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PD Editorial: Our long and public record of supporting rail

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Some of our readers are asking about a scurrilous flier that implies a connection between The Press Democrat’s endorsement of Measure I, the SMART rail sales tax extension on the March 3 ballot, and other business interests of one of the paper’s owners.

There is no connection.

The Press Democrat’s support for commuter rail in the North Bay started more than two decades before Sonoma Media Investments returned the paper to local ownership in 2012.

In 1990, the paper endorsed Measure B, a proposed sales tax to widen Highway 101 and start a rail transit system in Sonoma County. Measure B failed, but our support for North Bay rail has continued, with more than two dozen editorials appearing between 1990 and 2012. Here are excerpts from a few of those editorials:

— Feb. 17, 2001: “When a six-car freight train traveled a stretch of track between Petaluma and Schellville this week, it marked the rebirth of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, which sat idle for nearly three years because of financial and track problems.

“But there’s a big difference between what the region has in the way of rail service and what it needs. Congestion problems on Highway 101 have heightened the need for efficient commuter rail service — as well as freight transportation — serving the region.”

— Oct. 1, 2006: “Sonoma County has made its vision for the future loud and clear. It wants city-centered growth, 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.”

— March 4, 2011: “Critics often focus on the complications of connecting from a train to a ferry to reach San Francisco, but SMART isn’t intended to be an excursion train. Its greatest value should be to thousands of North Bay residents who make a daily commute to and from their jobs elsewhere in the North Bay …

“Looking ahead over the next two decades, inter-county commutes are projected to grow by 25%. That means more traffic, underscoring the need to widen the Novato Narrows — and the value of rail service linking Sonoma and Marin counties.”

— Oct. 4, 2011: “We’ve had our share of disagreements with how SMART has managed its funding shortfalls. We’ve been critical of how much the SMART board is paying its new general manager. The repeal movement has even quoted our editorial in its campaign.

“But we believe in working toward making the transit agency better, ensuring that it spends its money wisely and makes sound decisions. Opponents just want to kill it.”

Well, that hasn’t changed. The same people who opposed SMART in 2006 and 2008 and 2011 are back, this time with $1.6 million donated by Molly Gallaher Flater. What upset the daughter of developer Bill Gallaher (who is suing the cities of Windsor and Santa Rosa, and unsuccessfully sued this newspaper)? We don’t know. She isn’t talking to our reporters.

We aren’t afraid to answer your questions. For the record, Darius Anderson isn’t a member of our editorial board, and neither are any of the investors named in the anti-SMART flier. None of them has ever tried to influence our positions. They see our editorials at the same time you do — when they appear in The Press Democrat.

As for Anderson’s connections to SMART, he owns Platinum Advisors, a lobbying company in Sacramento. One of his employees represents transit agencies, including SMART, and helped secure federal funding to extend service to Larkspur and qualify SMART for a share of revenue from Regional Measure 3, a Bay Area bridge toll increase approved by voters in 2018.

Some readers say we could have avoided any controversy by including that information in our Feb. 2 editorial (“Yes on Measure I: Don’t derail SMART train”). They’re probably right.

But as the excerpts from our past editorials show, our support for Measure I is consistent with positions on rail transit held by The Press Democrat for the past three decades.

So is our commitment to publishing your opinions. You are invited to send letters to letters@pressdemocrat.com or post comments on our website, pressdemocrat.com.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com.

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