Published on June 22, 2005
© 2005- The Press Democrat
Santa Rosa residents told regional transportation officials Tuesday what they want from an ambitious and often contentious Railroad Square development — everything.

At the first open forum on Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit’s plans for the historic hub, speakers said they wanted a commercial showcase for the region’s food and wine and a cooking school, but they also want affordable housing, off-street parking and even public art.
Many of the more than 200 people who crowded into Chop’s teen center urged SMART board members to strike a balance between the competing interests in settling on a final design.

But the largely conciliatory tone came with a warning to SMART officials — do a good job.

“Everybody is watching what you do,” said Bill Kortum, a Petaluma resident and past chairman of the Sonoma County Transportation and Land Use Coalition. “Do it carefully.”

At issue is the future of about a dozen acres near the old Santa Rosa train station, which SMART officials hope to develop as plans to restore rail service between Larkspur and Cloverdale materialize over the next few years.

SMART, which owns 5 1/2 acres, said it wants a mix of commercial space and housing on the property to draw riders.

But the rail agency’s plans have in the past appeared to conflict with a city-backed proposal to build a food and wine center to attract tourists.

SMART is a beneficiary of Measure M, the transportation sales tax approved by Sonoma County voters in November. It earmarked $23 million for the development of passenger rail from Cloverdale to San Rafael.

The agency now faces the delicate task of managing its land while remaining in good stead with voters who will be asked in 2006 to support a second sales tax to subsidize operation of a rail system.

In a move designed to build support in Santa Rosa for its vision of Railroad Square, the SMART board opened a public input period.

On Tuesday, board members heard from dozens of residents, including business owners, housing advocates, environmentalists, culinary students and Railroad Square neighbors.

Laura Whiting, a backer of the food and wine center, said SMART must not exclude the project, which could be a destination for train passengers.

“We want you to support our culture, which is food, wine, family and community,” she said to loud applause.

Others said SMART must make provisions for people who bike, ride a bus or drive to the site.

“Where are all these people going to park?” asked Tom Post, who lives in the adjacent West End neighborhood. “You really need a parking solution to this.”

And Marty Bennett, a Santa Rosa Junior College instructor and living-wage activist, said developers of the project must use local workers and pay them well.

SMART will accept written comments over the next few weeks. There will be two other forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters and other groups on June 29 and July 6. Both begin at 7 p.m. and will be held at the Sixth Street Playhouse.

SMART officials expect to choose a developer by the end of the year and begin construction by September 2006.

Amid the range of opinions, SMART project consultant Phillip Erickson said there was a note of compromise.

“I’m hearing it’s not an either-or situation,” said Erickson, an Oakland-based architect who will help SMART reach a final plan. “All these things can come together.”

SMART board member Debora Fudge agreed.

“I’m positive we can make this work,” said Fudge, a Windsor Town Council member.

Any development proposal must be reviewed by the city.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 521-5250 or

Excerpt from SCCA Fall 2005 Newsletter
Back to the Future: Why Railroads Will Again Become
the Organizing Principle for Transportation

Throughout most of the history of the United States, railroads have been the primary mode of transportation that people and businesses utilized to move themselves and their products from one place to another. Railroads not only were the organizing principle for transportation, but rail was also the organizing principle behind the pattern of urban development that the United Stated was built upon. It wasn’t until the past 50 years that railroad systems were systematically replaced by local and Interstate Highways along with cars and trucks as the primary means of transportation. It is also within the past 50 years that suburban sprawl replaced urban development as the dominant pattern of growth. However, as availability of cheap energy and land becomes increasingly constrained through diminishing resources and increasing demand, railroads are once again being looked at as an organizing principle for our society.

If one were to examine a map of the United States from the 1800s through the 1940 and 50s, you would see a vast network of railroads linking villages, towns and cities together from the Eastern Seaboard to the West Coast. Prior to the advent of cheap automobiles and even more importantly, cheap and abundant energy (gasoline), railroads were the way everyone traveled from place to place and goods were distributed throughout the United States.

