The six-month effort to force an election to repeal the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit sales tax officially ended in failure Monday, clearing the way for the district to accelerate plans to build its two-county rail line.
RepealSMART organizers did not collect the minimum number of signatures necessary to qualify the initiative for a November ballot measure, according to the Sonoma and Marin County elections departments Monday.
RepealSMART organizers obtained 5,471 signatures in Sonoma and 9,111 signatures in Marin, for a total of 14,582. The minimum threshold was 14,902, said Gloria Colter, Sonoma County's assistant registrar of voters.
Because the total fell short, Sonoma and Marin County elections officials will not go through the process of verifying the signatures, Colter said.
With the end of the repeal effort, SMART now has access to $171 million raised by selling construction bonds, which will be used to launch several contracts necessary for the transit system to be built.
The repeal effort had hindered SMART, but the district still was moving forward with its plans to build the rail line from Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael, with service scheduled to begin in late 2014 or early 2015.
In December, SMART sold $191 million worth of construction bonds, which after expenses resulted in $171 million for construction. Bond repayment is guaranteed by the district's sales tax revenues.
Because of the repeal cloud hanging over the district, the bonds carried variable interest rates and the proceeds were put into escrow pending the outcome of the petition effort.
Now that the repeal has failed, the bonds will be converted to a fixed interest rate and the money will be released to SMART, said Farhad Mansourian, SMART's general manager.
SMART this month awarded a $103.3 million contract to rebuild the rail line from Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa to the Marin County Civic Center, using $45 million in cash on hand and sale taxes that are still being collected.
With the release of the impounded funds, SMART can award additional contracts to extend the line from the Marin Civic Center to downtown San Rafael and to build a maintenance and operation facility, more of a pedestrian-bicycle path and an electronic communications system for train control.
Mansourian said once the bonds are officially released from escrow, SMART's quarter-percent sales tax is legally committed to paying off the bonds and cannot be repealed.
"There is nothing to repeal. We have bonded the sales tax, the sales tax is committed and the repeal is over," he said. "We will keep delivering the project as promised."
SMART's opponents Monday said they will consider refiling their petition and trying again to qualify an initiative, but they might not make a decision until later this week.
"What we are doing is kind of consulting with our core volunteers," said Clay Mitchell of Windsor, RepealSMART co-chairman. "Being an all-volunteer effort, it is requisite to see where people's energy is for further action."
Windsor Mayor Debora Fudge, a member of the SMART board, said the failure of the repeal effort shows the train still has a majority of support.
"The people have spoken again," Fudge said. "A super-majority voted for this train 3? years ago, and they were declining to sign the appeal. It's clear the majority of people want the train and see its benefit and value."