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Interim SMART Boss Fires Back at Rail Line Opponents

Farhad Mansourian predicts failure for a drive to repeal tax funding for the passenger train.

The interim chief of Marin and Sonoma counties’ passenger rail project said Wednesday that an that helps fund the system will not succeed.

Farhad Mansourian, who took over the controversial railroad district two months ago after executive director , said RepealSMART will fail because 70 percent of voters have said they want a commuter rail system through the two counties.

“It’s a waste of time,” said Mansourian, Marin County’s director of public works who is on loan to SMART until a permanent replacement for Hames is named later this month.

Mansourian predicted the RepealSMART organizers will be forced to create a special election if they succeed in getting more than 37,000 verified signatures to force a referendum and repeal Measure Q, a quarter-cent sales tax increase approved in the two counties to feed cash to SMART. 

“A special election will cost over $1 million for taxpayers, so here they are saying SMART is wasting taxpayer dollars and all we need to do to prove it is for you to give us a million dollars. It’s like, ‘Don’t worry, this is good for you.’”

RepealSMART ‘s Clay Mitchell that his group would try to avoid a special election by waiting for the June 2012 general election. He said Mansourian’s estimate of $45 million in additional costs to get the rail line running between Santa Rosa and San Rafael is unacceptable.

Mansourian recently of revenue and expenses for SMART and said the revised total for the startup is $404 million, up from a $330 million figure presented in June. He shared his report with local media in what he said was an effort to show that the district is going to be more transparent with its finances in the future. He said every country, state, county and city is having financial difficultly in this economy, and SMART is no exception, but sharing up-to-date fiscal details with the constituency is critical.

“Unfortunately SMART has not done a good job educating, the public and we take responsibility for that,” he said. “But the board asked for a fresh look at everything, and that’s what I delivered. There’s sort of a new sheriff in town, so the transparency issue has changed. They wanted a fresh look with no politics and no hanky-panky.

“But still, when we’re honest and open our books, we get attacked. What is the message? That we shouldn’t open our books? Make up your mind.”

Mansourian said every public works project of this magnitude will have opponents, as did the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, BART or major highways. But SMART is moving into its second phase of construction and will continue to move forward, he said.

The conservative estimate is that SMART will generate 1,000 jobs in the area, Mansourian said. He said he has recommended to the board to continue receiving bids, seeking bonding, looking for new funds and pinpointing potential cost savings.

“(RepealSMART) wants to put us out of business, but we want to put people to work,” he said. “They want to win some sort of political challenge because they didn’t like the train from the start. We’re not going to put a halt to this project because 13 people don’t want it. If we stop, everybody loses because a half dozen people didn’t get their way 3 ½ years ago when it was put to a vote.”

As for the $45 million in increased costs, Mansourian said recalculations happen periodically through the construction process on all projects of this magnitude. Rail line opponent Mike Arnold, a Novato economist who has spoken before countless meetings of the SMART and Transportation Authority of Marin board meetings, that Mansourian’s new estimate of $404 million to get trains running is at least $43 million off.

“They think it’s like buying a bag of popcorn that’s listed at $1.10 and get upset when the price goes up,” Mansourian said. “It’s not like that with very large, very complicated public works projects. You calculate your costs, embark on phase one, recalculate, move to phase two, recalculate, and keep going. We’re doing this project in the biggest global financial crisis in the last half century, but even in this climate we’re being told, ‘It doesn’t matter. You said it would cost X amount, and if you don’t deliver it at that cost you’re breaking a promise.’

“That is beyond unfair.”

The next meeting of the SMART board is Aug. 17 in the San Rafael City Council Chambers.

Mike Kane August 24, 2011 at 06:15 PM
Flowing to where? The Larkspur ferry? If this went to San Francisco I might be in favor of it.
Mike Kane August 24, 2011 at 06:29 PM
Kelly, please find me one train system back east that is not running in the red. We also do not have the population density or business density to support such a system. they do have the population density and they still can't help but lose money. If this was an express train to San Francisco it might break even. No one wants to drive to parking lot, hop a train that makes too many stops, then get on a ferry to San Francisco? That would be the commute from hell.
Phil Maher August 24, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Steve B- That's your version of picking on me? Mocking my name and attempting to level a few lame insults? Really? The thing about me and passive-aggression is that I'll actually come out from behind my keyboard and say exactly the same thing to your face. I wasn't issuing a challenge, just offering you an opportunity to do something besides mindlessly bullying old ladies. I actually do take care of my aging mother...every day of my life. "Door to door" isn't just a theoretical solution, it's the reality of her needs. If I was bent on elder abuse, I could just as easily tell her to get to where she has to go on the SMART train, as I could leaving her lying on the sidewalk while she waits for someone to help her. There is no difference at all when you take the time to consider that the world is full of people like you that would probably rather capture the moment on your cell phone camera than pick her up and help her to get to where she exactly needs to go...because truth of the matter is: that's exactly what she needs to have happen. You and SMART...working together to solve the needs of the county's senior citizens one ignorant and unrealistic assumption at a time.
oblio August 24, 2011 at 08:35 PM
Let's see...take a bus to the train to the ferry to another bus to get to my job in the city. All that work, probably same amount of time, and same expense as driving. I'd be for it if it went to the city, but this business about the ferry is silly. I ride the bus to work in the city and its perfectly acceptable. Plus it takes me within 4 blocks of my destination, much closer than the ferry.
Reality Check August 24, 2011 at 08:42 PM
Speaking of boondoggles, Robert, here's one you'll love: "The Great Boondoggle By the Bay": http://tinyurl.com/3np6zae

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