Marin Conservation League
The proponents of the 30 year extension of the sales tax to fund the SMART train, have made bold claims in their marketing mailers that its diesel, fossil fuel burning train is a "green" alternative. However, the agency has never produced any studies or other evidence of that claim.
On February 4, 2020, Linda Novy, president of the Marin Conversation League, along established and highly reputable environmental watchdog organization, issued the following letter to the SMART board of directors. We have printed it in its entirety as a convenience to our readers (copy also attached below).
Dear Members of SMART District's Board of Directors:
Marin Conservation League is a well-established conservation organization in Marin County, with an eighty-five-year history of environmental advocacy. We track issues related to land use, transportation, water, agriculture, public lands, and climate change and their associated impacts on natural resources. While Marin Conservation League (MCL) supports most publicly funded transit, it does not support renewing the SMART sales tax (Measure I) at this time.
MCL asks SMART's Board of Directors, as its policy setting authority, to work with SMART's management to respond to current public concerns. In the future, it will be important for SMART to provide a concrete plan to the community on how it will fulfill the original Measure I's promises, particularly in regard to the following claims:
- "Relieve traffic, fight global warming and increase transportation options.
- "Provide a bicycle/pedestrian pathway linking the stations, and connections to ferry/ bus service."
MCL's concerns are listed below:
SMART's greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions have been minimal given the costs.
SMART's claim of reducing 8 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions to date equates to only 2,000 tons of C02 emissions reduction per year -1/7th of 1% of Marin's annual GHG emissions - a de minimis amount given the $46 million annual SMART subsidy from sales tax and state grants.
This cost of reducing GHG emissions amounts to over $20,000 per ton of C02 -over 1,000 times more than the $17 per ton of C02 value that the cap-and-trade market places on additional GHG-reducing activities. Even many relatively expensive ways of reducing GHGs are far cheaper than SMART's efforts.
SMART has increased traffic congestion and air pollutants from autos in some cities.
SMART has greatly increased traffic delay and congestion at intersections with at-grade rail crossings in some cities along the corridor, decreasing Level of Service (LOS) and increasing both air pollution and GHG emissions from idling engines. SMART must actively work with other agencies to address congestion impacts along its corridor.
Proposed State housing bills, such as the recently defeated SB50, would focus growth and increased residential density around transit stations. These bills aim to capitalize on public investment in transit, increase transit ridership, and thereby mitigate added traffic congestion. However, because SMART's ridership is low and its destinations are not dense enough to reap those benefits, traffic congestion and air pollution will likely increase.
SMART's rail infrastructure is not adapted to sea level rise.
When the SMART track was upgraded, it was rebuilt through large swaths of low-lying marshland along Gallinas Creek, through St. Vincent's/Silveira properties, and in the Novato Creek watershed. SMART did not invest in building a rail system that is "climate ready," very likely necessitating additional future heavy expenditures to adapt to sea level rise.
SMART's long-promised bicycle/pedestrian pathway remains incomplete.
The pathway promised in the original Measure Q aimed to provide safe passage between stations, and to infrastructure that provides connections to other transit options, walking and biking connections, or parking lots and pickup points. The pathway is an important part of the project that further reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
SMART has built little pathway on its own and its current strategic plan has removed key segments of the path way.
The following questions must be addressed by the SMART Board of Directors:
- How does SMART plan to dramatically increase its ridership, which would reduce GHG emissions and air pollutants from gas-powered cars, at least to some extent?
- How does SMART plan to provide for adaptation to sea level rise along critical portions of its track? How will the train operate during storms and king tides as tidal levels continue to rise?
- How does SMART plan to provide the community with better information and more opportunities for input into SMART decision-making processes?
Until SMART addresses the questions above and improves its transparency and account ability, MCL does not support extension of the quarter-cent sales tax for SMART. Marin Conservation League will follow SMART as it continues to evolve and attempts to meet the challenges ahead to provide effective mass transit.
Sincerely, Linda Novy, President