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Repeal SMART Appears Short of Referendum Goal

About 15,000 signatures would be needed at the minimum to force a voter referendum in Marin and Sonoma counties to stop funding for a passenger rail project, but only 5,471 were turned over in Sonoma County. The number is unknown in Marin until Monday mor

Repeal SMART Appears Short of Referendum Goal

Repeal SMART, which hopes to cut off taxpayer money to the upstart and controversial Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system, turned in 5,471 signatures to the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters office Friday afternoon and an uncounted number with the registrar in Marin County.

The referendum campaign needs a minimum of about 15,000 verified signatures to have a remote chance at eliminating a 20-year, quarter-cent sales tax increase in the two counties that funds the SMART system, which is targeted to deliver passengers between Santa Rosa and San Rafael by 2015 or 2016.

Elainne Ginnold, Marin's registrar, said the Repeal SMART organizers showed up at 3:40 p.m. Friday, too late to start counting and nail down a raw, unverified number of signatures.

"Quite a few of our staff finishes their day at 4 p.m., so we will start counting at 9:30 on Monday," she said.

In Sonoma County, assistant registrar Gloria Colter said Repeal SMART turned in 5,471 signatures, meaning the Marin petitions would have to have at least 9,529 signatures and then both counties would have to bat 1.000 in the verification process. In most referendum efforts, initiative organizers turn in many thousands of signatures more than that are required to compensate for a percentage of unverified signatures.

The SMART board of managers will determine how many verified signatures are needed to have them vote on placing a voter referendum on the ballot in the two counties. Repeal SMART has maintained that the minimum number of verified signatures would be about 15,000, but SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian has said legislation shows it would need to be closer to 40,000.

Colter said Thursday that one of two formulas would be used — five percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election (roughly 15,000); or 10 percent of registered voters in the last general election (roughly 40,000). The SMART board would determine that figure at an upcoming meeting.

"It is what it is," Repeal SMART's Clay Mitchell said Friday. "They're (the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district's board of directors) not going to call an
election anyway regardless of how many signatures were returned."

RepealSMART could take the issue to court, he said.

Ginnold said no verification of signatures would take place unless there were at least 15,000 signatures between the two counties.

Repeal SMART founder and treasurer John Parnell of Novato that "From what everybody said, you need 19,000 or 20,000 (unverified signatures) to be safe, and that 18,000 is just too close. We're going to be close. I don't know. I'm just really proud of the volunteers who worked so hard."

If the raw count exceeds 15,000, the registrar offices would have 30 days to verify the signatures.

Repeal SMART wants voters to vote again on the sales tax measure, which was approved in 2008 when the rail line and bike and pedestrian pathway was to run 70 miles between Cloverdale and Larkspur. The district has divided its plans into phases because of funding shortfalls, saying the rest of the line and pathway would be built when funding becomes available.

The SMART board a $103.3 million construction contract for track, bridges, station platforms and grade crossing along the 37-mile initial operating segment of the line between Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa and the Marin Civic Center.

Check out this story from the for more reaction and comments. Here's another from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

— Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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