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In support of the effort to defeat Measure I on March 3rd, I provided technical assistance to the “NotSoSMART” campaign, funded by Molly Flater of Sonoma County.This article provides readers with some background on how and why Measure I was defeated on March 3rd.
The Vote Outcome on Measure I
Why Did Opponents Win by As Much as They Did?
As SMART Board Chairman Eric Lucan (Novato) stated at the March Board meeting, there is no “sugar-coating” the trouncing the agency took on March 3rd.
Here are some thoughts about that worth considering.
1. The “NotSoSMART” campaign, while extraordinarily well-funded, actually won because of the issues the opposition campaign raised. Voters didn’t believe the campaign literature and advertisements just because they received mailers at home or saw or heard ads in the media. They believed the “NotSoSMART” campaign’s message because the main issues that were raised were credible.
The messages in the “NotSoSMART” advertisements and mailers were consistent with the available information about SMART’s poor financial and operating performance, the “culture” of the agency that has been hiding financial and operating performance metrics from the public, and because of public statements made by SMART Board members and staff.
One of the key issues about the agency’s culture was the lack of sufficient oversight over management by the SMART Board of Directors. But this issue wasn’t a new criticism of the agency. It had been identified years earlier in two separate Grand Jury reports in Marin and Sonoma.
For example, in 2014 in the Marin County Civil Grand Jury concluded in its report “SMART - Down the Track,”
“The SMART Board of Directors should play a more active role in representing the interests of the citizens of Sonoma and Marin Counties in governing and providing oversight of the SMART project. We found that some Board members do not have an adequate understanding of the financial and system operating issues. Understanding these issues is crucial to the fulfillment of their responsibilities to establish policy and provide oversight to SMART.”
2. The three main issues that the “NotSoSMART” campaign raised were:
- The agency’s lack of transparency to the public, regarding the performance of the train (ridership counts);
- The lack of accountability by the SMART Board of Directors and its senior management team; and
- The SMART Board’s proclivity to rubber stamp just about anything advocated by SMART’s General Manager, Farhad Mansourian.
Consistent with these issues were four themes that the “NotSoSMART” campaign determined voters cared about:
- A 30-year tax extension measure was being placed on the ballot nine years before the current law expired, while at the same time, SMART was adopting a plan that forecast $2.4 billion in revenues without any voter oversight.
- The operating costs per passenger “exceeded $100 per round trip.”
- The SMART train’s limited ridership and low capacity utilization.
- Significant increases in traffic congestion and safety hazards in downtown San Rafael caused by the train, repeatedly denied in public statements by SMART’s General Manager.
3. Additional issues that were discussed by voters who were inclined to delve more deeply into the train’s operations were:
- SMART’s rejection of recommendations by the Civil Grand Jury that the Board needed to execute more oversight over staff.
- SMART’s lack of adequate responses to the numerous Public Records Act requests, filed by community groups and the media (including CO$T and the Press Democrat).
- SMART’s use of financial reserves to fund normal operations.
- A lack of annual, monthly, and daily performance metrics being published by the agency.
- Ongoing misrepresentations of the trains impact on:
- Hwy 101 peak hour traffic;
- Greenhouse gas emissions; and
- How much of the SMART bike path had been constructed using Measure Q dollars.
For the reasons outlined above, SMART’s failure to address these legitimate concerns will likely lead to the defeat of any future SMART tax extension measures.
 The figures taken from the SMART Strategic Plan.
Arnold is a PhD economist, currently lecturing at the Fromm Institute (USF) and in the Osher Life Long Learning Institute (OLLI) at Dominican University and Sonoma State University.