, and back.

Whether train service north of Santa Rosa will be built all at once, or in increments, also is unknown.

Whether it is possible to go all the way to Cloverdale at once depends in part on the economy, sales tax revenues or even a large federal grant, Fudge said.

She described SMART as “a nimble organization, extremely well organized. As the money comes in, we will be extremely creative to make sure it goes as far as it possibly can.”

One of the questions from the audience Tuesday was posed by retired math professor Warrin Watkins, who asked whether the aging railroad bridge over the Russian River in Healdsburg can handle the new trains.

“I know it has problems,” acknowledged Fudge, who said the fate of the bridge has not been determined. But knowing how much the community fought to keep the adjacent Memorial Beach bridge she said “I don’t want to be the one to tear down that bridge.”





30 Responses to “SMART goes on the road to explain project”

  1. Sickened says:

    “Anything we say now is guessing,” Fudge said. “I’ve learned never to give a number.” REALLY? That is so odd, since everyone had such awesome numbers at the beginning of this hell ride. You know, they won’t disclose when that train is coming to Cloverdale because it never is. Cloverdale suffers from crippling retail leakage and gross mismanagement of money. This town lacks even a school bus system – it’ll be a ghost town long before SMART starts running its jankity train up here. I tell you though, the 1/4 cent tax for Cloverdale sure makes me feel confident in the idiots who signed us up to be the last stop on the Sheeple Line.

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  2. THE ANSWER says:

    “So, who said there are no local jobs for SMART?”

    SANTA ROSA — A number of local companies have been selected to take part in the recently awarded $103 million design-build contract for underlying construction in the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit commuter rail system.

    http://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/48551/local-subcontractors-selected-for-smarts-first-contract/

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  3. Ron Ford says:

    The facts have been available to SMART board members who continue to ignore reality. The Federal Transportation Administration has criteria for funding that cannot be met by SMART. The 72 mile corridor would need a population of 600,000 to qualify for FTA. Hence SMART’s Transit Oriented Development that will bring 30,800 units into the 1/2 mile circumference around stations. These units will add over 150,00 additional car trips daily to the 101 corridor. This increase in population density will help SMART reach the 600,000 threshold for funding. SMART was 27th on the FTA funding list that only approves 3-4 “new starts” a year.
    Funding of other train systems are assessed at 1/2 cent or more i.e.the ACE train. None have ever run on 1/4 cent.SMART’s ignoring these facts because this train is about development and reviving the economy through public funding. Never was about offering a viable alternative transportation.

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  4. Follower says:

    Looks like Congress is about to YANK the funding with the House’s “train wreck” amendment to the Transportation Bill.

    Nothing like a good Election to make the children behave!

    Guess you “smart” people started the party a little too soon.

    “Mission accomplished”?
    Oh the irony! lol

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  5. GAJ says:

    I’m sure the supporters of the Mendocino Coast aquatic center that opened recently were just as fervent as our SMART supporters.

    “The Mendocino Coast Recreation and Parks District voted Tuesday to shutter its grand but insolvent state-of-the-art aquatic center on Feb. 15.

    The district does not have sufficient capital to continue operating the swimming pool,” said Executive Director Jim Hurst. He said the complex has been running a deficit of $22,000 to $29,000 a month. It has been drowning in debt since it opened in 2009.”

    http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20120131/ARTICLES/120139884?p=1&tc=pg

    Here’s what the website for the center STILL says even though there is talk of proposing a 1/2 cent sales tax to keep this white elephant afloat:

    “No. This Center is being funded largely by gifts and grants, without any increase to local property or sales taxes. There are no planned tax increases to operate the facility.”

    http://www.mendocoastrec.org/aquatic_center-faq.html#When

    Be careful what you wish for.

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  6. Social Dis-Ease says:

    There we go with the name calling again.

    The Smart supporters will defidently want a different name when the true ramifications of this tyranny are fully realized.

    Why aren’t our local public officals standing up for the People and our money?

    Most all the significant questions of our time come back to THE QUESTION.

    We’ve got players in our ball park, that are supposed to be on our team making field goals for the opposing team.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 6

  7. Lee says:

    I say Repeal RepealSmart, truly they have outlived any possible credibility and usefulness you might have had.

    Also the number you always yell at the top of your lungs are such a joke.

    For example “Creates 1000 jobs – at a cost of $1 million per job”, like the job is only benefit..

    What a bunch of Maroons!

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  8. Graeme Wellington says:

    Creates 1000 jobs – at a cost of $1 million per job. Really Sonoma County? Is this what you voted for?

    Still waiting for one name of one person who got one of those jobs. What is the job and how much does it pay and how long will you have it. Not counting the SMART board members.

    Anyone? Bueler? Bueler?

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 11

  9. Western Cluebird says:

    SMART replaced our chocolate truffles with dog turds.
    Now they are telling us how yummy they will taste.

