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Sonoma County supervisors back study of Fulton Road SMART station

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday capped a month of speculation about behind-the-scenes jockeying over a third Santa Rosa-area SMART station, voting 4-1 to fund a study of a new stop in north Santa Rosa.

The discussion had initially pit supervisors Lynda Hopkins and James Gore against Supervisor Shirlee Zane and board Chairman David Rabbitt, as Hopkins and Gore favored a Fulton Road location in north Santa Rosa and Zane favored a station in southwest Santa Rosa, near Roseland or Moorland Avenue. Rabbitt wanted to know where the $11 million to build such a station would ever come from before agreeing to study it.

In the end, Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents parts of eastern Santa Rosa and the entire Sonoma Valley, was the lone board member to vote against the $50,000 study of the Fulton site.

Supervisors began the discussion with an attempt to dispel reports they had been squabbling about the location. But they ended with a threat from Gorin that Sonoma Valley likely wouldn’t support tax renewal for SMART because it doesn’t directly serve her constituents. Hopkins chimed in that deliberations reflected the board’s need for a therapy dog.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10151507-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-back-study

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State rail regulators to decide fate of Santa Rosa’s Jennings Avenue SMART crossing

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State rail regulators in San Francisco are set to vote Thursday morning on Santa Rosa’s request to restore a ground-level pedestrian and bicycle pathway over the railroad tracks at Jennings Avenue.

The city has sought the return of the historic east-west crossing in northwestern Santa Rosa since receiving the California Public Utilities Commission’s approval to build it in September 2016. It is seeking a two-year extension to work out a deal for it with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which now owns the rail right of way. A legal arbitrator for the state agency last month recommended granting the request to construct the footpath through September 2021, stating that the city’s plan for added enhancements met public safety requirements.

SMART, the North Bay’s commuter rail agency, opposes a ground-level crossing at Jennings Avenue, citing ongoing safety concerns.

In 2015, two years before the launch of service, SMART fenced off the pathway, which dates to at least the early 20th century.

SMART previously supported the city’s plan to build an overcrossing at the location, submitting a letter of support as part of a regional transportation grant application for $8 million toward the $9 million project. Santa Rosa ultimately reverted back to a ground-level crossing, noting the access challenges for disabled people and the overcrossing’s general incompatibility with the neighborhood. It returned the grant funding.

SMART submitted [a] letter in support of the city’s updated plans before reversing course once passenger service started. SMART did not return a request for comment Monday about the Public Utilities Commission’s upcoming vote on the crossing. If approved Thursday, the two-year extension would place the ball back in the court of SMART and the largest city along its rail line, leaving the two entities to come to an agreement over the long-disputed issue.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10147543-181/state-rail-regulators-to-decide?sba=AAS

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Good and bad news in California’s greenhouse gas emission inventory

Irwin Dawid, PLANETIZEN

Executive Summary: California Greenhouse Gas Emissions for 2000 to 2017

Overall greenhouse gas emissions in California dropped 1% in 2017, according to the inventory by the California Air Resources Board, which includes a 9% drop in emissions from electricity generation and a 1% increase in transportation emissions.

“The California Air Resources Board said Monday that the state’s emissions fell 1% in 2017, the most recent year available, to 424 million metric tons,” writes J.D. Morris, a business reporter covering energy and California’s clean power initiatives for the San Francisco Chronicle reporter covering energy. “The state is now well past its 2020 goal of reducing greenhouse gas levels to 1990 levels — 431 million metric tons.”

Clearly, the big success story is that carbon-free sources of energy, “[f]or the first time since the state began tracking greenhouse gas emissions, powered most [52%] of the state’s electric grid,” notes Morris.

Electricity generation, from in-state and out-of-state sources, accounted for 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector, the third-highest after transportation (41%) and industrial (24%).

The news is not so positive when it comes to transportation. For the fifth consecutive year, emissions have increased, although the increase in 2017 was “the lowest growth rate over the past 4 years,” notes the second bullet in the executive summary of the 24-page report, California Greenhouse Gas Emissions for 2000 to 2017 [pdf]. Vehicle tailpipe emissions accounted for 37% of emissions in 2017.

Read more at https://www.planetizen.com/news/2019/08/105810-good-and-bad-news-californias-greenhouse-gas-emission-inventory

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Why Bay Area transit is broken, and who is trying to fix it

Erin Baldassari, MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL

Behind the push for a more regional, seamless integrated transit network.

It happens two to three times a week, Alex Rivkin says.

His Muni train runs a few minutes late, pulling up to the 4th and King Street station in San Francisco just in time for Rivkin to run frantically toward his departing Caltrain, only to see it pull away before he gets there.

