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SMART Should Pay Attention to Statewide High-Speed Rail

The analogies between the local and state passenger train projects are remarkable.

The analogies between SMART and the California High Speed Rail Project are pretty remarkable spin, particularly the PR, emanating from the sponsoring agency and claims of "transparency" surrounding both projects.

However, in the case of the statewide project, the legislature is going to have a say in the outcome and and they may insist the voters have a say before any bonds are issued to construct the CAHSR line in the San Joaquin Valley. Also, noteworthy, it is the legislature that has insisted on an updated ridership and cost analysis that showed the California HSR Agency had significantly understated the project costs by billions of dollars and overstated its ridership potential. 

Sound familiar? Marin and Sonoma voters have no such check on the SMART board. The repeal process is the only game in town to check the SMART board’s power and arrogance.

It's too bad that the current SMART board has decided to "circle the wagons" and try to thwart rather than accommodate the right of voters to have a say on the project.

And those supporting repeal have a solid case to make.  It has been three years since Measure Q was passed, providing most of the funding for SMART. The project is vastly different than what voters approved and it seems reasonable voters should have a say whether they still support such a shrunken rail line that goes no farther south than San Rafael and no farther north than downtown Santa Rosa.  

Claims that SMART can construct a second phase are completely made up. So are the financial plans the board approved in 2008, 2009 that claimed SMART could afford a 72-mile rail line.  Marin voters ought to have a say after the shenanigans pulled by the SMART board members at the Transportation Authority of Marin this summer to siphon $8 million from Marin County transportation programs despite repeated promises not to do so. 

What about the SMART’s potential ridership? Earlier this year, the Dowling ridership study was rejected because it made no sense. There has been no update since and no accounting for the removal of two destination rail stations (Atherton Avenue in Novato and Corona Road in northern Petaluma were eliminated).  Again there has been no one on the board to even suggest maybe they ought to know what the ridership is likely to be.

SMART’s CFO is on "administrative leave" (who are they kidding?) and the agency — just like the CAHSR — still hasn’t issued the bonds they need to raise the cash to pay for construction of the rail line. Meanwhile, Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s GM, has appointed himself interim CFO despite having no financial qualifications to fill that job even temporarily, further indicating the board’s inability to make prudent financial judgments.  

Speaking of those pesky bonds, if the SMART board tries to issue the bonds before the repeal process has ended, it will come at great cost to the taxpayers in the form of higher interest payments. The board can mislead voters, but if they try to mislead investors, they risk civil and criminal penalties. Maybe SMART board director Kate Sears, who was a lawyer in the Attorney General’s office, should explain the consequences of misleading investors to her fellow board members.   

If SMART does issue the bonds before year end, as it claims it will, the disclosures will contradict the PR and spin the board has been disseminating. They'll have to disclose that a viable repeal effort is under way and, if successful, the revenues supporting the bonds will be repealed. As a result, even if they issue the bonds, they can’t spend the funds. If they did spend the funds raised by the bonds before the repeal process is resolved, and voters vote for repeal, SMART, at that point would have to default on the bonds. 

Given the risks, would they spend the funds anyway? If SMART does decide to spend the funds, it'll have to disclose its intentions and the risks to investors who would then charge even more interest for the bonds. 

All readers ought to realize that the rail project construction timeline is now facing a significant delay. The more the board the fights the repeal process and acts imprudently, the longer the delay is likely to be. Just like the CAHSR project.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Edwin Drake November 13, 2011 at 06:37 AM
Michael Reyff: You don't know it, and probably don't understand it, you are your own worst enemy. I am completely against SMART, from the beginning, and am saying that the language you use does nothing to help the "cause." For better or worse we live in delicate times, and the case against SMART is much better made without the use of offensive words. Yes, I know it stinks, and I agree the SMART board is filled with Stupid Morons Accepting Rail Thoughtlessly. And they ARE stupid morons, but sensitivities should be honored. It's the way it is. Please?
Michael November 15, 2011 at 02:18 AM
Right Mike Reyff we agree with you that this is a debacle but need to keep above reproach with our rhetoric in order to succeed with the repeal. None of the SMART board should be viewed as stupid but to the contrary they are very manipulative. As Sun-Tzu so aptly said "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." I view the SMART board as our enemy because they want to waste the taxpayers money. We need to stay focused, If we do, we can repeal the funding for this bad project. Stay focused.
Michael Reyff November 15, 2011 at 06:05 AM
Granted, my comments and response were on the overly harsh side. I will gravitate to my Zen side going forward. Appreciate the Sun-Tzu reference. I am fed up with government entities and politicians wasting away vast amounts of the tax payers dollars with little or no benefit to the citizenery at large. We are living in unprecedented times economically and if common sense does not prevail, the outcome will not end well for everyone.
Edwin Drake November 15, 2011 at 06:49 AM
MReyff: It's sad that gov't has become a "special interest." I am bleeding heart, ultra-liberal who believes in gov't and regulations, and it angers me when I see gov't run so very poorly because it gives fuel to the Ayn Rand - Ron Paul - R Reagan nonsense that we'd all be better off if we just "unshackled" business and allowed it to do what it wants. SMART has become a polluter of the worst sort, wasting precious public resources. But they are backed by the new "environmental green + sustainable development" cabal that wants nothing more than to build homes and pour concrete all in the name of "sustainability." It's the same way that, at the end of the day, "smart growth" was nothing more than a way to shove more houses into smaller spaces, with the same sprawl inducing patterns as before. Personally, I see NO reason that someone should be encouraged by a commuter train to live 30-40-50 miles from where they work. If commute transportation is needed, buses are faster, cheaper, and don't require completely new infrastructure.
David Edmondson November 15, 2011 at 04:19 PM
I never really had the cities of Marin or Sonoma in mind as bedroom communities but as destinations in themselves. Rail transit tends to become a magnet for cities that want to revitalize the areas around their stations, as Rohnert Park and San Rafael are doing. Buses, well... typically buses don't have that same effect or draw. The Ferry, for example, is usually a slower way to get to SF than local commuter buses but it has extremely high ridership nonetheless.

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