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 9

  10. Steveguy says:

    Are they going on a crumbling road trip to Sonoma or the Coast to tell them their bus service will be cut due to the transit fund burden that they created ?

    Do the outlying residents realize that SMART is bleeding transit funds far into the future ?

    Why do the Stack and Pack ” Urban Core” developers need such a subsidy to create housing ? They cash in, and then cash out leaving us with the bill. If it was profitable private builders would be all over it.

    Ohhh, the ‘olden days’ just a few decades ago had around $5,000 in fees and permit costs per lot or unit. Now it is $100,000 plus per lot or unit to even think of starting building. With maybe 5 times the Government Agencies weighing in on even minor builds. You can almost hear the money-sucking sound, to the relish of those that put up the Campaign Dollars.

    We are becoming a failed society before my very eyes. Alas.

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  11. John Reed says:

    A Public letter to the RepealSMART campaign

    We call on the leaders of the repeal campaign to acknowledge the fact that the failure of the repeal was due to the continuing support for the project by the North Bay community, which overwhelmingly supported the measure in 2008.

    The SMART Riders Coalition, composed of business, labor, environmental, and land-use organizations, came together to defend the project, which was approved by an almost insurmountable 2/3rds majority just a few years back. We were appalled that a small group of ideologically motivated individuals could use a fifty dollar filing fee to derail a $750M public works project, which had just sold its bonds and started the construction work.

    We do not work for SMART, nor did we receive one dime from them at any time. We are citizens committed to jobs and prosperity in our region, and we believe that a multi-modal transit network is one key element in a long-term plan to strengthen the economy of the North Bay.

    We mounted a public education campaign to meet with the public in the field and let them know what the actual consequences of signing this misguided petition really were. We succeeded in making our case, peacefully and legally, and our position prevailed with the public. We now ask the repeal leaders to acknowledge that verdict, instead of continuing to seek to cause a train wreck that would be hung up in court for years.

    We won fair and square and you should own up and admit it, and turn your attention to positive accomplishments. Help us make SMART realize its promise.That will earn you the respect and recognition that you seek.

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  12. Sitting By the Intersection says:

    I wonder if Fudge took a feeder bus to the meeting? The so called SMART board members do not ride the bus, take a train or just about anything thing else that goes by “public transportation.” They drive just like the rest of us.

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  13. John Parnell says:

    @ John Reed – Thank you for clearing up our intentions. I didn’t realize that we were a part of some kind of “regional strategy”. I thought we were just a bunch of citizens who wanted to vote on a project that we didn’t approve the first time we voted?

    It is kind of ironic to then see you bringing up the “tin foil hat” every time someone speaks out against this Smart Growth, which is being force-fed on our communities.

    I don’t understand though. Since you & your minions have vowed to spend all of your time & money to keep me from ever holding public office, I thought your challenge had given me a new constructive use of my time? I thought I was going to run against you for whatever office you choose? (I had suggested dog catcher.)

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  14. John Lennon says:

    117 BILLION for the bullet train?in 2033? They might as well have passed a teleport station from Star Trek.

    Trains are just not real world in todays society

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 8

  15. From the Street says:

    When I buy my groceries at Safeway, they always ask me if would like help out to my car. They never ask me if I would like help out to the train and I hope they never will.

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  16. John Parnell says:

    “There’s a train coming to town” in Windsor, Healdsburg & Cloverdale – really?!? Isn’t that rubbing salt in their wound? I know it was part of that $200,000 “PR” campaign, but do you think they could lay off the slogan in the towns that now AREN’T getting the train.

    But surprise, surprise…now we ARE going to be supposedly connecting Northern Sonoma, before any of the train is even running. Could the councilwoman from Cloverdale please elaborate?

    Ms. Russell, at least Mayor Fudge gives us the respect of her honesty, and admits that it isn’t happening without another sales tax (or a gift from Santa).

    PS – Note to Press Democrat:
    Does your SMART bias have to shine through in every article?
    - Are the trains really sleek?
    - Did the economy really cause SMART’s plan to crash?
    - Is SMART’s creation of 1,000 jobs in our community now written as fact without even one new hire to show for it?

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 7

  17. Graeme Wellington says:

    Should California bite the bullet on high speed rail?

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0201-lopez-highspeedtrain-20120131,0,6514526.column

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 5

  18. John Henry says:

    If plowing full steam ahead on the Smart train is wisdom, then folly is underrated.

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 8

  19. Jim says:

    It is hilarious to hear all the SMART supporters saying that the Repeal effort should accept the defeat, and the people voted for the project. Yes, since the people voted, it should stand, right?

    What about PROP 8?? What about PROP 187?? What about the ban on medical marijuana?? What about the ban on marijuana completely??

    Yeah, the voters spoke against the complainers on those issues and the activists kept pushing. Here the voters were duped by the train supporters into believing that this thing isn’t merely a way to transfer tax money to connected construction companies and UNIONS. This should stand only because it is supported by big government and unions, i.e. the left.