Oil was discovered in the continent of North American in the mid-1880s. By the late 1880s, oil accounted for over 60% of the energy used by machines to do the work of people and animals. By 1950 the United States was the world’s foremost exporter of goods, the world’s foremost creditor nation and the foremost producer and exporter of oil. It was this super abundant, inexpensive energy resource that created the conditions for the hyper-growth of the past 50 years, as well as providing the means by which everyday people could afford to purchase and drive their own automobile to meet personal transportation needs at a price point that was only marginally more expensive than trains. The convergence of the automobile as a relatively cheap mode of transportation, with abundant open space surrounding most cities for building new houses to accommodate the hyper-growth of the last 50 years, has led to the world we know today: a world of freeways, expansive suburbs, daily congestion, strip malls and endless McMansions.
However, this is all about to change. Today, in 2005, the United States is the world’s foremost importer of manufactured goods, the world’s foremost debtor nation and the world’s foremost importer of oil. By most accounts, the industrialized world has used up about half of the planet’s oil supply. And by all accounts, the demand for oil-based energy is continuing to increase dramatically, particularly in the developing countries of Asia and China. The impact of this is already being felt as oil has steadily climbed past $60 per barrel and gasoline has passed $3/gallon. The foundation of cheap energy-based transportation and
land-use abundant oil is about to evaporate.

Today, people and shippers are facing increasingly higher prices for their choices in utilizing personal automobiles and trucks. As a result, alternative transportation modes are becoming increasingly attractive and trains are returning to the forefront of the available transit options. Trains are the most cost effective way to move people and goods because trains are able to move more people and goods per unit cost of energy than any other transportation mode.
As trains return to the forefront of available transportation options, trains will also return to their former place at the center of land-use. Today, urban centered and train supported development is called Transit Oriented Development (TOD). As energy costs increase and land supplies shrink, people are rediscovering the benefits of trains and moving back into in urban centers. People are tired of spending more than 12 eight-hour workdays each year driving to and from work. They are also rediscovering the health benefits of walking and riding bicycles. While developers are beginning to recognize the market potential of TOD, land-use policy makers are increasingly looking to TOD as a way to address the complex problem of providing the infrastructure for housing and employment in an increasingly energy starved world.

In closing, while many aspects of the future remain uncertain, one thing is becoming very clear: trains are coming back to the future. As oil-based energy becomes ever more expensive, trains and TOD are making increasing sense to every day people, business leaders, and the centerpiece of a sustainable society.

If you want to help Sonoma and Marin counties accelerate movement in this direction, please attend your local city council and Board of Supervisor meetings when the SMART train environmental impact report comes on these agendas in the next few months. Please visit our website at, call the SCCA office or send us an email if you want to be on the list of people we contact as these meetings are scheduled.

Published on January 18, 2006
© 2006- The Press Democrat

Both sides in a long-running debate over commuter rail service in the North Bay agreed about one thing at a hearing Tuesday — the latest ridership projections are way off.

But the common ground didn’t extend to whether the estimates are too high or too low.

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit said 4,800 people eventually would ride the commuter line daily, a number that rail supporters said underestimates enthusiasm for a train.

Rail critics said the projection, contained in a 700-page environmental impact report, overstates ridership. They also said the report low-balls the cost of maintaining the 70 miles of track between Cloverdale and Larkspur.

“You are asking we as taxpayers to invest hundreds of millions of dollars for a system that generates very little ridership,” said Fred Levin of Santa Rosa. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Steve Birdlebough of Santa Rosa said the study shouldn’t have assumed there will be another lane on Highway 101 through both counties by 2025. Underestimating congestion decreased rail ridership estimates, he said.

“This is an extraordinarily conservative notion of what traffic is going to be,” he said. “We think the ridership is going to be much, much higher.”

The environmental study said it will cost $340 million to build the system, with annual operating and maintenance costs of $10 million to $12 million. A bicycle and pedestrian path that’s part of the plan is expected to cost $70 million.

