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Repeal SMART Effort Down to the Wire

Organizers hoping to pull away tax money from a commuter train system say they're close to the number of signatures needed, but they know they need several thousand more with less than a day to go.

At the end of a frenetic few weeks of gathering signatures to halt the construction of a train connecting Marin and Sonoma counties, Repeal SMART organizers are set for a stressful Friday, when those signatures must be turned over in their effort to yank taxpayer money away from the commuter train system.

As contractors on the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit job get ready to put hardhats on and dig in, those against the passenger rail system face a 5 p.m. Friday deadline to turn in thousands of signatures of people who support a voter initiative to halt funding from a quarter-cent tax increase approved by voters in 2008 to fund the train.

How many thousands of John Hancocks are needed? Either 15,000 or 40,000, depending on who you ask and which piece of legislation one trusts.

How many thousands of autographs have been gathered?

"We're still tabulating. It's kind of stressful. We're very close," said Repeal SMART founder and treasurer John Parnell of Novato on Thursday night.

Gloria Colter, assistant registrar of voters for Sonoma County, said Thursday afternoon that the Repeal SMART campaign would have to turn in petition sheets in both Sonoma and Marin counties for signatures gathered in each county. Parnell said the final clipboards with signatures would be counted Friday by Repeal SMART and turned in to the registrar’s office whether or not they attain 15,000 signatures.

He said the repeal campaign organizer believe they need to turn more than the 15,000 minimum because some signatures will be ruled invalid by registrar workers.

"From what everybody said, you need 19,000 or 20,000 to be safe, and that 18,000 is just too close," Parnell said. "We're going to be close. I don't know. I'm just really proud of the volunteers who worked so hard."

Colter said it hasn't been decided how many petition signatures are needed. One of two formulas will be used — with the SMART board deciding which formula. The two formulas are: 5 percent of the number of voters (in both counties) in the last gubernatorial election; or 10 percent of registered voters (in both counties) in the last general election.

Parnell said he still can't believe that the SMART board, not the registrars or the secretary of state, will decide whether it's 15,000 signatures or 40,000 his group needs verified.

"That's not how it's supposed to be,” he said. “This is not what the initiative process is supposed to be like ... (The registrars) just punted the issue. They knew it might be litigated and didn't want to be involved, and that stopped them from doing their jobs. What's to stop anybody from doing that again?

"We're still waiting to hear back from the secretary of state,” he continued. “Even that office is dodging us. This is really a case of two Davids going up against a Goliath political machine. We have every union and every politician campaigning not to have an election, and I find that very hypocritical."

The .25 percent sales tax to pay for most of the SMART train was approved by a combined vote of 69.5 percent in the two counties in 2008, on the heels of a 2006 vote in which the 65.3 percent approval didn’t meet the two-thirds threshold required.

On Thursday afternoon, Toni Shroyer and Dinah Mattos, both of Novato, set up their symbolic ironing board and gathered signatures. Shroyer, who was stationed in Terra Linda on a cool evening, said she was inspired by Parnell and Repeal SMART CEO Clay Mitchell to join the fight against SMART. She said what is being built and what was promised to voters three years ago are just too different to let go.

“Like Mr. Parnell, I voted for Measure Q in 2008, but as Parnell states so eloquently, 'The SMART concept we passed in 2008 and the SMART reality today are two very different truths,'" Shroyer said. "If our local government does a bait-and-switch on the voters, be it the SMART train or widgets, the issue deserves to be put back on the ballot to have the voters decide if they want the current change or not.  Our democracy needs to stay intact."

— Healdsburg Patch's Keri Brenner contributed to this report

Roger January 30, 2012 at 03:33 PM
I read in another blog in the Patch that the rail crossings in San Rafael won't be a traffic problem because there will only be a 2-car train every 30 minutes. If the ridership is that small, SMART won't help congestion on 101 much at all.
Craig Belfor January 30, 2012 at 03:55 PM
The elephant in the room is that the train is inconvenient compared to the car or the bus. Nobody wants to get off a train to get on a bus when they could have just taken the bus to begin with, or jumped in their car. The train stations cost more, the tracks cost more, and everyone will have to get off before their final destination and make other arrangements. It won't make sense, and few people will do it. It will cost too much for the little good it does. All of the successful studies had a start and finish on the train. Marin does not. Add buses, another lane, keep the same stops, and with the money saved, buy a Johnny Cash album for the train lovers.
Nicole Tai January 30, 2012 at 06:29 PM
I can understand the arguments against the train. My two cents as a younger American who has lived on both the East and West Coasts (I grew up in both Mill Valley and Plymouth Massachusetts) is that the East Coast puts us to shame in terms of public transit - even in rural New Jersey and Massachusetts where the population is less dense. You can travel from Boston to rural Plymouth by train, and from Penn Station in Manhattan all the way to Philadelphia. Other lines from Manhattan take you to more remote locations, or what still is rural and suburban New Jersey, Upstate New York and Connecticut. So no excuses folks! The East Coast is America - not Europe. California, and the west in general, is filled with a rich train history. As the granddaughter of a Train man, I have heard how quickly the train went from being an essential part of both transit and freight to the pathetic system it is today. How did that happen? The 1950's, the advent of the car, and highway subsidies was the downfall of train travel, not density issues. So please - let's get back to the future - what was once essential can become useful again. I don't think 101 can be widened anymore. It's time to face reality and join the East Coast in making public transit by train a priority. Think about our children's children - they will need trains to keep Marin and the Bay Area beautiful. Just think about all the additional spare the air days and how much they will increase as our population grows.
Trent Anderson January 30, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Nicole is right on. When I was a kid, my parents took me from Oakland to Tucson, via train. Used to be great, and when I visited back east about 10-15 years ago, we took the train from NYC to Boston, and once from NYC to Washington, DC. Of course, we needed to rent a car to go to place that the train does not go to, but so what. What a nice ride. She is so right, if we add more people to this troubled planet, and keep building more cars, and think we can keep widening the freeways, we are plum nuts.
Greatman October 10, 2012 at 06:30 AM
Trent, I'm sick and tired of people complaining about pollution, pollution, pollution and how the freeway is bad. I, for one like the freeway and the freedom of the car. Smart is not bad because it is mass transit. Mass transit is vary good- if it goes to a major city, like it does on the east coast. It should also be dual tracks, not a single track which is also stupid. Also most important, the employees should be non-union because unions stink. I moved out of the bay area and down to Los Angeles because of all the care-for-the-environment crap. It is stop-and-go surface streets that cause most of pollution, not freeways and freeways don't bring more commuters; the commuters are going to come whether there's a freeway or just a dirt road. People move to places because of affordability or because they like the area, not on the condition of the roads.

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