Aug. 02--The group Repeal SMART has filed a notice of intent to circulate petitions designed to upend the financially troubled Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit commuter rail project.
Legal notices were published Monday in North Bay newspapers, including the Independent Journal. The step is necessary to start the initiative process, said Clay Mitchell of Windsor, spokesman for the group.
"We hope to start collecting signatures sometime in the next two weeks," Mitchell said.
The group will have six months to collect a total of 37,314 signatures of registered voters in Marin and Sonoma counties. The group's goal is to put a repeal measure on the ballot next June or November 2012.
The group is developing a strategy on how it will gather signatures, but it will likely rely on volunteers and paid signature gatherers.
"It certainly feels doable," Mitchell said. "We will be working the next few weeks to get our structure solidified."
Marin Supervisor Judy Arnold, vice chairwoman of the SMART board, said she respects the group's efforts.
"They have the right to do that, that's part of the democratic way and we will see what happens," she said.
Measure Q -- the SMART measure -- needed 66.67 percent to pass in 2008. Marin gave it 62.6 percent approval while Sonoma gave it 73.5 percent, for 69.5 percent.
The approval raised the sales tax in Marin and Sonoma counties by a quarter cent to finance the train that was to take
passengers from Cloverdale to Larkspur starting in 2014. A bike and pedestrian path along the route was part of the package.
But the plan collapsed amid higher than anticipated costs and a poor economy, which weakened the sales-tax base. SMART hopes to start a shorter line from Santa Rosa to San Rafael, then build the rest of the line later if money can be found. Where that money will come from has not clearly been defined.
Last month Farhad Mansourian, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency's acting chief, concluded the rail project would cost $45 million more than previous estimates. Mansourian, charged with taking a fresh look at finances as well as project components, has recommended revisions that boost funding projections and cut some costs while increasing others and is confident a funding plan will soon be in place.
The train project now has a price tag of $380 million to connect San Rafael and Santa Rosa.
In its notice of intent, Repeal SMART said it aims to undo Measure Q and "give SMART a 'strategic timeout' to form a new, complete plan including an adequate funding mechanism to fund the project as promised in its entirety."
Mitchell envisions two campaigns, one to get signatures to get the issue to the ballot and a second to promote the initiative if the first goal is achieved.
"Taxpayer money is being spent at an alarming rate, while the scope of the project has been chopped to a fraction of what was promised voters," he said. "This is not what we all voted for."
Sonoma Supervisor Valerie Brown, chairwoman of the SMART board, said the project is no different than any other large-scale public works project that has stumbled along with the economy.
"It is our responsibility to let people know that if we are going to build a project of this size and make it work it will have to be done in stages," Brown said. "We are not different from any other large public works or transportation project, it's the hand we were dealt. It's amazing how many people are still very supportive, but they are not the vocal majority."
Contact Mark Prado via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2011 - The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.