SMART Sales Tax Renewal

The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) Board of Directors will likely put a measure on the March 2020 ballot  to renew their quarter-cent sales tax. Much to our dismay, the associated Expenditure Plan includes neither a timeline nor guaranteed funding for the bicycle and pedestrian pathway. Language included in the 2008 plan that required SMART to prioritize additional funding for the pathway has been removed.

In a joint letter with the Marin County Bicycle Coalition and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we asked the SMART Board for “the inclusion of the following elements in the 2020 Expenditure Plan under Section V, Implementation Guidelines.

  1. If reserve funds become available, the SMART Board will prioritize the completion of the bicycle/pedestrian pathway between the Larkspur and Sonoma County Airport Stations.
  2. When implementing the Windsor, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale rail and pathway extensions, SMART will strive to fund, design, permit, and build the rail and pathway projects concurrently.”

At their October 16 meeting, they expressed willingness to adopt #2 but NOT #1. (There is no timeline for extension beyond Windsor; one Board member has expressed skepticism that the train will ever make it to Cloverdale.)

SMART staff state that early renewal of the tax (which doesn’t expire until 2028) will enable them to reduce debt payments and expand their reserves; they claim that if the measure doesn’t pass in 2020, they may have to cut existing service.  SMART Board Chair and San Rafael Mayor Gary Phillips told us, “If the measure passes, you might get something; if it fails, you won’t get anything.”

As an organization, we have not yet taken an formal position on the measure. Respondents to a poll of SCBC and MCBC members indicated that about 83% voted FOR Measure Q in 2008, largely because of the pathway. Now, only 50% support the measure, 25% oppose it, and 25% are undecided.  From the comments, it seems that many of those opposed feel very strongly, while many of the supporters are ambivalent. Most of us are supporters of public transit and many of us use the train – ten percent of SMART riders bring a bike on board.  We don’t want to see service cut. But we have been unhappy that build-out of the pathway lags so far behind that of the railway, with no strategic plan,  identified funding source, or timeline for completion. We have also been frustrated with SMART’s lack of transparency when asked for data about funding sources and other pathway issues.

We continue to strategize on ways to get a stronger commitment to funding the pathway into the spending plan. The next Board meeting, at which SMART Directors will finalize the proposed measure, is November 6 at 1:00 pm. We will be there, and you are encouraged to join us.

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