Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A stunning infusion of money from an unexpected source has rocked SMART’s campaign to renew the sales tax that subsidizes the commuter rail line running between Sonoma and Marin counties.
Molly Gallaher Flater, daughter of prominent Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher, contributed more than $500,000 to defeat Measure I — and suggested she would be willing to double the amount to kill the March sales-tax extension the rail agency projects would raise nearly $2.4 billion over 30 years to operate and expand service.
“If I end up spending $1 million to save our community taxpayers from a $2.4 billion mistake then I feel it is worth every penny,” Flater said in a written statement Thursday.
Novato resident Mike Arnold, an economist and longtime critic of Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, said he was approached by Gallaher in October about funding a campaign against the tax measure, and met his daughter for the first time this week. When he learned the size of Flater’s donation, his reaction was astonishment.
“How’s falling out of my tree? Are you kidding me?” Arnold said Thursday. “I’d never heard of the Gallahers. They’re running the campaign, I’m just the technical advisor.”
The financial contribution blindsided SMART officials and members of the Yes on Measure I campaign. They expressed dismay Thursday at the prospect a single donor could jeopardize the future of the public transit system’s primary revenue stream for decades to come.