Leaders of the North Coast Builders Exchange and the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association demanded Wednesday that SMART directors put a stop to negotiations between their Railroad Square project developer and a group representing labor and environmental interests.
Debate over the housing and retail project mirrors complaints the same groups have raised about the influence of the Accountable Development Coalition, composed of unions, housing advocates and environmental groups, in the Sonoma Mountain Village development in Rohnert Park.
There, the coalition has agreed to support a large-scale development of homes, businesses and industrial sites in what critics complain is a blatant attempt to buy off union and environmental opposition.
Keith Woods, executive director for the North Coast Builders Exchange, and others said Wednesday that the negotiations endorsed by SMART will result in a "project labor agreement" that will prevent non-union firms from bidding on aspects of the housing and retail project attached to the Railroad Square train station.
"There should be no discrimination in the bidding process when you use taxpayer money," Woods said.
Jack Atkin, president of the Taxpayers Association, criticized the negotiations, contending they would limit public scrutiny over how the quarter-cent sales tax is spent on the project planned for Santa Rosa's largest rail stop.
"It is not in the light of day. It is a back room deal," Atkin said.
Woods and Aktin were among about a dozen people representing non-union contractors, construction companies and taxpayer groups. The contigent walked out of the SMART board's public comment session after delivering their complaints and failing to get a response from board members.
Contacted after the four-hour board meeting, board vice-chair Debora Fudge denied the group's allegations and said the complaints had misrepresented the nature of discussions between developer John Stewart and groups interested in different aspects of the development.
She <NO1><NO>said the agreement <NO1><NO>would not preclude non-union contractors from proposing low-cost bids on aspects of the Railroad Square project. So far, the developer has been in negotiations with the coalition, but has not begun similar talks with neighborhood and area business groups that have said they want to weigh in.
"We were surprised that the speakers were so upset because these are issues that were approved a year ago in open sessions," Fudge said. "They are seeking inflammatory news coverage and saying things that are not true."
Fudge said SMART had requested that the developer come to a "community benefits agreement" with the Accountable Development Coalition, along with other groups that include the West End Neighborhood Association, the Historic Railroad Square Association, the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. Such an agreement establishes guidelines such as affordable housing units, worker wages, green building standards and bike-friendly features, she said.
Most of those elements already are required in SMART's request for project proposals and the agreement ensures that the desires of interested community groups are taken into consideration by the developer, she said. She said the SMART board has the right to reject the agreement.
SMART, short for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system, is developing a 71-mile line from Cloverdale to Larkspur with rail stations in Railroad Square, Coddingtown, Petaluma and Cloverdale that are attracting attention from an array of groups interested in transit-oriented projects.