The failure of the RepealSMART effort is welcome news for a North Coast beleaguered by economic setbacks in recent years. It didn't need another one.
Not that North Coast residents were prepared to abandon construction of a long-needed commuter train barely three years after giving their wholehearted endorsement of the idea. Despite the repeated assertions of SMART opponents, there never was any evidence that the future of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train was in real jeopardy.
Our primary concern was that the North Coast would be dragged into another lengthy election battle that would cause more construction delays, cost overruns and an overall unnecessary expenditure of time, money and energy. All this for the benefit of rehashing old arguments about whether the train would be fast enough, long enough and comfortable enough — and would take enough cars off of Highway 101.
And then there were the inevitable court battles that would have preceded any election. For weeks, SMART officials and repeal folks had argued over how many ballot signatures would be required to force a re-vote. SMART's official position was that it would need 39,000 signatures. Repeal folks said, under rules set by Proposition 218, it would need only 14,902.
Fortunately, in the end, it didn't matter. According to registrars of voters in the two counties, RepealSMART organizers turned in 5,471 signatures in Sonoma County and 9,111 signatures in Marin County for a grand total of 14,582.
It was low enough that the two counties were able to avoid the expense of having to validate the signatures. It's good news all the way around.
Nonetheless, we hope this repeal effort was successful in one regard — sending the message that many in the public demand more accountability and more clarity about how their tax dollars are being spent. More than that, there are thousands who are dissatisfied with what they're getting for their money, a truncated line stretching from San Rafael to just north of downtown Santa Rosa. At no point should supporters accept this as a long-term solution.
John Parnell and Clay Mitchell, the co-chairmen of the RepealSMART effort, say they decided to pursue repealing Measure Q, the quarter-cent sales tax supporting the train, because they weren't getting their questions answered and didn't feel decisions were being properly vetted. We trust SMART officials have at least heard the call to be more inclusive of public input in their decisions.
Meanwhile, SMART opponents say they're considering refiling their petition and trying again to qualify an initiative. We encourage them to think again. It's time to move on.
Rather than trying to kill the train, we suggest opponents work within the system that exists and voice their grievances in a more constructive way. Who knows? They may even get more people to sign on to their complaints — and induce constructive change in the process.
In the meantime, the failure of the repeal effort now frees SMART to spend bond money that has been sitting in an escrow account awaiting the outcome of this petition drive. It's time to get back on track, and leave the dissension and repeal attempts behind.