Fare revenue from the rail line is estimated at $3 million to $4 million annually. In November, voters in both counties are scheduled to consider a 1/4 -cent sales tax to help cover the costs of establishing and operating a rail line.

After a public hearing on the environmental report Tuesday in Santa Rosa, SMART project manager Lillian Hames said the cost estimates are two years old and likely to increase.

“There are two years of inflation right off the bat,” she said. Revised cost estimates are expected around the time the study is finalized and presented to the SMART board.

Bob Jehn, SMART chairman and Cloverdale mayor, said he expects the environmental report to be approved by the board in April or May.

The report is a key component of the debate over the future of rail that will unfold before the November election.

If approved by a two-thirds majority in the two-county transit district, the 1/4 -cent sales tax would bring in about $660 million over 20 years to help fund the rail system.

Rail supporters outnumbered opponents more than 2-to-1 at the speaker’s dais Tuesday night, but the reception is expected to far cooler Saturday, when a public hearing is held in San Rafael.

Marin County voters have rejected rail proposals in the past, and critics have argued the system will be of far greater benefit to Sonoma County residents.

You can reach Staff Writer Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or

Rail Poll Just What SMART Needed
Marin Independent Journal
March 19th, 2006

Backer of a November sales tax measure to pay for commuter rail between Marin and Sonoma counties probably wish the election was next week.

That’s how good the results were of a poll the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit agency released this week.
Seventy-two percent of voters polled in Marin and 71 percent in Sonoma County said they likely would vote for the quarter-cent sales tax come November. The measure needs 66.7 percent to pass.

Lillian Hames, a SMART official, called the results of its $20,000 survey “very heartening.” She has good reason to be delighted. The poll provides SMART with much-needed momentum and ammunition as it works to fend off critics and recover from some early stumbles. And given the fact it is facing some determined opposition, SMART needs to work hard over the next seven-plus months to increase its support; getting two-thirds of voters to endorse a tax increase is never easy.

The strong show of support for the commuter rail system, which would cost an estimated $340 million to build and would run from Cloverdale to Larkspur, could well indicate that residents are truly fed up with coping with a Highway 101 that is routinely congested during the morning and evening commutes. Many of those motorists are forced to rely on Highway 101 because there truly is no reasonable alternative.

Many of those voters who said they would vote for a higher sales tax probably have spent too much time stuck on 101 and decided paying an extra quarter of a cent in sales tax for the next 20 years would be worth every penny if it takes enough cars off the freeway to get traffic flowing again.

Let’s not forget that just last month, a survey showed that 54 percent of Bay Area residents had thought about moving out of the area, with traffic rated as the No. 1 problem. Perhaps that frustration has reached the point in Marin and Sonoma where voters will pull out their wallets and say: “Let’s try commuter rail.”
Marin’s sales tax would increase to 8 percent if the measure passes.
Eighty-one percent of those surveyed said they could afford such an increase, which is not a surprise.

Seventy-two percent said it was “very important” that the rail system would reduce traffic on 101 by taking thousands of vehicles off the freeway each day. The only surprise in that number is that it wasn’t much higher.

In fact, if thousands of motorists don’t give up driving each day to ride the train, the system will be deemed a failure. By 2025, 4,800 passengers will be riding the train each day, according to SMART’s Environmental Impact Report. One would hope that number proves low. For example, BART, which serves a much larger population, carries 250,000 passengers a day.

SMART’s critics, of course, were not as impressed by the poll results.

Economist Mike Arnold, one of the leaders of Marin Citizens for Effective Transportation, questioned whether those surveyed were told the total cost of the rail system could hit $1 billion. He also has stressed that SMART’s own estimates indicated as few as 191 Sonoma residents would take the train to Marin during the peak of the morning commute.

Arnold and his band of SMART skeptics also have numbers to make a strong case for why voters should reject this rail plan.
In other words, November is a long way off and the war of words over a sales tax increase to pay for commuter rail is just starting to pick up steam.


Railroad Square ideas revealed:
Food and wine center the focus of all three proposals for 5½-acre site west of depot
By Kerry Bennefield
The Press Democrat March 29, 2006
After months of debate about how to develop a large tract in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, a food and wine center has emerged as the centerpiece of all three proposals for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit property.

