State Sen. Stoner is first Cobb lawmaker to give light rail public support
by John Roach
jroach@mdjonline.com
September 09, 2011 01:34 AM | 6670 views | 20 20 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SMYRNA — A member of Cobb’s legislative delegation has finally come out in support of the TSPLOST, as state Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna) compared the 10-year sales tax to the national interstate system and the work Ernest W. Barrett, the county’s first chairman, did in developing rural Cobb County in the 1960s.

Only about 50 people turned out for the Democrat-hosted town hall in Smyrna on Thursday, about half the number that attended previous, Republican-led meetings, possibly because of a 5:30 p.m. start time. Fewer than 10 attendees spoke at the meeting, and only one professed strong support for the TSPLOST, while most either came out strongly against it or questioned its ability to ease traffic congestion in Cobb.

Stoner hosted the meeting along with state Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Austell), state Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna), Cobb Chairman Tim Lee, Commissioner Bob Ott, Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews, Cobb Department of Transportation Director Faye DiMassimo, and Cobb DOT Deputy Director Dan McDuff.

One of the chief criticisms of the proposed light-rail line from Cumberland Mall to MARTA’s Art Center station in midtown Atlanta has been a concern that criminals will use the transit system to come into Cobb, a concern echoed by Lance Lamberton, president of the Cobb County Taxpayers Association.

“In Portland, Ore., not too many years ago, they installed a light-rail system,” Lamberton said. “There was a major-league increase in crime in the areas right along where the light rail was established. And they had to beef up security. They had to increase the amount of patrols. And of course it increased operating costs. A real concern I have, and I think many, many people in Cobb County have with this whole idea of light rail coming in here is this backdoor way of trying to get MARTA into Cobb and then bringing all the crime that currently lives in Fulton.”

Stoner, who hosted the meeting, said crime increases with a rise in population, not transit.

“I’ve heard that issue for years,” Stoner said. “I’m a native Cobb Countian: I’ve heard it used in not allowing MARTA into this county. Honestly, I’ve grown up listening to that rhetoric for a very long time … We’re now a county with almost 700,000 people. Usually, when we have more people we have more problems, a more complex society. So to say one thing is the reason for all of that I think is a very (simplified) explanation for everything.”

Wilkerson said criminals tend to use personal vehicles to evade police, not transit systems.

“I read the paper, I watch the news, and I have yet to see anybody rob anybody, shoot anybody, and jump on MARTA,” Wilkerson said. “If they do, you just go to the next station and wait for them. … I don’t typically hear law enforcement complaining about criminals jumping on public transportation.”

The Rev Coakley Pendergrass, associate minister at Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church in Marietta, said fears about crime are racially motivated and distract from the economic benefits of light rail.

“That issue is fear,” Pendergrass said. “I was a police officer, a transit police officer, in New York for 19 years. When I was in uniform, walking through the train, people respected me and felt comfortable. On that same train, in my civilian clothing, late at night, and you get this fear. All of a sudden, “He’s black, he’s going to hurt me.” You have to be careful what you say. I will tell you, quite a few of these town hall meetings, the two that the Republican Party had … the conversation is about fear. Not about the reality, not about being progressive, not about the fact that you want to bring business into Cobb County.”

Lamberton also questioned how a light-rail line in Cumberland would ease traffic congestion for the county.

“I’m trying to wrap my mind around this: We’ve got a line that’s going from the Arts Center to Cumberland Mall,” he said. “But if I live in East Cobb or I live in West Cobb — How is that going to serve me as a commuter? … I don’t see how this is helping me or anybody else as far as convenience, time savings, liability, efficiency or anything else.”

Stoner said the line would reduce the number of cars on the road.

“It may not help you immediately in the sense that you’re going to go catch the train and ride down there,” Stoner said. “But what it may do is remove a great deal of vehicles off that roadway that you use.”

Vinings resident Ron Sifen said that because the majority of the rail line would not be in Cobb County, traffic would not be reduced for local commuters.

“We talked about 20,000 boardings per day … then we talked about that being the hypothetical equivalent of getting 20,000 cars off the road,” Sifen said. “Just as an example, we’ve got a transit proposal that’s going to have one station in Cobb County, right on the county line, and we’re going to have six or seven stations in Fulton County. Of those 20,000 boardings, the overwhelming majority, possibly even 90 percent, of those people are going to live near the transit stations in Fulton County. … Probably close to 90 percent of the riders are going to be from Fulton County. Therefore, this is not going to result in getting 20,000 cars off the road in Cobb County.”

Stoner said he believed the county was underestimating the number of people in Cobb County who would ride the rail line.

When asked why voters should support a transit system that won’t be self-sufficient, Stoner said no transportation method pays for itself.

“Everything you do is transportation is subsidized by taxpayers one way or another,” Stoner said. “Even the toll road, 400, doesn’t pay for itself. There are a number of subsidies that go into maintaining that infrastructure. … We don’t charge a toll on 41. It’s 100 percent subsidy. So you’ve got to understand when you’re talking about transportation, no matter what mode of transportation that is, the taxpayers pay one way or the other.”

