Marin vote was frosting on SMART’s cake

Published Sunday, November 9, 2008, by the Marin Independent Journal

Commentary By Dick Spotswood, RailPAC Secretary, and Mill Valley resident

After several false starts, Marin and Sonoma voters passed a one-quarter cent sales tax for construction and operation of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit commuter train. Measure Q needed two-thirds of the combined Sonoma and Marin vote.

A super majority is not required in each county. The unofficial tally shows Q achieving a robust 69.5 percent overall.

Q was expected to do well in Sonoma, where it got 70.1 percent favorable support in 2006 when a similar tax measure fell short. This year, the train plan won a landslide 73.5 percent of our northern neighbor’s “yes” votes.

The frosting on the cake for rail backers was a substantial majority in Marin. Two years ago commuter rail achieved an anemic 57.5 percent positive Marin support. This year, despite all of the hoopla in Novato over freight trains that will share SMART’s tracks and balloting in the midst of a crashing economy, Measure Q captured a respectable 62.6 percent of the Marin vote.

Rail supporters were bolstered by favorable factors in both counties. The spike in gasoline prices convinced many that exclusively relying on the auto commute is a mistake.

They were aided by Democrats who turned out in droves. Demos are more likely to vote for tax increases and infrastructure improvements than Republicans.

The North Bay is solidly environmental. The message that public transit, and rail in particular, is a potential mitigation to global warming finally took hold.

Marinites and Sonomans were consistent last Tuesday. State Proposition 1A, the bond measure to fund high speed rail between Northern and Southern California, achieved 65 percent support in Marin and 63.9 percent in Sonoma. Unlike SMART, the bullet train required only a simple majority to pass.

SMART’s foes made two fatal errors. First, the Marin-based anti-rail group drove up to Sonoma to spread its fundamentally anti-development message. It’s an axiom of North Bay politics that nothing turns off Sonoma voters more than being told how to vote by perceived Marin elitists. That’s just what happened when these pied pipers faced commuters desperate for any
relief from “freeway” gridlock.

More profound were SMART’s opponents’ failure to propose any viable alternative to commuter rail. The sneaking suspicion always was that the “No on Q” coalition preferred the status quo. Some of the naysayers fear that major transit improvements spur unwanted growth.

Others are against all tax measurers. For all of these factions, doing nothing significant to improve mobility remains the favored alternative.

SMART’s board now needs to deliver. It can do it by promptly getting on with the job of rebuilding the old Northwestern Pacific Railroad on budget and within the promised six-year time frame. Those imperatives need be matched by development of comprehensive plans coordinating the new trains with feeder buses delivering workers seamlessly from home to job.

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