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Sonoma County supervisors back study of third SMART station in Santa Rosa

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The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday capped a month of speculation about behind-the-scenes jockeying over a third Santa Rosa-area SMART station, voting 4-1 to fund a study of a new stop in north Santa Rosa.

The discussion had initially pit supervisors Lynda Hopkins and James Gore against Supervisor Shirlee Zane and board Chairman David Rabbitt, as Hopkins and Gore favored a Fulton Road location in north Santa Rosa and Zane favored a station in southwest Santa Rosa, near Roseland or Moorland Avenue. Rabbitt wanted to know where the $11 million to build such a station would ever come from before agreeing to study it.

In the end, Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents parts of eastern Santa Rosa and the entire Sonoma Valley, was the lone board member to vote against the $50,000 study of the Fulton site.

Supervisors began the discussion with an attempt to dispel reports they had been squabbling about the location. But they ended with a threat from Gorin that Sonoma Valley likely wouldn’t support tax renewal for SMART because it doesn’t directly serve her constituents. Hopkins chimed in that deliberations reflected the board’s need for a therapy dog.

The driving question was, in parts, philosophical: Which comes first for the station, the study or the funding?

For Gore, Hopkins and Zane, and allies who spoke during the public comment period, the study comes first.

“I understand the concern about where do we get $11 million,” Gore said. “To me, if we don’t take Step 1, we have nothing.”

Former county supervisor Efren Carrillo, speaking in his capacity as board president for the Center for Climate Protection, said more stops, and more accessibility, would ultimately help achieve climate goals, including fewer vehicle miles traveled.

Rabbitt ultimately aligned himself with Gore, Zane and Hopkins despite seeing no clear path to securing $11 million for the station. SMART, the North Bay’s commuter rail agency, has a long list of projects for its build-out, and most if not all are higher priorities than a third Santa Rosa station.

“There’s a better than two-thirds chance that the station will never be built in the next 10-20 years,” Rabbitt said.

Gore had a quick response.

“I’ll bet on one third,” said Gore, signaling that he thought the station was more of a likelihood.

“My focus has always been to complete the line all the way up,” Gore said. “This is a request for feasibility, not a political move.”

Gorin had her own concerns, which surfaced after she expressed interest in a study of east-west connections to SMART services. She even seemed intent on a study that would look at extending rail service to Sonoma Valley.

Rabbitt, signaling the towering obstacles in the way of that move, said such a study would likely point to the need for more buses bringing riders to and from more distant parts of the SMART corridor.

Gorin then said any vote to reauthorize SMART’s sales tax measure wouldn’t succeed in Sonoma Valley, citing its lack of service in the eastern parts of her district. Gorin said she worried, too, that a study of a Fulton-area station could be misused as another promise to voters that SMART won’t fulfill.

Rabbitt said he thought any promises would come from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, instead.

“I don’t think that promise is going to come from SMART, but this board, which is part of my reluctance,” Rabbitt said.

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com.

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