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City, SMART reach tentative deal for second train station

Petaluma is heading toward clinching a sought-after deal with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit for the east side train station after weeks of talks.

A preliminary agreement reached March 13 proposes the city immediately contribute $2 million toward station construction, and the city expedite its lease with the rail agency for the downtown depot property, according to city attorney Eric Danly.

It remains an unbinding draft agreement until it gathers official votes of approval from the Petaluma City Council and the SMART board. Yet as Gov. Gavin Newsom advises Californians to expect shelter in place orders to last at least through April, postponing most public meetings, a timeline for the agreement and resulting station remains up in the air.

“It’s a whole new world,” said SMART board member and Sonoma County supervisor David Rabbitt. “Who knows if this project is even going to move forward, we will see.”

It’s a further complication to what has been a dizzying web of agreements, land sale arrangements and housing development projects associated with the east side station at the corner of Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard. The station is linked with the controversial Corona Station residential project and a 405-unit mixed use project proposed on the downtown parcel behind the station between East Washington and East D streets.

The multi-million dollar project that would give the city its long-desired second train stop also hinges on a land sale between SMART and developer Lomas Partners that would provide the agency with $6 million of its projected $8 million station cost.

Danly said the primary sticking point throughout the talks has been this issue of both timing and station funding. The city wants assurances its $2 million contribution collected from traffic impact fees will jumpstart construction, and that they won’t be on the hook for additional funding should the station cost more than SMART’s estimates. Mayor Teresa Barrett has also voiced outright disapproval of the preliminary agreement, taking issue with what she sees as the rail agency’s refusal to provide concrete construction timelines.

“If the cost of our station does exceed $8 million, there is no quick timeline that SMART is willing to agree to that will give us a station in any guaranteed time,” Barrett said, outlining her current position to vote against the draft agreement when it lands in council chambers.

SMART staff did not respond to multiple requests for an interview regarding the preliminary agreement and project timetable. However, Rabbitt pushed back against the concept that a concrete construction date is even possible, especially as the economy takes a nosedive amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“If the city wants a timeline, they can give us the remainder of the funds,” Rabbitt said. “SMART has always committed to using the proceeds of the downtown parcel to build the station, and as soon as possible.”

This was the second attempt between the two parties after initial staff discussions failed to satisfy SMART leadership. In response to this collapse, Rabbitt, Barrett and SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian joined the negotiation table at the most recent March 13 meeting.

City Manager Peggy Flynn said staff is working to introduce the agreement at the April 20 city council meeting, unless the quickly evolving public health emergency further shifts city business and public meetings.

“We want to make sure the funding is in place for at least that $8 million and then we’ll see how to secure other funding sources if the world changes,” Flynn said.

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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