WatchSonoma Watch

State bill exempts SMART stations from cities’ design reviews


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.

Windsor Depot. (PD File)

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.

23 Responses to “State bill exempts SMART stations from cities’ design reviews”

  1. Kirstin says:

    It’s kind of interesting that left-wing SMART fans such as Eric Newman persist in claiming falsely that RepealSMART was responsible for additional cost when SMART bonded. It was not, as economist Mike Arnold explained in a Novato Patch opinion piece.

    But you’ll have to Google that Mike Arnold piece because many tries have not allowed me to copy the link here and post. This is what held up my entire post before, it seems. What gives, PD?

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  2. Kirstin says:

    2. It’s kind of interesting that Eric Newman echoes Farhad Mansourian’s baseless implication about what might happen if the proper local design process were allowed to continue unimpeded. This is typical elitist control behavior: premptively prevent what might not happen at all by blocking the public’s participation.

    3. Also interesting? Despite having the facts about this train laid out time and again, these elitists refuse to ackowledge this boondoggle for what it is. They are too invested in their social engineering project to see things objectively.

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  3. Kirstin says:

    For some weird reason, my whole post won’t show up, so I’ll try an installment strategy:

    1. To Eric Newman’s first paragraph: I don’t think anyone said that Target should not comply with set planning commission requirements. I didn’t. The problem lay in that some on the commission asked for more than that to which they were entitled. Once again, though, Newman twists the facts to try to misrepresent others.

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  4. Kirstin says:

    Why aren’t new posts appearing here? They are under other articles.

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  5. GAJ says:

    No Eric, you have it completely wrong.

    Whatever the rules are, whether we agree with them or not, we should follow them for all projects.

    If the rules are idiotic, change the rules, don’t exempt one “favored” class.

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  6. Eric Newman says:

    It’s kind of interesting that the right-wing opponents of SMART suddenly find a big problem with legislation that precludes ill-intended local officials from obstructing a public works project that was approved by a super-majority of voters. Those same folks raised strenuous objections when the SR Planning Commission had the temerity to question the wage and benefit policy of the Target corporation, claiming that government has no business setting terms for permit approvals. What that clearly demonstrates is that they are not operating on a principled basis. They will shift the rules according to their need to win an issue.

    Given the $18 million dollars in additional bonding costs that the ant-SMART crew has already imposed on the citizens of this region, I am in favor of preventing them from inflicting any futher damage through frivolous local Design Review challenges. Thank you, Michael Allen.

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  7. BigDogatPlay says:

    Cue the next round of lawsuits…. these filed by various cities along the route who will want to make sure they can stick their fingers in the SMART pie first.


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  8. GAJ says:

    Kirstin, come on now, when progressives say “question authority” it doesn’t apply to you and I!

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  9. Kirstin says:

    Grey Whitmore, is this your way of saying that you can’t offer any factual defense for this special legislation?

    Seriously, what are your views on it? Are you fine with SMART circumventing local design processes? Do you think it is a good precedent?

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  10. Grey Whitmore says:

    Goodness … There are a lot of nut cases posting here. Myself included.

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  11. Steveguy says:

    When is the train supposed to run ? It seems as though the ‘opening date’ is always postponed. I forget.

    “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.” — So we have a Director that the train won’t even service her jurisdiction ? WOW

    ” 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. ” —- You mean after all these years they have no plan ? When is the ‘plan’ 75% complete ?

    Building with no plan seems unwise, just like the SMART Train….

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  12. George Ren says:

    What would you call a company that promised the big answer to transportation issues and instead gave you a road that started and ended where no commuters or people wanted to go?

    What company would build a rail system that stopped in a small town (San Rafael) with little or no industry or employment base but does have bicycle paths off into the hinterland?

    What would you call a company that promised shop local, buy local, use local labor and didn’t deliver on what they said they would do?

    What would you say to a company that bought the cars in Japan that are to be used on the system?

    What would you say to the general manager who said he would employee 900+ employees by the end of last year to work on the system, but hasn’t done so?

    What would you say to a company that has delayed several times the startup of the system and the associated cost overruns?

    I believe it would be call as disaster and the company would be out of business. But the board of directors keep on truckin’ and spending tax monies on something that is not needed, too expensive and going in the wrong direction.

