By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma-Marin commute rail line is exempted from having to give local design review boards its plans for stations and buildings under legislation that was signed by the governor on Friday.
Such local oversight, while only advisory in nature, may have let any single city along the 70-mile line attempt to hold up construction, rail officials said. The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District already was exempt from local planning and zoning regulations, they said.
The bill amends existing legislation that created the SMART district by removing a provision that its plans be submitted to the design review boards of local jurisdictions.
“The enabling legislation had a conflict and we wanted to resolve it,” SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian said. “And we saw evidence of attempts to slow us down during the construction process.”
Still, some members of Santa Rosa’s Design Review Board said the city has gone to great lengths to plan what will be built around SMART’s stations and getting SMART’s station plans would have been welcomed.
“It would be nice for SMART to come back and show us, even if we don’t have any review authority, how the designs fit in with our plans,” said board member Ken MacNab. “I think it is appropriate for SMART to do.”
SMART critic Clay Mitchell said the legislation removes one of the few ways that residents could have input into the transit agency’s planning.
“The local communities are funding this project in large part and as such there should be as much local connection and control as possible,” Mitchell said. “The thought that opponents would use that process to delay the project is ludicrous.”
The legislation, AB 1962, by Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday. It was passed by the Assembly in a 75-0 vote in May and by the Senate in a 36-0 vote in June.
SMART Chairwoman Valerie Brown said that the design review exemption should have been in the original legislation, as it is in legislation for other special districts.
SMART Director Debora Fudge, who also is mayor of Windsor, said that SMART already submits all of its plans to the cities for review and three community meetings were held for each of the stations.
Mansourian said the SMART board also adopted a policy that all plans by SMART be submitted to the county or cities when the planning reaches 75 percent completion.