CA: SMART Says Repeal Measure Must Go Through Rail Agency

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials are considering an ordinance that would revamp the process being used to repeal the rail project, a move criticized by SMART opponents as an effort to subvert their proposed initiative.

The grassroots group Repeal SMART started to collect signatures late last month in an attempt to stop the Marin-Sonoma commuter rail line that has run into financial difficulties.

But soon after it began, it received a letter from SMART attorneys saying the group is operating under the wrong section of the election code, which has opponents working with the Sonoma County elections office.

SMART attorneys say opponents need to work through SMART.

"The procedures for an initiative election are to be established by ordinance of the SMART board," according to the letter sent to opponents.

That could occur when the SMART board meets Wednesday in San Rafael.

The move would also designate SMART general manager Farhad Mansourian as its election official.

"Our lawyers believe that there are certain state laws that require them to file with us so we can see what the petition will say so we can write an impartial analysis," said Mansourian, adding that he is willing to sit down with opponents to discuss the issue. "We are not in any way trying to restrict their rights as citizens to circulate a petition, but we want to make sure the taxpayers know what they are signing. This is not a delay tactic."

The move by SMART has the RepealSMART activists scratching their heads.

"There are questions about the wisdom and propriety of putting the elections process in the hands of those who are paid to promote this project and directly and substantially affected by the outcome of the election," said RepealSMART spokesman Clay Mitchell.

Mitchell said RepealSMART representatives asked repeatedly before they circulated petitions for clarification and guidance to ensure they were following the law, and were assured by SMART that they had complied with all requirements.

"This proposal by SMART appears calculated to subvert the elections process and impede the ability of the people to make their voices heard," Mitchell said.

For now the group will continue to gather signatures.

RepealSMART has until Jan. 28 to submit the signatures to get elections officials to schedule a ballot measure for a general election in June or November 2012. The initiative to repeal the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit plan would require a simple majority to pass.

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 a two-county total of 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 SMART has struggled 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 in 2015 or 2016, then build the rest of the line later if money can be found.

Contact Mark Prado via email at mprado@marinij.com

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