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Guest Commentary: Yes on Measure I for SMART’s world-class pathway

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I am a long-term bicycle/pedestrian advocate, having served publicly for 10 years, and in 2003 was part of a group that helped craft the SMART train ballot measure into what it became, a train/pathway ballot measure, mandating SMART not only make a train happen, but also to provide a parallel pathway running the full length.

Many say it was this pathway addition which tipped the scales to victory for SMART in 2008.

I write this letter urging “yes” on Measure I on March 3. We should not to let disgruntled bike advocates convince us it is wise to “teach SMART a lesson” by voting no on March 3, because the pathway is incomplete or is not using enough local money, etc.

Nor should we “throw the baby out with the bathwater” because the current inconvenient-to-myself train schedule convinces me to do so. This SMART/pathway project is a long-term vision, built in stages, because, well in short, freeways get CalTrans. Train infrastructure doesn’t. The little secret to remember: We’re all still paying for every freeway improvement, it’s just not visible on the receipts from our daily purchases.

Taking the long view, alert environmentalists decades ago began actively working to ensure the Marin and Sonoma County rail right-of-way remained in the public hands. Without this action, Sonoma and Marin would likely have lost forever the opportunity to build a train or have any pathway at all on this historic right-of-way--land secured for the public back in our grandparents’ time.

And now in 2020 SMART is up and running. And yes, SMART is not perfect.

We have a fledgling, beautifully-functioning SMART train, which has gaps in service and does not span the whole mandated route up to Cloverdale, yet.

SMART has a map marked with green bike routes, many of which share pavement with cars on busy roads, a map which does not show a finished bicycle/pedestrian pathway, yet. It does show current-time practical placeholder-routes, though, permitting bicyclists to know how to traverse the corridor. But this is only until all appropriate pathways are funded and a final pathway map is in place.

And SMART does not serve east Sonoma County voters, yet. But in my view — the long view requiring patience — all of the above will happen, as funding permits, as mandated. Including the added exciting possibility, being discussed in the Highway 37 rebuild process, of jump-starting SMART service east to Sonoma eventually to connect to the Sacramento Amtrak corridor.

But facilitating all that, requires also a short view. We have Measure I before us on the March 3 ballot. And a vote “yes” on Measure I does one thing, it extends the end-date of the SMART sales tax, at the same percentage sales tax rate to us, out to 2059. This will allow SMART to refinance the bonds that it used to build the system, under more favorable terms, providing ongoing revenue for operation, maintenance and potential system extension. And more leverage for grants.

A “no” vote in this election does nothing in real time for us since the current sales tax, begun in 2008, remains in place no matter what, through 2029. And what a “no” vote would really do is deprive this emerging system, and its $6 to $7 million of assets, of the ongoing revenue through 2059 that refinancing the bonds, when Measure I passes, will permit.

So check “yes” on Measure I. Don’t be fooled into becoming a “SMART-hater” by foes with big pockets or purple rhetoric.

I have attended almost every SMART meeting for the last five years. I have seen none of the “haters” there regularly, working to positively shape the process. Just occasional angry speeches after which they leave and I don’t see them for a long while.

Be on the right side of history here, messy and patience-stretching as it can feel.

(Patricia Tuttle Brown is a founding member of the Petaluma Bike/Pedestrian Committee, a business owner, a wife, and a parent.)

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