The proposals, which became public this week and will be the subject of public meetings beginning in May, also include housing, parking, retail, offices and open space on the Wilson Street property.

An open-air market and wine pavilion have long been favored by Santa Rosa city officials, but SMART officials wanted affordable housing to help build ridership for the commuter rail line it is planning.

The 5½-acre site is an old rail yard adjacent to the Santa Rosa depot on the west edge of Railroad Square.

The property, between Third and Sixth streets, belongs to the rail agency. But the city will have significant influence over its future through the zoning and permitting process.

SMART officials warmed to the idea of a food and wine center after intense lobbying by the city, but some want other options for the future.

“I think a food and wine center is in the cards,” said Bob Jehn, a SMART board member and the mayor of Cloverdale.

But Jehn said he hopes the final plan will accommodate another use should the food and wine center not prove viable years down the road.

“Whatever happens, I think we want to be flexible so that we have a space that can have another use,” he said.

SMART officials will spend the coming weeks going over the proposals and preparing questions for the developers. The first public hearing is scheduled May 1.

“This is kind of like an interview in a very public way,” said John Nemeth, rail planning manager for SMART.

Santa Rosa City Councilman Mike Martini predicted the public meetings will produce a hearty debate over such issues as parking, open space, transit access and affordable housing.

“Now the proof is going to be in asking the right questions,” he said.

The proposals are available for review at the Sonoma Central Library in downtown Santa Rosa.

Allen Thomas, vice president of the West End Neighborhood Association, said he expects the approximately 1,200 people who live in the area to help craft the final look of the project.

All three of the developer teams that submitted plans have local representatives on their rosters.

The New Railroad Square LLC proposes a 45,650-square-foot food and wine center, accompanied by a “signature white-tablecloth restaurant and bar with wine cellar.”

The plan includes one- and two-bedroom town homes ranging in size from 650 square feet to 1,400 square feet. At least 15 percent would be targeted to low- or moderate-income households.

The plan also includes a child care center and a health club.

The Village at Railroad Square plan includes a 40,000-square-foot food and wine center and 42,500 square feet of retail space.

The plan calls for 236 housing units, 27 percent of them targeted to very low- to low-income occupants.

One- to three-bedroom rental units would range between 650 square feet and 1,100 square feet. Condominiums would range from 700 square feet to 1,200 square feet.

The 650 parking spaces would be a mix of subterranean and “wrapped” spaces hidden from view by exterior uses.

The Railroad Square Association proposal includes a 36,000-square-foot food and wine center. A roof terrace would be available for public events.

There would be 28,000 square feet of retail and 642 parking spaces.

The plan includes 176 housing units, 15 percent of which are targeted to be affordable.


Editorial – Published on October 1, 2006
© 2006- The Press Democrat

For 30 years, Sonoma and Marin counties have been stuck in a political and philosophical traffic jam over whether to create a commuter rail line, and it has taken this region nowhere. And now opponents of Measure R on the Nov. 7 ballot would like voters to believe the best solution is to spend more years in this gridlock — squabbling, forming committees and doing more studies.

Voters have an opportunity in five weeks to put an end to this stalemate by approving Measure R, a quarter-cent sales tax that would pay for a Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) commuter train connecting Cloverdale and Larkspur.
For the cost of just 25 cents on a $100 purchase, the county would gain a much-needed alternative to the congested Highway 101. The train would run 70 miles between Cloverdale and Larkspur, stopping at 14 stations along the way, including nine in Sonoma County and five in Marin County. It would take about 5,000 car trips a day off the road and remove an estimated 124,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions from the air. For many, it will dramatically reduce commute time. For others, it’s an insurance policy against traffic jams and soaring fuel costs.

This project has the added benefit of including a pedestrian and bicycle pathway that will run the entire 70 miles of the rail line.
Approving Measure R will go far in getting people out of their cars and free the North Bay from its dependence on car-centered solutions to every transportation problem. It also will make a bold statement about where this county wants to go in terms of meeting its future transportation needs.

