The new head of the SMART commute rail line on Tuesday defended his $246,000 salary and his experience as a public works director, saying he has landed large projects on time and on budget.
"I am here to deliver a regional project, so people don't get stuck for two hours between Santa Rosa and San Rafael, and I want to create 1,000 jobs before the end of this calendar year," said Farhad Mansourian, general manager of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district. "If I am successful, all the name calling in headlines and on Internet chats is worth it."
Mansourian, 57, has been under a barrage of criticism since he was hired Aug. 17 as general manager with a salary 40 percent more than his predecessor.
"The SMART board needs an experienced public works guy," said Mansourian, who has been in the Marin County public works department for 31 years and with SMART as an administrator for four months.
He said the pay is appropriate for the position overseeing construction of the rail line and that civil engineers in charge of other major public works projects are paid more.
He had sharp words for his critics, the Novato-based Repeal SMART.
"We are committed to deliver a project. I will not be slowed or stopped," he said. "We have different job descriptions. They want to stop SMART and kill employment, and I want to start SMART and create jobs."
And he said not having rail experience, as critics point out, is not a factor.
"They are completely right, but it is the wrong question," Mansourian said. "SMART is 70 miles long with track work, civil engineering work, bridges, parking lots, buildings and trains, and the purchase of the train vehicle has already been done."
"You never get to the train part if you never deliver the civil engineering part," Mansourian said.
Mansourian is taking over a transit system that has suffered financial setbacks, largely caused by the recession that have reduced revenue, and higher-than-anticipated costs.
The district already has retrenched, downsizing the initial operating line from 70 miles from Cloverdale to Larkspur to focus on a 37-mile stretch from downtown Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael.
The initial line is now projected to cost $360 million, $25 million more than estimated, but Mansourian in a study prepared for the 12-member board review said there is enough sales tax revenue and regional, state and federal funds for the project.
Mansourian also told the SMART board that getting the necessary local, state and federal permits to work in the wetland areas probably will delay the project by one to two years past the fall 2014 goal.
The SMART board hired Mansourian, who is Marin's public works director, as temporary executive director in May to handle administration and review all cost and revenue estimates.
<NO1><NO>Mansourian was only on loan from Marin County and not a candidate for SMART general manager, which had been vacant since January, when Lillian Hames resigned after a decade running the agency.
After a nationwide search and consideration of three final candidates, however, the SMART board persuaded Mansourian to take the position.
The five-year, contract package calls for a salary of $246,000 a year, plus $36,900 in deferred compensation and $29,888 in benefit and expense allowances.