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  13. Kirstin says:

    Clay — thanks for making that effort. It’s not surprising to any of us but it certainly is disheartening that Assembly members are so quick to discount citizens’ pleas for ethical, aboveboard government and instead blithely assist their fellow members in passing these special interest bills that increase eletist power and decrease everyone else’s participation.

    I can’t help but notice the parallels between the elitist, top-down conduct of SMART and the same of the director and commission of the Sonoma County Library system. This pervaaive, arrogant attitude is one that has developed because we voters have been too trusting and thought we could obtain competent, public-oriented administration from entities with autonomy. The evidence shows we were wrong. We need to hold all agencies, commissions, directors, and public offices accountable to US. We are the final authority, not they.

    Farhad Mansourian — just keep pronouncing incendiary, unfounded comments as you did in this article. RepealSMART adds to its online membership each time, thank you. You know, what you really need to worry about is whether you have a chance in you know what of getting your next tax increase (to fund the 2nd part of the train project and to continue operations costs). You’re going to need that new tax aren’t you? And I doubt many will be willing to support it when they see the limitations of the actual SMART train and when they will have already been taxed by plenty of other entities that are already begging for money. When another SMART tax is put on the ballot, count on many of us to check every letter, every number, every punctuation point. The last tax was passed by promising the public something that was not possible — in other words, the Measure Q statement lied. The opposition to trying something like that again will be extremely formidable.

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  14. GAJ says:

    Ha ha ha ha ha.

    There was a book written about this; maybe I should read it:

    “Do as I Say (Not as I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy by Peter Schweizer

    Do as I Say (Not as I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy (ISBN 0385513496) is a book written by author Peter Schweizer and published by Doubleday in 2005. The book profiles alleged contradictions and hypocritical behaviors of several famous individuals in the United States who the author claims are liberals. People profiled in the book include Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ralph Nader, Al Franken, Cornel West, Michael Moore, George Soros, Noam Chomsky, Barbra Streisand and Gloria Steinem. Schweizer contends that many liberals publicly promote liberal values regarding the environment, affirmative action, racism, sexism and finance, but practice the opposite in their private and professional lives.”

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  15. 20/20 Vision says:

    This legislation is just another tool for the sociopath DUMB to achieve their twisted goals. And their greatest enablers are Michael Allen, jared Huffman and our beloved PD here.

    (copied from my post on “Rail pieces for SMART tracks unloaded in Santa Rosa)

    The underlying goal of SMART has never actually been the train or mass transit of any kind. Where do you think the 800 jobs are going to come from? Why do you think that the construction industry is SMART’s #1 backer? Why do you think that the construction industry fought like mad against the recall SMART petition drive?

    The real goal of SMART is to build an ungodly amount of high density housing (that we don’t needs and don’t have the infrastructure to support) near the train stations that SMART themselves and nobody else requires. If you look at SMART in this light, all of their sociopathic actions are completely understandable. They still don’t make sense, but you can see exactly why they did what they did. They simply don’t care what happens after all those houses are built.

    Sonoma County is overbuilt already as to the number of residents it can support. The construction industry is crying because there simply isn’t a need for them in the quantities that existed during the building boom of the last 25 years. SMART is nothing more than an end-around to circumvent zoning laws and Urban Growth Boundaries and an actual need for housing in Sonoma County

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  16. Jim Bennett says:

    Exactly Kirstin.

    The dark One World Government interests of these globalists have circumvented the whole American mechanism.
    The Constitution, our transparent process, our official’s oath, even the way they are incentivized.
    True to the Soviet model of governance, they have empowered non-elected boards and commissions, selected based on their compliance with the Agenda.
    True to other oppressive models they have taken over the media to use as an instrument of propaganda and omission.
    At this point, it should come as no surprize that they blow by design review too, that’s nothin’.

    The Feds have threatened to sue any municipality that doesn’t allow their antennas (or their regionalism) to project their electromagnetic manipulations, providing control and damage to our health.
    The Agenda 21 health care plan is coming into place.
    The relentless attempts to takeover the internet are coming together, controlled by who else, the UN.
    Control of water, food, education, business, private property, currency.
    This facet of the Plan, along with OneBayArea is to monopolize travel and provide an excuse to contain the people through ‘planning’ centered around rail (Adolph Hitler would be proud).
    We are in the midst of an insideous International takeover, while American’s are just now starting to realize that something is terribly wrong.
    It’s happening all over the Country, all over the world actually.
    Honduras recently had their Constitution ‘changed’, replaced with with UN Sustainable ‘Charter Cities’.
    An en-elected commission now governs in favor of their Democracy which will be ‘suspended’ until they decide the People are ‘ready’. Yeah, that’ll happen.