Sonoma County has made its vision for the future loud and clear. It wants city-centered growth (see editorial below) not sprawl. But what has been missing is a sound plan for transporting the people who will live in these urban centers between home and work without forcing them to get in their cars and take Highway 101. The missing piece is SMART.
Creating a commuter train will encourage city-centered development such as Santa Rosa’s proposed New Railroad Square project, which will include 250 units of housing, a food and wine center, an area for a farmer’s market and shops. This is smart growth.

Opponents argue that the ridership numbers are inflated. In fact, the projections have been done three times and each time they came back at about 5,300 a day. No one knows for certain what the ridership will be until it gets started. But it’s more likely that that ridership will be higher than expected, not lower. Portland used the same method in its projections for its Westside MAX extension and ridership exceeded projections by 22 percent. In Salt Lake City, ridership projections for a start-up rail line were exceeded by 43 percent. In St. Louis, ridership exceeded projections by 67 percent.
Opponents also argue that SMART serves a small percentage of the population and is too expensive. This is an argument against all public transit systems in America. Even the New York City subway relies heavily on public subsidies. SMART is projecting that 30 percent of its revenues will come from fares. That is comparable to the Peninsula’s Caltrain (35 percent) and the ACE train (35 percent).

Public transit also often relies on state and federal funding. Isn’t it time that some of those tax funds are spent here in the North Bay?
Finally, opponents argue that there are better alternatives for using the rail right-of-way such as express buses. There are many reasons why express buses aren’t the better solution — not the least of which is the unlikelihood of getting two-thirds of voters to support a bus solution.

But the fact is these are arguments for maintaining the status quo, going back to the drawing board — and sentencing the North Bay to growing more dependent on cars and on Highway 101.
It’s time to get out of this traffic jam and to get SMART. The Press Democrat strongly recommends a yes vote on Measure R.

By Noreen Evans and Tim Smith
Published on October 8, 2006
© 2006- The Press Democrat

The Press Democrat had it right in its Oct. 1 editorial, “Yes on R: Let’s get out of car mentality and get on board the train”. The paper endorsed Measure R, a quarter-cent sales tax on the November ballot to pay for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) commuter train and bicycle/pedestrian path between Cloverdale and Larkspur ferry service.
After 30 years of planning, studying and debating the idea of commuter rail service in the North Bay, it’s time to get the train rolling. During that time, Sonoma County’s population has more than doubled, and Highway 101 has turned into more of a parking lot than a freeway.

The time is now. We cannot afford to wait. We have a thorough, responsible plan, which includes extensive public oversight protections. If we don’t act now to build an alternative to Highway 101 to get people out of their cars, traffic congestion will become even more impossible and the quality of life in our communities will suffer immeasurably.

For the cost of a couple pennies per a $10 purchase, the SMART train gives us an alternative to traffic gridlock, reduces our dependence on the automobile, cuts down on air pollution and helps us better manage our growth.
SMART expands our transportation network, using an existing track — valued at more than $26 million — that the public already owns. SMART does not compete with other public transit for funding or riders. In fact, SMART is expected to increase overall ridership on public transit by linking to bus and ferry service. And SMART does this faster than the 20 years it is projected to take to finish highway widening projects that won’t provide any congestion relief.
Within a year after the SMART train is up and running in the fall of 2009, it will remove up to 5,300 car trips a day — more than 1.4 million a year — from Highway 101 and local roads during our heaviest commute hours. And there is sufficient evidence from other regions of the country to conclude that SMART would likely remove as many as 8,500 car trips a day from our roads.

Those figures don’t include the cars that will be left in the garage from the 7,000 bicycle trips a day that will travel along the proposed 70-mile bicycle and pedestrian path included in the SMART project.

Getting cars off the road, of course, helps remove pollution from our air. The SMART train will reduce greenhouse gas emissions — the stuff that contributes to global warming — by 16,000 tons a year. SMART’s modern, energy-efficient trains will run on clean-burning fuels and bio-diesel. They produce low emissions and make no more engine noise than a local bus.

