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SMART Ballot Initiative To Be Included in Repeal Petitions

Ordinance approved to attach neutral analysis to petitions.

Petitions to repeal the quarter-cent sales tax to help pay for the SMART train and pathway between Santa Rosa and San Rafael will contain a summary of the proposed ballot initiative by SMART itself.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District's Board of Directors this afternoon unanimously approved an ordinance that allows SMART to prepare a neutral analysis of the repeal initiative.

Starting Oct. 26, the analysis will be attached to the petitions being circulated by RepealSMART. Signatures in petitions already collected since last month still will be counted.

It's still uncertain how many signatures will be required to put the tax repeal measure on the ballot next year.

The grassroots organization says the tax should be repealed because voters approved the quarter-cent sales tax in 2008 for a 70-mile rail and bike and pathway between Cloverdale and Larkspur, not the current 37-mile, $360 million rail and pathway segment between Santa Rosa and San Rafael.

SMART downsized the project because of the adverse economy and reduced sales tax revenue since 2008. The "initial operating segment" between Santa Rosa and San Rafael could be in operation in 2014 or 2015, according to SMART. SMART hopes the rest of the rail line and pathway will be completed when funds are available, possibly by 2017-2018.

Several members of RepealSMART this afternoon questioned whether SMART could draft an impartial analysis of the project.

Others advised the SMART board of directors to draft its own ballot initiative on whether SMART should proceed with the project and submit it to voters in the spring or fall of 2012 rather than inject itself into the RepealSMART repeal initiative effort.

Lowell Finley, Chief Counsel for the California Secretary of State, informed the SMART board on Monday it does not have the legal authority to adopt the ordinance.

The SMART board, however, proceeded with the vote on the advice of its two attorneys.

The difference of opinion stems from which section of the state Elections Code applies to the initiative process for districts such as SMART.

Clay Mitchell, spokesman for RepealSMART, said he doesn't know if the group will challenge the vote to approve the ordinance. The deadline to collect signatures on the petitions is Jan. 28.

By Bay City News Service

Clay Mitchell October 22, 2011 at 07:41 AM
This article assumes much. It assumes that we will actually attach title and summary to our petition- the problem is that we have been informed by elections officials that doing so may invalidate our petition, as it is not required under the appropriate California elections law. How can you expect a petition that is circulated with two versions/sets of wording to be accepted as valid? It also states that both sets of petitions will be counted- that remains to be seen. The bigger impact is not the title and summary, which is inconsequential if it is truly neutral. Oh, and it's not an "analysis"- that happens after the measure qualifies for the ballot. The bigger impact is a district taking over elections decisions and operations, usurping the primacy of elections officials who are elected by (and thus directly accountable to) the people. That means they can invalidate any signatures they choose. It means that they can make new policies regarding how the election will be run. It means they get to elect/approve the ballot arguments. And what if the public or RepealSMART feels like they are dealt with unjustly? What recourse is available. To paraphrase SMART's special counsel, "So sue us!" That is the ONLY remedy available when the elections official is appointed by an appointed board. This is a travesty, and sets an incredibly dangerous precedent. It reminds us just how out of touch the political class is with the electorate.
Kirstin Merrihew October 22, 2011 at 10:52 AM
Clay Mitchell is absolutely correct. The SMART board has overreached its authority by passing this ordinance 11-0. It is shameful that not even ONE of the board directors would stand up for the proper rule of law and instead approved an illegal ordinance. This vividly illustrates how insulated and unaccountable this SMART board is. Beyond the objection Mitchell made, it should be noted that this ordinance was "ex post facto" -- it was retroactive to April of this year. Ex post facto laws are specifically forbidden by our U.S. Constitution. But SMART obviously believes itself above the need to answer to state or federal strictures and laws already in place and specifically enacted to protect our rights from exactly these kinds of rogue shenanigans..
Tom October 23, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Who is paying all of the lawyers? The only people benefitting from this tax hike are the SMART board personnell and the attorneys who are fighting to keep their funding source. The public sure got ripped off on this deal.
Barry Rodgers October 30, 2011 at 09:45 PM
I have searched the Smart Strategic Plan on line to find a long term cash flow estimate. While such an estimate exists for a relatively short period of time there is no 20+ year forecast and there does not appear to be a forecast of passenger revenues. Can any one point me in the right direction?

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