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SMART critics seek to energize repeal drive

  • Clay Mitchell speaks to a small crowd during a RepealSMART town hall meeting at Ellington Hall in Santa Rosa, California, on Sunday, November 13, 2011. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Critics of the Sonoma-Marin commuter rail line held a town hall meeting Sunday to energize volunteers and expand their campaign to repeal a quarter-cent sales tax funding the $380 million project.

Clay Mitchell, co-chairman of RepealSMART, estimated the group has gathered "thousands" of signatures since Oct. 1, when it began to circulate petitions to put a measure on the 2012 ballot asking voters to end the tax.

However, Mitchell could not provide specific figures on signatures gathered so far. Organizers asked volunteers to submit their first batch of petitions by Dec. 1, when RepealSMART will conduct an internal count and determine its next step.

It's still unclear whether the group must gather 15,000 or 30,000 signatures by the Jan. 28 deadline to get the initiative on the ballot.

Mitchell gave a lengthy presentation under a disco ball and lights at a Santa Rosa dance hall, calling the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit project "one of the biggest boondoggles in North Bay history."

He asked everyone to bring the petitions to their golf buddies, knitting clubs and neighborhoods and ask them to help get the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit project back before voters.

The initiative seeks to repeal Measure Q, a quarter-cent sales tax passed in November 2008 by a combined 70 percent of voters in Sonoma and Marin counties.

About 30 people attended the town hall meeting, bursting into laughter when Mitchell outlined the costs of the project and the six-figure salary of SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian.

"I'm sick of projects that cost far more than promised," said Ellie Jones, 59, of Windsor. "They should have looked at a worst-case scenario."

Jones echoed a view shared by many in the group at Ellington Hall on Industrial Drive in Santa Rosa who said the train's growing cost has led her to mistrust the project leadership.

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