Getting cars off the road also makes our communities more livable. SMART supports our efforts to preserve and protect our open spaces against the kind of thoughtless development that has devoured other areas of the state. And despite the successes we’ve had in preventing rampant sprawl, including creating urban growth boundaries, we must continue to work on all fronts to ensure Sonoma County manages its growth wisely.

Over the next 20 years, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates Sonoma County will grow by about 123,000 people — adding more than a quarter of its current population. The train and bike path can help us manage this growth. SMART empowers communities to concentrate new residential and commercial development along the rail line and near train stations, rather than pushing into farmland on the fringes of cities.

Known as transit-oriented development, this kind of smart growth supports the decisions that voters have already made to approve greenbelts and contain development within our existing urban centers. It also supports healthy economic development and can bring new energy to downtown centers.

Opponents of SMART have many minor reasons to rail against the train, but all their complaining won’t get cars off the road and won’t prepare us to manage growth in a way that protects our local economy and our quality of life. Doing nothing is not an answer. Fortunately, SMART gives an opportunity to do something immediate that will help us fight traffic, give us cleaner air and keep our communities strong and healthy. Please vote yes on Measure R.

Noreen Evans represents the 7th CA Assembly District. Tim Smith is a Sonoma County Supervisor.


Environmental leaders in Marin have rallied to support the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit project.
By Huey Johnson
Printed in the Marin Independent Journal, October 12, 2006

These men and women have worked diligently over the past 45 years to protect our environment in Marin, the Bay Area and around the state.

These environmentalists individually or collectively have played major roles in establishing Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area; saving the Marin Headlands, the Bolinas Lagoon and Richardson Bay; preventing the freeway from traveling into West Marin and a host of other accomplishments.
They have formed and led groups such as the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, the Marin Environmental Forum and Audubon Canyon Ranch.

They also have served as executive directors and board members of the leading environmental and conservation organizations, including the California Resources Agency, Bay Conservation and Development Commission, California Coastal Commission, Marin Municipal Water District, Bay Area Regional Water Quality Control Board, Sierra Club and Marin Conservation League.

The environmental leaders who are now proud to support SMART include Joe Bodovitz, Joan Boessenecker, Raisin Cain, Betsey Cutler, Peter Douglas, Phyllis Faber, Larry Fahn, Doug Ferguson, Michael Fischer, Dr. Marty Griffin, Randy Hayes, Jared Huffman, Paul Hawken, Alf Heller, Deb Hubsmith, Wendy Kallins, Ike Livermore, Marge Macris, Charles McGlashan, Denis Rice, Jane Rogers, Marty Rosen, Annette Rose, Polly Smith, Sim Van der Ryn and Dr. Ed Wayburn. These dedicated environmentalists encourage all those concerned about the environment to vote “yes” on Measure R to pay for the SMART train. The Sierra Club Marin Group endorsed Measure R this past week.

One of the biggest environmental problems facing us is global warming. As environmentalists, we have an urgent responsibility to address this problem by working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels. Luckily, we can do something big about it soon, on Nov. 7.

SMART will help combat global warming, provide a real alternative to cars, and strengthen our overall public transit network. That’s why Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, and other many other Marin elected officials are leading the effort with their endorsements.
For a mere quarter-cent sales tax increase – 25 cents on a $100 purchase – the SMART train will provide Marin and Sonoma counties with a second transportation corridor on an existing public right of way and a necessary alternative to badly congested Highway 101. Use this new corridor will help clean the air and allow us to exercise the maxim, “think globally and act locally.”

SMART will prevent 32 million pounds a year of greenhouse gases from polluting our skies and will remove more than 1.4 million car trips a year from Highway 101. In addition, the new bike path running along the SMART line will support 7,000 bicycle trips each weekday, taking even more cars off our roads.

Marin and Sonoma certainly will face growing traffic congestion on Highway 101 in the next 20 years even if all of the proposed highway improvements are constructed.
We will need all modes of transportation to respond to the growing travel demand. The SMART train and bicycle path will reduce traffic congestion, minimize our reliance on the automobile and make our communities more livable.