Or vice versa: He’s standing on a Muni platform and, along with two dozen other people, pounding on a Muni train stopped at a red light that won’t open its doors to the travelers who just sprinted from the Caltrain station.

“It’s sadistic and cold-blooded,” said the frustrated San Francisco resident, who uses the two services, along with a city-provided shuttle in Mountain View, to get to his job at a South Bay pharmaceutical company and back home. “There is a lack of accountability for customer service, and it feels like these agencies just don’t care.”

He added, “I wish they would just talk to each other.”

Rivkin is not the only one who wants to see more cooperation and coordination among train, bus and ferry operators. At a time when regional leaders are considering asking taxpayers to back a proposed “mega-measure,” a $100 billion or more regional transportation sales tax, transit advocates say it’s more imperative than ever for the Bay Area’s more than two dozen transit agencies to work together and put customers first.

Read more at https://www.marinij.com/2019/09/22/why-bay-area-transit-is-broken-and-who-is-working-to-fix-it/

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Sonoma County supervisors at odds over location of proposed 3rd Santa Rosa SMART station

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors are jostling behind the scenes on the location of a possible third SMART station in Santa Rosa or on its outskirts, with two members of the five-person board planning to ask for the money to study a site in Fulton at a county meeting next month.

Supervisors James Gore and Lynda Hopkins are pressing for the Fulton location and have both recently met with Farhad Mansourian, general manager of Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, about a plan that would see the county pay for a feasibility study for the proposed station near Fulton and River roads, just north of city limits.

But Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a 10-year member of the SMART board of directors, would prefer to see a potential third station for the city’s 175,000 people in the southwestern area of Santa Rosa, near Roseland. That part of town has a large Latino population and could benefit from the increased access to public transit, she said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10007629-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-at-odds?sba=AAS

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Sonoma County officials shaping pitch for early renewal of transportation sales tax in 2020

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s transportation authority has taken another step toward asking voters in 2020 for early renewal of a sales tax that pays for regional road and transportation upgrades, hoping to guarantee infrastructure funding for decades to come.

A subcommittee for the countywide transportation entity’s 12-member board approved spending up to $75,000 on consulting services from Santa Rosa-based Muelrath Public Affairs and polling through EMC Research, headquartered in Oakland. The two firms will help shape the questions to be asked of likely voters starting next month, offering results this fall to the full board so they can decide whether to place a measure on the ballot in November 2020.

Board members hope the poll also offers insight into voters’ appetite for a quarter-cent tax versus a possible half-cent option, the type of projects the measure might fund and how long it should remain on the books. Measure M, the county’s current quarter-cent sales tax for transportation, was approved in November 2004 and is set to expire in April 2025.

“The whole goal is to reach out and actually know what the public’s interest is,” said Cotati Councilman Mark Landman, chairman of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “It’s important when you undertake something like a tax measure to show clearly to the public the benefits that they’ll receive.”

The survey work comes as several other potential countywide ballot measures appear to be taking shape for the primary or general elections next year. Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board members are poised to vote later this fall on whether to seek an early renewal of the quarter-cent sales tax that supports operation of the commuter train system. Sonoma County also is exploring the possibility of proposing a pair of tax measures to bolster firefighting services and mental health care.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9928670-181/sonoma-county-officials-shaping-pitch

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SMART board laying groundwork for sales-tax renewal amid looming financial crisis

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The daunting financial challenges disclosed last week by the North Bay’s commuter rail system have only increased the urgency within SMART to convince voters to renew a sales tax that funds the 2-year-old train line and underpins its future.

SMART officials are beginning to craft the talking points for a campaign to persuade voters that, despite past rail agency missteps, they should extend the agency’s tax funding another two or three decades, allowing it to more readily refinance its mounting debt costs.

To be successful, members of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board say, the campaign must show voters how the system has improved the quality of life across the region, beyond its 1.4 million riders to date, and enhanced the economies of the two counties it serves.

“I think it’s a reasonable ask,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a nine-year board member. “We’re asking to extend a sales tax in order to assure that we’re here and healthy for the next 30 years, and can continue to expand and be convenient for riders. That’s the message.”

To renew the tax, however, SMART also must overcome its faults and earn the trust of two-thirds of the voters in Sonoma and Marin counties. Revenues have fallen far short of initial projections, construction costs have doubled, and buildout of the rail line and parallel bike path is far behind the original schedule.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9881990-181/smart-board-laying-groundwork-for

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SMART says it faces multimillion-dollar deficits without sales-tax renewal

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The North Bay’s commuter rail system could face crippling multimillion-dollar deficits within three years if voters in Sonoma and Marin counties don’t pass a proposed sales-tax extension in March, SMART officials revealed for the first time Wednesday.