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 8

  20. Iron Lady says:

    Ted,

    You keep repeating that the ” the downturn in the economy and resulting sag in sales tax revenue resulted in a new plan”. From SMARTs published figures, admittedly 18months old, the reduction in sales tax is 9% below estimate, which translates to a 4% reduction in SMARTs overall revenue of $57,894,144. Why is a 4% reduction in revenue causing a drastic reduction i the project scope, with no money planned to provide a link to Cloverdale?
    Where will this money come from, and when? How much will the annual running cost of the system be?
    Please dig a little deeper into the details so the public can be informed.

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 9

  21. Follower says:

    “We have to pass the project to see what’s in the project”.

    No wonder Nancy keep getting re-elected!

    She certainly knows her constituency!

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 9

  22. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: John Reed – “It’s good that SMART is finally getting out in the public to explain the project.”

    Yeah, there’s a very good reason for that: SMART knew that if they finally explained DURING the petition drive what the taxpayers are really having to settle for, repealSMART would have been a cake-walk.

    Now that the petition drive is over, they can start the process of getting all the proSMART’ers to start buying into the real world of what they aren’t getting without the negative blow-back of people signing the petition.

    Since it took SMART three tries to get it approved, let’s hope there is a round two for something like repealSMART. We should be pushing for more intelligent and realistic mass transit, like busses. Unions like SEIU should jump all over that idea, as they’d be able to put far more employees to work long-term driving and maintaining a larger bus fleet and with a far higher ridership potential. And they could be CNG busses, FAR cleaner than SMART.

    Maybe unions like SEIU think that all that future ridership is going to come from people heading to the casinos. SEIU could start up a taxi service to get people to their destination, which is now miles from the existing train tracks.

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  23. Graeme Wellington says:

    That they have to go out and sell SMART proves we are being sold something.

    Sooner or later one of these SMART board members will get divorced. Then the public record will contain an actuarial calculation of the actual value of their compensation and benefits. It’s about 20 Express Busses worth.

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  24. Social Dis-Ease says:

    The Smart Train is not a transportation plan.
    It’s a land use/containment/crash the coffers plan.
    Ever notice wherever you own real estate, it’s not with their program?
    Well the People had a program too, a ‘vision’ they’ve worked at for a long time.
    The vision did not include being sabotaged by their own public officials.

    RepealSMART will hit the road to explain the project too.

    What a coincidence.

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 9

  25. John Reed says:

    It’s good that SMART is finally getting out in the public to explain the project. They waited way too long to get their message out and that opened a space for the repeal campaign to take hold. The supporters of the project in the community launched a fourth quarter drive to come back from behind, and we helped win the game.

    I do hope that the repeal group accepts that verdict, but they may very well start up the repeal machinery again, as part of a regional strategy to tie up our political time and money, so that we have fewer resources to work on council, supervisory, and state races. That pattern has occurred in the last few electoral cycles, so it would not surprise me to see that bad penny come around again.

    This is a good time for the general public and the media to tell these guys to cut it out, and give it up. Find a constructive use for your time.

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  26. Steve: You made me take out my calculator.

    Each two-car train costs $6.67 million and holds, I believe, about 180 passengers. One train runs in each direction every 30 minutes.

    Let’s say one GG Transit bus costs $400,000, which sounds high, and carries about 40 passengers, which might be low.

    Using that math, we could buy 16 new buses for every two car train. They would carry 640 people for the same money, and even take them as far as San Francisco or Cloverdale.

    With 16 buses, we could have one running in each direction every 7 minutes. That’s just by replacing one of these trains. Replace all six, and… you get the idea.

    And I haven’t even mentioned the $500 or $600 million that would be saved by not building tracks. That would hire a lot of bus drivers, even if they were SEIU members.

    Thumb up 30 Thumb down 10

  27. GAJ says:

    All I can say is I hope I’m completely wrong that this thing will be a financial drain for decades.

    Fingers crossed it will exceed all expectations now that it is an inevitability.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 4

  28. Sheryl says:

    If the people are getting what they voted for, why would they have to explain anything?

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 10

  29. Problem is, Steve, that they will just take you to the teriminus train station, not where you need to go. Unless where you need to go is the train station, or something within close proximity to it.

    I’m pretty shocked to hear that Ms. Russell is expecting construction on the northern portion within 2-3 years, given that they have not identified any funding for it, and will be knee-deep in constructing the IOS. Does she know something that has not been publicly disclosed, or is she just putting on a brave face? Does she really think that in the next two years, either the political situation in Washington will change so dramatically that there will be funds available for expanding this project (prior, might I add to the IOS actually being in operation)… or that voters will vote for another 1/4 cent sales tax to fund the expansion? As I understand it, those are the two most likely sources of funding.

    I’m sorry to have missed this meeting- if I wasn’t working, I would have been there to ask my questions.

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  30. Steve Klausner says:

    Express buses! That will be both more economical and useful than a train.

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 10

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