Environmentalism is more than putting our newspapers in the recycling bin. It is a full commitment to do whatever we can to preserve the planet. A small quarter-cent sales taxes increase, which still leaves Marin and Sonoma counties with one of the lowest sales taxes in the Bay Area, is a reasonable investment for such a benefit.

Please support the SMART rail and trail project by voting “yes” on Measure R.

Huey Johnson is a Mill Valley resident and for 40 years has been professionally involved in local, state and national environmental issues.


Early Returns Priovide Plenty of Fodder
By Chris Coursey
The Press Democrat, November 08, 2006

Development money once again had a huge impact on the race for Santa Rosa City Council.

But not in the way the development industry had hoped.

Shawn Faber and David Poulsen, who received backing from business and developers, were trailing badly in the 10-person field. If the early results hold up, this will be the first time since 1998 that voters don’t elect at least two developer-backed candidates to the council.

The reason will be fodder for political junkies, who have a couple of good theories to choose from:

The new campaign spending caps have evened the field. This year’s limit of $56,100 was dwarfed by Bob Blanchard’s spending record of $94,201, set in 2002.

A mailer from an independent group – exempt from the spending cap – attacked Faber and Poulsen for taking the majority of their donations from the building and development industry. Though it was denounced from many quarters, the mailer may have done its job.

If the SMART measure fails, I’ll feel sorry for those “no” voters who walk away with an expectation that work now will begin on one of the “alternatives” raised by opponents.

They’re in for a disappointment, because the alternatives don’t exist.

BART isn’t coming across the bay and into Sonoma County. It hasn’t been proposed, there’s no funding for it and it’s a political nonstarter.

A monorail isn’t going to be built down the middle of Highway 101. This idea has been around so long that the middle of 101 now is filled with new driving lanes. If you like monorails, go to Disneyland.

The railroad tracks aren’t going to be paved for a “busway.” The Northwestern Pacific Railroad owns those tracks and it is smart enough to use them – freight service is due to resume in 2008.

SMART was the only real “alternative.” It was derailed by a campaign based largely on misinformation.

Our newest state legislator, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, doesn’t have an office yet in the Capitol, but he’s already made a down payment on his place in the Democratic Party.

In the past month Huffman has made five donations to the California Democratic Party totaling $45,000, according the secretary of state.

It’s a nice gesture, but it won’t get him far. His predecessor, the termed- out Joe Nation, said he was informed upon arriving in Sacramento six years ago that he needed to give $100,000 to the party if he wanted an assignment to a “plum” legislative committee. Committee posts help determine a lawmaker’s power in the Capitol, and his ability to raise money. Nation said one year he donated $500,000 to the state party.

Democrats – and Republicans – can do this because gerrymandering has created “safe” districts in which they face no real challenge from the opposing party. Assemblywoman Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa was re-elected Tuesday with no opposition. That allowed her to make more than $60,000 in donations in the past month to other candidates, ballot issues and the Democratic Party.

Our phone went on the blink over the weekend. The repairman said it had moisture in the line, but I’m betting it conked out from overuse.

Arnold Schwarzenegger. Al Gore. Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton. Janet Condron. Bob Blanchard. Jane Bender. I’d be flattered, but I know they all called you, too.

One reader e-mailed to ask how this is possible; she’s on the “do not call” list. But political calls are exempt. Free speech, you see.

Anyway, I have a message for Arnold, Bill, Janet, Bob and the rest:

These calls only annoy potential voters. I didn’t listen to a single one long enough to find out who or what the caller was supporting. And I’m betting other voters didn’t, either.

You want to really impress me, Governor? Ring my doorbell.

RT’s Racing to Finish Line

Extension set to open Friday at the Amtrak depot has been bedeviled by freak spring rains and subterranean surprises including Indian artifacts and unmapped utilities.

