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SMART news: Cloverdale vice mayor and Board Members respond
Tuesday 9 Jun 2009, 06:15
Filed under: Marin, Northwestern Pacific Railroad, Railroad, SMART, Sonoma, transit

Ludicrous column

EDITOR: This Cloverdalian and SMART board member was troubled by Mike Arnold’s wildly inaccurate Close to Home column of June 4 (“SMART’s money problem is no surprise.”) Particularly offensive was a partial, unattributed quote of mine from a completely separate context used, apparently, to try to hurt a project key to the future of our region and my beloved city.

Arnold also misrepresented the board and implied knowledge of the hearts and minds of Cloverdale voters — perhaps to further a childishly gleeful, vindictive effort to sow mistrust and misinformation that is so typical of a long-running, unsuccessful campaign to destroy SMART.

I find Arnold’s reference to SMART’s “misdeeds” ludicrous. The process by which we identified a funding gap has been open and transparent. My fellow board members, SMART staffers and consultants are a true team with which I am proud and happy to work as we move together toward realizing North Bay voters’ clearly stated goal of building a reliable rail transportation system and personal access paths.

Simply put: Mike Arnold lost. So now, it seems, he’s trying to make the rest of us losers, too.

CAROL RUSSELL

Vice Mayor, Cloverdale

CLOSE TO HOME: SMART’s focus is on delivering train by 2014

CHARLES McGLASHAN and DEBORA FUDGE

Published: Monday, June 8, 2009 at 5:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 8, 2009 at 5:10 p.m.

This is an exciting time for all of us associated with the SMART rail district. As we begin to receive proceeds from the quarter-cent sales tax approved by 70 percent of voters last November, we can set aside the past political campaigns and get down to the hard work of creating a first-rate transportation project that will benefit the economy, the environment and the quality of life of the North Bay.

As chairman and vice-chairwoman of the SMART board of directors, we want to make one point absolutely clear: We remain committed to the plan described in Measure Q — delivering the passenger train and pathway from Cloverdale to Larkspur by 2014. We stand by that commitment.

Recent articles, letters, columns and commentaries in newspapers in both Marin and Sonoma counties have suggested that somehow SMART is reneging on the promise of Measure Q. These are based on two recent developments: the recommendation from our staff that SMART choose a “heavy” rail vehicle and the development of a strategic plan in which we acknowledge that the recent economic meltdown leaves SMART facing a $155 million funding gap.

The vehicle issue is a complicated one, but the bottom line is simple. The SMART board is committed to acquiring vehicles with the most up-to-date emissions-control technology available and that provide a high-quality, comfortable experience for our passengers. That is our commitment regardless of whether the rail cars are “heavy” or “light.”

Our foremost concern is to choose a vehicle that provides the environmental benefits that were identified in our environmental impact reports. To reduce greenhouse gases and at the same time reduce harmful pollutants such as particulates and nitrogen oxides, SMART’s vehicles must have the latest emission-control technology, a standard known as “Tier 4.”

Our EIRs were based on a heavy vehicle using the equivalent of Tier 4 technology. Acquiring a light rail car with Tier 4 could deliver even more environmental benefits. Either way, the project will cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30 million pounds a year.

There are other issues in the mix, and we haven’t made a decision. When we do, though, it will be based on what is the best vehicle for our project both today and well into the future.

Now, let’s talk about SMART’s finances. Just like every public agency, most businesses and millions of American households, SMART has felt the negative effects of this recession. The hard-working volunteers serving on our Citizens Advisory Committee have helped develop a strategic plan that identifies a potential funding gap of $155 million in today’s dollars.

Fortunately, we don’t need those dollars today. The gap, which for the most part is caused by a reduced ability to raise cash by issuing bonds, won’t affect SMART’s plans until bond money is needed to pay for construction projects beginning in 2011. Between now and then, existing sales tax revenues will provide enough money to allow us to continue with the design work necessary before construction commences in two years.

Meanwhile, we are working hard to identify other sources of revenue, such as federal stimulus funds and money contained in the new transportation bill being considered by Congress. Combined with an improving economy and strengthening bond market, we are confident we can significantly narrow that funding gap in the next two years.

Our critics, some of whom have expressed their opinions in these pages, would blame us for these difficulties or even — in one case — accuse us of covering them up (when in fact they have been discussed in at least 10 public meetings since February). But the truth is, our challenges are simply the result of unfortunate timing. The economy didn’t really enter its tailspin until last September, months after we adopted our funding and expenditure plans. And even then no one knew how bad it would get.

To highlight the importance of timing, consider this: Had we succeeded with our 2006 ballot measure, which failed by less than 1.5 percent, SMART would have benefitted from the robust bond market of 2007, and we would be issuing construction contracts right now and no doubt receiving bids up to 30 percent below estimates, as enjoyed by some other public agencies.

Over the next two years, SMART will design and engineer a project that delivers a high-quality transit system at the lowest possible cost. In 2011, we will start building it. By the end of 2014, our goal is to have trains running from Larkspur to Cloverdale. That’s what you said you wanted. That’s what we are working to deliver.

Charles McGlashan and Debora Fudge serve as chairman and vice-chairwoman, respectively, of the SMART board of directors.


Mike Arnold’s latest opinion, made it in to the MIJ today.

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