By Megan Chang, staff writer
Measure I proposed a renewal of the past quarter-cent sales tax measure, Measure Q, passed in 2008, which will be coming to an end in 2029.
If Measure I had passed, SMART officials planned to direct the money into finishing the proposed northern terminus of the SMART line route, the 70-mile line north to Cloverdale. Preparing for the possibility–that is now reality–that the measure would not pass, SMART stated it would need to cut $9 million. These cuts would include dismissing workers and cutting passenger services, like the idea of discounts.
The opposition group against Measure I voiced its concerns before election day: lack of transparency, accountability, and financial oversight. Leaders of the group, like Gallaher Homes Executive Molly Gallaher Flatter, who donated $1.8 million to ensure the measure would not pass, demanded that SMART addresses these issues immediately.
Brandon Cho, the treasurer of the NotSoSmart Campaign, funded by Molly Flatter, spoke on her behalf, when asked why Flatter felt so strongly against the Measure. She wanted to “increase local philanthropy in the community” because of her deep roots in Sonoma County. By pouring $1.8 million of her own, she “saves $2.4 billion for the community,” Cho said. He detailed that if the Measure had passed, each family would have lost $8,000 in tax whether or not they were utilizing the train. In fact, only ⅛ of the population rides the train, with the riders’ median income at $97,000. He says the discounts would not have increased ridership, as the demographics show a $23 all-day ticket fare would be affordable for the average rider fitting into the median income. Instead, the discounts would fall upon the community to pay off, including non-riders.
Currently, SMART is not planning to dismiss any top executives from the company because they believe the problem does not stem from their staffing, but directly from the SMART board, who oversees operations. Cho agrees with this saying “the board directors have no transit experience.” When asked if there should be a change in leadership within the SMART company itself, he responds “absolutely.” Firmly stating there needs to be more transparency with SMART’s operations and financials, Cho says “What [SMART] didn’t tell the public was that they were dipping into their reserves allocated for 2022-2023.”
Measure I fell short of the 66.67% needed to pass, with only 49.8% support in Sonoma County. Cho was not surprised, as he says “the people paying for it, is the younger generation” but “the people voting is the older population.”
Although the scheduled interview with Farhad Mansourian fell through, SMART says the next steps into the future are to increase community engagement and gain back the trust of past supporters, especially before filing for their next ballot measure.
In a Press Democrat article,“SMART reviews cuts after election loss,” Mansourian says “‘I think we need to do a lot of listening in the next many, many months, and figure that out. We’ve got a lot of learning to do.”
Charlotte Knight, a Maria Carrillo High School senior, says, “I think that the SMART train was made as a convenient and efficient way to get to work by avoiding traffic, but I don’t think it is succeeding.” Knight has been on the train twice now, visiting San Francisco for a day trip with friends. Both times, she has run into complications with the train’s schedules.
Sara Nguyen, MCHS senior, agrees with Knight, saying, “If I was able to vote I also would have been against [Measure I].”
Cho says an alternative to the train is to ride the Golden Gate Bus. While it may not have coffee nor wifi, it is 30 minutes faster for the price of a cheaper ticket.