In the face of a tax repeal effort, officials and supporters of the Sonoma-Marin commute train are mounting their own informational campaigns.
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board has approved spending as much as $200,000 on public relations work that will include revamping the agency's website and developing outreach programs about how the 37-mile rail link between Santa Rosa and San Rafael is progressing.
“I think it is our charge to let the voters know what is happening,” said SMART Chairwoman Valerie Brown. “Sometimes you get lost in tackling the internal business, which is where we have been the past three months. This will be a full-on outreach to meet with the people asking questions.”
Friends of SMART, a rail support group that was active in the two-county campaign in 2008 to raise the sales tax by a quarter cent to fund SMART, says its voice has been missing in the recent debate.
The group in the past few weeks has become the umbrella organization for a coalition of 18 North Bay groups formed to advocate on SMART's behalf. Members include labor, environmental and business organizations that believe the $360 million SMART project creates jobs, offers an alternative to Highway 101 and is an economic stimulus.
The effort is meant to blunt the signature-gathering campaign by RepealSMART, a citizens group formed 10 months ago that wants to put a measure on next year's ballot to repeal the SMART sales tax.
“We are slow in reacting,” said Jack Swearengen of Santa Rosa, who is president of Friends of SMART.