    Remember the tree falling in the woods analogy from philosophy class?
    Well if our Constitution is trashed and no one shows up to defend it, did it really crash?

    Time to show up.

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  17. Cut The Bureaucracy says:

    Autocratic rule from the top down has been the unsmart way from the beginning. This latest law endorsed by Brown and Fudge is no different that most everything else they had done at the unsmart board.

    The residents of Sonoma and Marin and their representatives are only there cheer on the wonders of the useless train going nowhere.

    The unsmart train is a modern version of the ancient pyramid found in Egypt. Built to service the rulers egos but failing to service the needs of the people. And like those pyramids, the little train will rust as a monument to historical stupidity serving no real purpose.

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  18. Martha X. says:

    The employment skills and employment resumes of every single government board member should be published both by the Press Democrat and online. The voters rarely understand how little skill and expertise the government people have who impose their mere opinions upon the public.
    Nobody ever authorized local government to “review” anything in the way of architectural design.

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  19. Reality Check says:

    A state that exempts government agencies from laws it demands others obey forsakes any claim of legitimacy.

    The message is clear. What government does is too important to be subject to an inconvenient review process. Mere citizens, however, are not so important.

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  20. Clay Mitchell says:

    Mr. Mansourian-

    Enlighten us- show us what “evidence of attempts to slow us down during construction” you have…. cause last I checked, we were the only formal opposition you had, and you are simply not that important to us. See, we follow the rules and take issues head on, instead of political maneuvering and using the legislature to eliminate even the meager remaining accountability mechanisms.

    So please- back up your claims. Don’t just make it up, like you did the financial savings from bogus agreements that don’t exist to make the project look like it was “fully funded”. You don’t get to just make up whatever fits your purpose- or maybe you do, when you buy off politicians like Allen to do your bidding.

    I’m calling BS- this is a power grab by a run away agency that already has almost unlimited unchecked power.

    SMART appoints it’s own oversight committee, makes it’s own rules for elections (and changes them midstream), and now doesn’t even have to get advisory review from local jurisdictions? All the wasted time and money from cities like Santa Rosa, which has been expending quite a bit of staff time and dollars on station area plans….

    The SMART political bureaucracy is out of control, and their enabler is Michael Allen and the special interests apologists that back them. It’s a travesty for any individual who believes in the sovereignty of the people and the power of the vote. It’s all meaningless.

    If you’re going to operate in a totalitarian manner, don’t pretend to actually pretend to care what the people think. Just stop wasting our money on phony community meetings, do whatever you want, and proudly proclaim your disregard for proper checks and balances.

    Kirstin- I contacted several members of the Assembly, asking them to oppose this and giving them good reasons to. They voted for it, and sent me a “thanks for your input” stock email with no reason for their vote.

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  21. This is just like putting two scorpions in a jar and watching them fight it out.

    I have never met a more self-important and trivial group of meddlers than the Cotati Design Review Committee and Planning Commissions, who act as if every storefront and residential flower garden were their own personal property, so it’s delightful to see them relegated to the insignificance they deserve.

    On the other hand, SMART deserves every speedbump that comes their way, and there is no bump more obstinate then a Design Review lump. So we can all sit back and watch two unlikeable forces collide. What fun.

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  22. J.R. Wirth says:

    The crazy train is coming whether we like it or not, it doesn’t matter where it’s going or if we want to go, that’s not important. What’s important is that we climb aboard and shut up. The greenies know what’s good for us. If we’re good little citizens we may get a little Edamame box on our seats, for an extra $10.00 of course.

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  23. Kirstin says:

    Oh, now that it’s a done deal, the PD decides to report on it. Why didn’t you inform the public long before this so they could object to this legal maneuver?

    Some of us did hear about it from other sources and did encourage the city councils and the BOS to exert their rights to local review. I don’t know whether any of the members of those councils or the board did though. My guess is that Supervisors Browna and Zane, who sit on the SMART board too (allowed, again, by specially crafted state legislation) would not have said boo; they are probably all in favor of it.

    Obviously, even if any politicians did raise their voices, it made not the slightest difference, and SMART used the legislative process to once again reduce tha ability of the public (and local, ELECTED government) to have a say.

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