SMART could face challenge seeking tax extension without dates for Healdsburg, Cloverdale stations
Doug Kerr of Healdsburg wonders when the SMART rail service will reach his city.
A mainstay at Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board meetings, the self-described rail advocate began questioning early this year the 12-member board about the timeline. However, board members have been unable to offer a satisfactory response, saying they still don’t have a target date.
Kerr, 68, fears the North Bay commuter rail agency’s continued inability to identify one could cost SMART a potential sales-tax extension it seeks in March.
“The 2008 sales tax that funded SMART was advertised to build a 70-mile system, which would include where I live in Healdsburg,” the retired electrical engineer told the board last week. “If you want north county to approve an extension of the sales tax, you’ve got to tell us when it’s going to get to Healdsburg and Cloverdale. Otherwise, it’s going to look like false advertising again.”
SMART staff continues to work on a long-term spending plan so when it comes time this fall for the board to make a decision on the ballot measure, the agency can justify the extension to voters in Marin and Sonoma counties, who passed the current 20-year quarter-cent sales tax, Measure Q, with 70% approval.
SMART expects to open the Larkspur station by the end of the year, completing the system’s southern terminus and adding another 2 miles to its existing 43-mile passenger rail line, which launched in August 2017. The $55 million needed to extend the line about 3 miles north from the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport station to Windsor by the end of 2021 also has been identified through state grants and new bridge toll revenues.
To date, SMART has secured more than $300 million in state and federal grant money to build out its stations and track.
But how the agency intends to come up with the $364 million needed to extend the line an additional 22 miles north to Cloverdale — and the $11 million needed to construct a long-promised second Petaluma station on the city’s east side — remains unknown.
“The expenditure plan that we’re putting out there needs to be real dollars. It needs to actually get the signoff from the public and have the public feel like they can trust that what we’re promising we’re going to deliver,” said Santa Rosa Vice Mayor Chris Rogers, a member of the SMART board. “Otherwise, I don’t see this passing.”
Gary Phillips, SMART’s board chairman, acknowledged the agency’s predicament moving forward with an extension without pinpointing dates for the Healdsburg and Cloverdale stations. Without a timeline, he understands it will be a challenge for SMART to get the two-thirds voter approval for the sales tax extension.
“I’m not sure we’re going to be able to do that,” said Phillips, who serves as mayor of San Rafael. “The sales-tax extension is not going to provide for additional construction funding, so therefore, we have to rely upon outside funding.
“That’s the challenge that’s going to be before us, because if we don’t anticipate that, we’re not going to Cloverdale, quite frankly, from my view,” he added. “We’re going to have to make some hard decisions, and I guarantee it’s going to be very difficult.”