By Tony Bizjak – Bee Staff Writer
Published Sunday, December 3, 2006

Sacramento Regional Transit head Beverly Scott keeps a small bottle of Vatican holy water front and center on her desk. Lately she’s been dabbing a finger into it more often.

Scott says her team needs any extra help it can get.

After stumbling over surprise underground discoveries of unmapped utilities and the remains of an American Indian village, her agency is racing to meet a fast-approaching deadline Friday for a new light rail line to the downtown Amtrak depot.

“This is one of those projects where every day if you wanted to say ‘uncle,’ you could,” the RT executive said. But, “as an agency, your word is your bond. You need to keep your word.”

Hit with freakish late-spring rains and the underground discoveries, the rail project already has gone over budget and is months behind RT’s initial hoped-for opening date.

If her team makes its deadline, it will only be because RT has let everything drop except the basic opening-day necessities. Other work, including a third station, will be finished in the coming months, officials say.

Scott acknowledged her agency initially was “perhaps naive” about complications of working on downtown streets. Although light rail started with a new downtown line in 1987, RT’s recent light rail extensions have mostly followed existing railroad right-of-ways beyond downtown.

The worst delays were caused by underground utilities not noted on maps — sewer and drainage systems, lines for water, gas, electricity and telephone, Internet and fiber-optic lines — which had to be moved or reconstructed away from the tracks.

Workers also continue to find buried artifacts from a former American Indian village.

Even last week, as RT conducted test runs of light rail trains on the new line, workers on H Street hand-sifted dirt for artifacts, such as bone fragments, as monitors representing American Indians stood watch.

RT executive Scott said she doesn’t expect workers to run into any “insurmountable” problems in the coming days.

Scott nevertheless has marked Monday as the day for a final “go” or “no-go” decision on opening the line on Friday.

The extension will connect the RT system’s current end point — Seventh and K streets — to Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor commuter trains and long-distance lines.

When done, the extension, less than a mile long, will cost $40 million, up from $35 million one year ago, making it possibly the most expensive section of track on RT’s 37-mile system.

The south line extension to Meadowview a few years ago cost roughly $35 million per mile, officials said. The recent extension to Folsom cost about $20 million per mile.

Nationally, a review of recent light rail projects indicates new lines can range from $20 million a mile to more than $100 million when extra facilities, such as tunnels and bridges, are involved.

Even at the higher price, the short Amtrak connection is important, transit officials say.

With light rail trains arriving at the depot a few feet from the platforms for Amtrak trains, people can travel in and out of the region without driving on already congested highways and city streets.

“People can go anywhere,” Scott said. “It’s really a gateway to the world.”

Despite delays and added costs, “the intrinsic value is great enough to be worth it,” RT board chairman Roger Dickinson said.

Making the connection by Friday is the immediate challenge. Crews are on the job 10 hours a day, six days a week, RT official Mike Wiley said.

Crews cleared a major hurdle at midweek when they found and fixed an underground electrical short at a key track switching point at Seventh and H streets.

“That was a little glitch, but a very big deal,” Wiley said.

However, none of the three stations on the new line was finished by the end of the week. In fact, RT officials stopped work on the midline station at Seventh and I streets so they could focus on finishing the station at Eighth and K streets, and the terminus station behind the train depot at Fifth and H streets.

The Seventh and I streets station and other finishing work on the project are not expected to be done until the end of January or early February, RT officials said.

That includes pulling up H Street, one lane at a time, and resurfacing it so it connects smoothly with the rail line.

RT officials said they had hoped to have the project open in September when the Capitol Corridor system increased the number of regional trains arriving in Sacramento, or at least before Thanksgiving, when rail travel bulks up.

Now, Scott said, a Friday opening date would mean RT would have the system running and the initial kinks worked out before Christmas.

It also would save the budget from going any higher. Each additional month of work pushes the budget higher by $750,000, Scott said.

Weather has cooperated in recent weeks; no rain is expected in coming days, forecasts show.

Meanwhile, RT officials are lining up bands, confetti cannons and balloons — and maybe asking for a little divine intervention — for what they hope will be a historic Friday.