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The NOT SO SMART Train Project

Everyone likes the idea of traveling by train. From the Lionel toy trains of the distant past to the dreamy concept of high speed rail travel up and down the State of California, trains conjure up a reassuring vision of peacefully riding the rails. When it comes to trains, that’s as good as it gets.

The stark reality is trains are heavily subsidized transportation for the few who ride them. It is very expensive. It is paid for by a steadily shrinking hard working middle class and increasingly by those below the middle class through income taxes, sales taxes, special taxes, bond payments, fees, and more. This is how subsidized public transportation is paid for in Marin County.

The not so SMART train project rides the crest of the wave of concern over projected consequences of a current trend in global warming, enabling SMART to rise from the ashes of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad and microscopically affect greenhouse gas reduction goals by theoretically removing large numbers of commuters from their autos to instead ride the SMART passenger rail transit system. Actuality, it’s a bottomless money pit.

There are many valid reasons why SMART will probably be a $1 billion abyss of wasted tax dollars. There is a lot of “hoping” by taxpayers it will not come to that. Historically though, passenger trains become just that – an added tax burden with its knock-on effect of a lower quality of life and less disposable income for families. It ends up being a monumental tax payer subsidized transportation system for the few commuters that choose to use it.

Whatever the outcome, SMART and its station locations will be tactically used to drive unwanted high-density housing development under the guise of “saving the planet”. The reality is SMART’s existence will be used to ensure a continuing flow of political donations from developers, consultants, construction and governmental employee unions. The current concern about global warming is conveniently used to ensure the special interests’ ecosystem continues to operate in good form.

The special interests’ ecosystem encompasses all government agency planners, their legions of expensive codependent consultants and advocative tax-exempt foundations. The coin of the realm for the beneficiaries of this grand scheme is “other people’s money”, i.e. the taxpayer whose declining quality of life is starkly illustrated by the sorry condition of roads traveled to get to work and back home again.

There are two Marin County volunteer civic organizations who have made a grassroots effort to engage the programmatic advocacy by self-interested appointed governmental agencies who have arrogantly assumed they know what is best for your Marin quality of life and lifestyle. Two organizations, the Marin Coalition and Citizen Marin, tell the other side of the story. In single-political-party Marin these two groups stand up and publicly challenge the carefully framed public “informational presentations” of selected and filtered “facts” by the special interests that are deemed necessary to reach a pre-determined conclusion. City Community Development Agencies and Planning Departments justify their worth funding and promoting this charade.

In Novato, the special interests are so strong and politically entrenched they easily bulldozed a passive majority of the Novato City Council into building a downtown train station, paying $5 million for it and then giving it to SMART all without any obligation by SMART to ever even use the station. The Novato Chamber of Commerce and Metropolitan Transit Commission have that much control/leverage on the present Novato City Council.

Recently, Michael Arnold, an economist living in Novato, presented at a Marin Coalition meeting a clear, concise, and easily understandable review of how SMART has deliberately refused to be truthful to taxpayers in Marin and Sonoma Counties.

The hyperlink below will bring you up to date on SMART’s latest financial shenanigans. Mr. Arnold has verified SMART’s deceitful financial behavior carried out over the last 10 years. His facts stand, as evidenced by SMART’s refusal to supply any rebuttal to Mr. Arnold’s facts at the Marin Coalition meeting despite numerous requests. Shame on SMART.


This fast-moving 30-minute presentation uses simple/interesting graphs and charts to verify Mr. Arnold’s points and premises. The quality of Mr. Arnold’s presentation reflects his work as a lecturer at UC Berkeley and Dominican University of California in San Rafael.

Providing depth and breadth to the deceptive rational promulgated for the formation of SMART is Richard Hall’s presentation at a Citizen Marin meeting in November 2014 at the San Rafael City Council Chambers. SMART’s formation is viewed from the perspectives of several concerned resident groups in Marin County.

If you are limited in time, just fast forward to the 38m 30s point to Richard Hall’s presentation.


Mr. Hall is eloquent and clear in his illustration of what facts SMART and the Marin Board of Supervisors held back from their constituents during the SMART formative discussions. Had Richard Hall been allowed equivalent access to the Marin print media establishment in the same way as the Marin Board of Supervisors, SMART would probably not exist today and $1 billion potentially not be unwisely spent.

The Marin Coalition can be reached through their website at marincoalition.org. Through the Coalition’s monthly luncheons featuring presentations on both sides of a potentially contentious issue, residents can become aware and informed of its implications well before political action is taken. It is a friendly and enjoyable experience to hear both sides of the story without all the drama.




Author: Hutch Turner - Novato

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