CA: Poll Finds Support for SMART Among Voters, But Critics Wary of Results

A poll commissioned by a North Bay business-backed group shows 58 percent of residents in Marin and Sonoma counties oppose repeal of a quarter-cent sales tax that funds the planned Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit commuter train.

The project has faced criticism for not delivering what was promised to voters in 2008: a Larkspur-to-Cloverdale rail line and pedestrian and bike pathway by 2014. The scaled-down, $360 million plan now calls for a San Rafael-to-Santa Rosa project to start in 2016.

But voters show little desire to stop the SMART train project, according to a poll backed by the North Bay Leadership Council, an employer-led public policy advocacy organization.

The poll, conducted in late October, found that six of 10 voters or 58 percent oppose the repeal of Measure Q, passed by voters in 2008.

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

"It is clear from the poll results, that given these tough economic times, North Bay voters are clamoring for the 900 jobs SMART will create by year's end followed by many more jobs in the coming years," said Cynthia Murray, president and CEO of the leadership council, in a statement. "Voters also want green transportation alternatives to Highway 101 offered by the train and pathway, and aren't buying the argument that if SMART goes away that there will be any another alternative."

The poll shows 32 percent of respondents supported the repeal of Measure Q, roughly the same percentage that voted against Measure Q in 2008. About 10 percent were undecided.

The poll was conduced by Dresner Wickers Barber Sanders, which has offices in San Francisco and Little Rock, Ark. It fielded 501 randomly selected, registered voters in the SMART district between Oct. 27 and 30. Given the sample size, the poll results have a margin of error of about 4.5 percent.

The council declined to release the actual questions asked in the poll, but Murray said: "They encompassed both sides of the arguments made by those in favor of and opposed to SMART."

RepealSMART spokesman Clay Mitchell questioned the validity of the poll.

"Certainly if you craft questions in a certain way you can get the result you want," he said. "It's hard to know how balanced it is or authoritative it is, especially when they are not sharing the questions that were asked."

Mitchell noted SMART supporters have recently cited the 70 percent approval Measure Q received in 2008 as the reason why the project should move forward.

"Well, now their own poll is showing a shift and that only 58 percent are behind it," he said. "But you can't draw any conclusions from the poll; it may be interesting, but the election is not being held today."

Mitchell said as many as 200 volunteers in Marin and Sonoma counties are collecting signatures to put the repeal measure on a ballot in 2012.

Murray said they should stop their efforts.

"We hope that these compelling poll results lead the anti-SMART group to drop its efforts to stop the train," Murray said. "The train opponents have already cost Marin and Sonoma taxpayers millions of dollars in bond sale penalties. Now they want to make taxpayers pay even more for an unnecessary, expensive do-over election that voters already decided in 2008."

Contact Mark Prado via email at mprado@marinij.com

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