Everyone wants transit?

Mill Valley Herald, June 29–July 5, 1992
By Dwayne Hunn

In April John Eells, Transportation Planner for Marin from 1985-1992, spoke at a Mill Valley Library public meeting on the difficulties of bringing a rail transit system to the North Bay. If you are a true environmentalist, tired of congested 101 or think a party train back and forth to Yosemite would be more fun than lashing chains to tires, his remarks may be informative.

“For years there was little or no involvement by Marin environmentalists in the 101 Corridor planning effort,”Eells said. After the plan for Transit Tax was completed, they came out against the Transit Tax….Marin is the only California county with a sales tax for trains that has ever lost!

“The Marin Conservation League may be the only environmental organization in the world against transit because they believe it is growth-induced…

“Sonoma’s elected officials only wanted to widen the freeway even though their public opinion surveys showed the public was 4 to 1 in favor of trains. The elected officials kept saying the public was wrong. The result was a compromise. Light rail in Marin and cheaper commuter diesel rail in Sonoma. Unfortunately one week after the light/rail commuter rail compromise was adopted by the 101 Corridor Action Committee, the elected officials in Sonoma abandoned the train all together…

“What happened in Marin?” an audience member fresh to Marin politics asked.

“The Marin Light Rail got tagged by the Marin environmentalists as the ‘Little train to nowhere.’ Yet the majority of the cars on the freeway between Novato and San Rafael are going to San Rafael. The environmentalists were very successful in creating a tremendous fear that the train would turn Marin into Hong Kong or Tokyo. The train would overwhelm all, negate all local land use plans, and destroy all common sense.

“What this tells us is that reality can be irrelevant. Perception is what counts. If by being hysterical, you can dominate the campaign by fear— you can win.”

“What kind of grassroots work was done for the train?”

“Not enough. The business community and transit advocates were outgunned. The environmentalists, or Nimbys, depending on your perspective, know how to run a campaign. The anti-train slogans stuck. Surveys showed that voters clearly remembered their slogans.

“What many define as environmental — like slowing global warming or preventing the ozone hole from spreading — is of little concern to Marin’s environmental movement. Marin’s environmentalists are focused primarily on stopping local growth.”

“Could workshops to educate the community on the need for transit work?”

“I am not optimistic about this, because the Marin Sierra Club, Audubon Society and Conservation League can deliver the votes against transit solutions, painting them as growth inducing.”

“So how do we get environmentally beneficial rail in the North Bay?”

“Unfortunately, Marin may be a preview of California’s future. Marin’s growth hysteria will probably spread to other parts of the state. Developers and proponents of rail plans must be prepared to handle growth, so it is not detrimental to those who are already here. The battle has become a conflict between the haves and the have-nots. Growth per se is not causing the deterioration in the quality of life as much as the inability of the infrastructure to keep up…

“The 50’s and 60 s were the heyday of infrastructure development. We built the world’s finest highway system. Now it is crumbling all at the same time. A full 95% of the gas taxes Californians are paying is being used for highway maintenance, and the system is still falling apart… Our highway system is broke. It would take 1,000 years of today’s revenues to build what we have today.

“Some talk about using Federal money to extend BART to the North Bay. Unfortunately, the entire federal rail budget would not be enough to get BART from San Francisco to Sausalito.”

“What has the Marin experience taught you?”

“Local politics is more difficult than I expected. To reach a political consensus is tremendously difficult. In school you can develop ‘overlays to locate constraints and analyze the overlays to determine where you can build. But in real life there are tremendous controversies and nebulous solutions.

“I’ve been in the public sector for 15 years, and its ability to deliver has declined dramatically. I want to make something beneficial happen in my lifetime.. If that means working with private visionaries, that’s what I’ll do.”

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