Starting in 2022, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit would need to slash at least $9 million annually — about a seventh of its operating expenses — resulting in cuts to service and SMART’s workforce if the 12-member board opts not to seek early renewal of the tax next year, or if the extension is put to voters and they reject it, officials said.

The agency’s financial forecast showed operating expenses climbing from $58 million this fiscal year to about $63 million two years from now, with tax and fare revenues not expected to keep pace. The rise is driven mostly by escalating payments on debt accrued in SMART’s buildout, as well as rising labor, fuel and maintenance costs.

“We just need to call a spade a spade as we see it today,” Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, told the board. “Doing nothing is not an option and pretty bad for everybody. We’re being straightforward. We don’t want to mislead the members of the public. We want to tell them what the pains are, what the chokeholds are and what our options are.”

The newly unveiled forecast marked the first public acknowledgment by SMART officials that the 2-year-old line already faces a potentially deepening near-term shortfall in its budget. The projections did not account for the possibility of a recession, which would carve an even larger hole into the system’s budget. More than 70% of SMART’s spending on operations is supported by the quarter-cent sales tax.

It isn’t set to expire for another decade, but SMART officials say early renewal would allow them to restructure and reduce debt payments, which are now set to rise to $16 million next year and $18 million by 2022.

Without the tax renewal and financial adjustments it would support, SMART would be forced to cut commuter service in half, according to the agency’s finance chief, effectively sidelining 18 of the 36 train trips. Dozens of jobs could be also eliminated from the workforce of about 200, officials signaled.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9874597-181/smart-says-it-faces-multimillion

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Automakers, rejecting Trump pollution rule, strike a deal with California

Coral Davenport and Hiroko Tabuchi, THE NEW YORK TIMES

An executive at another large automaker said his company was considering joining the agreement because it includes meaningful concessions by California. The executive, who spoke on condition that neither he nor his company be identified, said that the Obama-era fuel economy standards were difficult for the industry to meet because car buyers increasingly prefer sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks that tend to have much lower fuel economy than sedans.

Four of the world’s largest automakers have struck a deal with California to reduce automobile emissions, siding with the state, and against President Trump, in a bitter fight over one of the president’s most consequential regulatory rollbacks.

In coming weeks, the Trump administration is expected to all but eliminate a signature Obama-era regulation designed to reduce vehicle emissions that contribute to global warming. However, California and 13 other states have vowed to keep enforcing the stricter rules, potentially splitting the United States auto market in two, with car companies forced to build different lineups of vehicles for different states.

The prospect of that nightmare scenario for automakers spawned secretive talks in recent weeks between California regulators and four auto giants — Ford Motor Company, Volkswagen of America, Honda and BMW — in which the automakers won slightly less restrictive rules that they can apply to vehicles sold nationwide.

The agreement provides “much-needed regulatory certainty,” the companies said in a joint statement, while enabling them to “meet both federal and state requirements with a single national fleet, avoiding a patchwork of regulations.”

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/25/climate/automakers-rejecting-trump-pollution-rule-strike-a-deal-with-california.html

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Santa Rosa requires 200-plus home development in Roseland to improve circulation plan

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A development calling for more than 200 new homes in southwest Santa Rosa is headed back to the drawing board.

The City Council voted 6-0 on Tuesday night to send the proposed Dutton Meadows subdivision back to the Planning Commission, which voted against the project in February.

City staff took the rare stance of opposing the housing project, based on concerns about how the developer, San Ramon-based Trumark Homes, planned to build nearby roads in conflict with the city’s vision for the area.

The council’s move gives city staff and Trumark more time to negotiate the layout of future roads connecting the project’s 130 two-story homes and 81 secondary units to the rest of the city. It also allows Santa Rosa’s elected officials to avoid shooting down a large housing project, which the city has generally welcomed with open arms as it seeks to create new places to live and rebuild from the October 2017 fires, which destroyed roughly 3,000 homes in the city.

City planners didn’t object to the new housing — located on about 18.5 acres near the intersection of Hearn Avenue and Dutton Meadow — but to Trumark’s plans for building out local roads significantly different from older city plans envisioned for the greater Roseland area. Trumark’s position, which did not budge Tuesday, is that Santa Rosa’s preferred street alignment removes the potential for 52 homes, which prevents the project from penciling out.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9765683-181/santa-rosa-sends-200-plus-home?sba=AAS