Capdiamont\’s Weblog

Novato Advance: Survey says voters like SMART
Wednesday 9 Jul 2008, 04:59
Filed under: Marin, Novato, Railroad, SMART, Sonoma

By Tim Omarzu
Managing Editor
Wednesday, July 9, 2008 2:02 PM PDT

In May, 77 percent of respondents favored the SMART commuter train, according to a survey of 1,205 voters.

And that was when gas prices had merely broken the $4 per gallon mark in Northern California.

With gasoline now nearing $5 a gallon, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit supporters think that the second time will be the charm for the ballot measure, which should appear before Marin and Sonoma voters in November.

At its July 16 meeting, SMART’s board is expected to put on the ballot a proposed quarter-cent sales tax to fund the train and its accompanying bike and pedestrian path that would run 70 miles from Cloverdale to Larkspur. Operations would start in 2014.

Last time around, on the November 2006 ballot, 65.3 percent of Marin and Sonoma voters supported SMART, just 1.3 percent shy of the 66.6 percent super-majority needed. Gas cost about $2.50 a gallon, then.

“The time has never been better for SMART,” said train spokesman Chris Coursey. “(People are) looking for not only higher gas-mileage cars, but ways to get out of their cars entirely.”

Support for SMART is high in Novato, said Cynthia Murray, a former Novato councilwoman, mayor and Marin County supervisor who’s now the co-chair of the North Bay Transportation Alliance Yes on SMART. It’s a committee that so far has raised about $150,000 to campaign for SMART, Murray said.

The committee also paid for the May survey conducted by Godbe Research of San Mateo. The survey polled 800 Marin County residents and found 71 percent of voters supported SMART. Support was higher in Sonoma County, where 83 percent of the 405 voters interviewed backed SMART.

“Novato polled pretty well. There was very strong support in Novato for the train,” Murray said.

She said other factors besides skyrocketing gas prices contribute to support for SMART, including concern about global warming and reducing traffic congestion.

“You can’t just have Highway 101 be the only way to get around,” she said.

Southbound 101 is the third most congested freeway in the Bay Area according to the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Committee, Murray said.

SMART opponent Mike Arnold said that it’s too early to tell how gas prices might affect SMART’s chances in November.

“The reality is gas prices cut both ways,” Arnold said. “Are (voters) going to not vote for a tax increase because of higher gas prices? Or are they going to vote for a train (because of) higher gas prices?”

Other factors could affect the vote, he said.

Continued trouble on the home mortgage front could make voters less likely to support SMART’s quarter-cent sales tax, he said. But a high voter turnout could help SMART, Arnold said.

“When you get high turnout, that typically means more young people,” he said.

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