SMART Rolls into Larkspur and RH Grows

The SMART train, which has long been billed as a way to relieve congestion for commuters on Highway 101 and reduce pollution, finally arrived in Larkspur, linking the train with the ferry.

And while completing the Cal Park Hill tunnel was a challenge for the transportation provider, more obstacles lay in its path.

To begin with, SMART is asking voters to renew its quarter-cent sales tax next month. The tax doesn’t expire until 2029. But by getting an early renewal, SMART can go out in 2022 and refinance its existing bond debt, reducing its annual debt payments by $12 million. The savings would have a positive impact on the train system which hasn’t posted the ridership or revenue numbers it would like.

The transit system plans to expand to Windsor carrying a $55 million price tag, and eventually to Healdsburg and Cloverdale.

SMART’s appeal in Marin was that it would take some cars off the road, reducing the daily jam on Highway 101, and making it easier for commuters coming to work in Marin. And critics say a light ridership hasn’t contributed much help in terms of reducing the clogs on 101.

The train system, which has been running for two years, took longer to complete and was slowed by a bum economy in 2008.

But now, with the sales tax renewal next month, SMART has created its own problems by refusing to release daily ridership data to the media. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat and the Marin IJ have made numerous information requests, and SMART has declined to release the information.

The stonewall by SMART is a bonehead move by a public agency trying to convince voters to lend a hand.

RH says size matters

Homegrown RH, the company formerly known as Restoration Hardware, is taking it out into the parking lot this month.

The company is scheduled to open its latest cathedral to large furniture this week in the parking lot at The Village at Corte Madera. The multi-story store will include a coffee bar and a restaurant. While the scale of the new emporium of leather couches and dining room tables may surprise some Marinites, those who make their living in the furniture business are taking close notes.

RH is opening stores when others are closing them. They are building giant stores when others are not. And they are adding jobs when others are handing out pink slips.

Say what you want about CEO’s Gary Friedman’s vision for conquering the world, nobody can fault his courage in following his passion and taking the company down a road less traveled. (He has plans to expand RH into Europe—makes sense from the standpoint of large furniture and castles)

That said, RH is a public company, and if it fails to produce numbers that show growth, Wall Street will remind Friedman about those shortcomings.

For now, however, the company is a local success story.

Your Marin moment

Years ago, as the earth cooled, and T-Rex was using San Pablo Bay as a bathtub, George Lucas and Gary Giacomini were putting together what would later become Skywalker Ranch.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that long ago, but judging from the most recent legal skirmish in Lucas Valley, folks have forgotten how successful the Star Wars creator and the late Giacomini were in taking a series of parcels and turning it into a famed film studio, among other things.

The always-colorful Giacomini has gone on to the land-use courtroom in the sky, but his son, Andrew, is representing Skywalker Properties in its effort to have a vineyard off Lucas Valley Road. The County of Marin signed off on the project in June. The Nicasio Land Owners Association feel that the vineyard is something of a carbuncle in the bucolic hills leading to the coast of West Marin.

A tolling agreement was signed by the county, Skywalker and association, which preserves the land owner’s rights and statute of limitations to bring a legal action regarding the project until March. The agreement is in place in the hope that the traditional way of settling disagreements in Marin, the filing of costly and time-consuming land use lawsuits, can be avoided and a settlement can be reached.

The Marin Independent Journal provided excellent detail on this disagreement, “Skywalker got the permit and went through all the proper channels to do it,” Giacomini told the daily paper. “I’d be surprised if there was ever a lawsuit about it.”

You can almost hear Gary Giacomini chucking. In this little skirmish, I’d take Skywalker.

Bill Meagher is a contributing editor with this publication and is a senior editor at The Deal, a New York-based digital financial news outlet. He covers micro and small cap equity, alternative investment and does investigative stories. He wishes you the most romantic of Valentine’s Day and reminds you that Spring Training begins this month, go Gigantes.

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