Stoner then suggested toll roads might become more prominent in the area.

“That’s something we’re going to be talking about in the future: Are we going to be putting toll roads around the region?”

Evans said concerns about immediate effects shouldn’t deter voters from passing the TSPLOST next year.

“Remember that this is Phase 1 of a project that will eventually spread out throughout the entire county,” she said. “No, we can’t do it in one year. No, we can’t do it in five years. And we might not be able to do it in 10 years. It might take a little bit longer than that. But … just because it might only help me today and David tomorrow — that cannot be a reason not to get started. Either we’re going to get started now to eventually bring progress to the region and to alleviate traffic for all of us, or we’re going to be looking at Charlotte in the rear-view mirror and thinking “man, we really missed the boat on that one.”

Wilkerson said the light rail line isn’t just about reducing congestion.

“It really is about economic development,” he said. “Whether it’s transit, whether it’s roads, whatever is going to bring jobs to the county. … We need to get people back to work. We need to get people to work efficiently and back home to see their families efficiently. And whatever that solution is, I think that’s what we need to be working toward.”

He also said that there is no connection between crime and public transportation.

“If you say something enough times, people will start to believe it and think it’s legitimate, whether or not it has any fact tied to it,” he said. “There are no studies that I’ve seen that link to public transit. There’s so many other factors that go into it. … Bringing public transit to a community is not going to increase crime, I don’t think. “

Sifen said after the meeting that the democrats’ arguments did not convince him the light rail would be effective.

“I’ve been to all the meetings, and so far I’m not satisfied with the answers that I’ve gotten,” he said. “This is an economic development project. They all basically admitted tonight that this is an economic development project. What Doug (Stoner) and I were just discussing is that we need a project that will alleviate traffic congestion. This project will do nothing to alleviate traffic congestion in Cobb County.”

Stoner said transit is an investment and criticized those who want a return on their tax dollars immediately.

“They are looking for instant gratification,” he said. “I invest my tax dollars for my children to get a public education. But if I take this attitude that it’ll take them 12 years to get a diploma, and another 4 years to get through college, you know that’s a lot of money that’s not going to help me now, so why should I pay that over the years. Obviously no parent thinks that way about their children. That’s the same thing here. We’re looking to the future, not just for us now, but for people who come behind us, including our own children.

“If we take this attitude that if we, the current people in this community, don’t get a benefit that we’re not willing to make investments in the future, then I’m just very disappointed, because that’s not called leadership. That’s not investing for your children’s legacy. Thank God folks in this county, folks like Ernest Barrett, were willing to go out and push that and make those investments. Is this project list the right list? That’s for the voters to decide. But to say we shouldn’t do anything because it doesn’t benefit me on my little street over here, that is to me I think almost a short-sighted vision of how things work in society.

“It’s kind of un-American. That God my parents and grandparents were willing to pay the motor fuel tax to build the interstate highways.”

Among those in the audience were lobbyists Michael Paris and Ron Fennel; Doug Shepard, Cobb Schools SPLOST administrator; state Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna); Smyrna Councilman Jimmy Smith; County Manager David Hankerson; Ziad Salameh, Smyrna city council candidate; and Slade Gulledge, Cobb Chamber government affairs manager.

Stoner’s district has been reshaped in the recent reapportionment map, putting the Democrat in a mostly Republican area and potentially costing him the next election.

Stoner voted against the TSPLOST in the Legislature last year, while Evans and Wilkerson were not yet elected.

— Staff Writer Jon Gilooly contributed to this report
Comments
(20)
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votervoter
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October 11, 2011
Of course Stoner wants this passed - it only benefits him - Cobb gets to pay for Fulton/MARTA's line...hopefully Cobb voters are smarter than this...do some research and you will see what is really going on - start here - Does this raise any flags???

The MDJ September 2011

..."State Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna) works in business development for Croy Engineering of Marietta, a company that has directly benefited from a proposal for mass transit in Cobb County, which critics say creates a conflict of interest.

Croy Engineering is the project manager for the county’s $1.8 million Northwest Atlanta Corridor Alternatives Analysis Study, which will examine what kinds of mass transportation will work on the Interstate 75 and U.S. 41 corridors, how much it will cost and where it should be built..."

The AJC 2009

"...The engineering firm PBS&J is part of a joint venture that has done perhaps $30 million worth of work for MARTA under its current multi-year contract, said MARTA CEO Beverly Scott. This year, PBS&J hired state Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna). Stoner is deeply involved in legislation that affects MARTA, but he and PBS&J representatives said he worked only on water issues for the company, never on transportation.

In addition, Stoner owns a company that helps make toilets for transit stations and it has benefited in the past from business with MARTA. Stoner said all MARTA sales were done by low bid, and he does not deal directly with MARTA, but sells to a separate company that then bids for MARTA sales..."

misterbill
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September 13, 2011
"We must think beyond our own back door if we want our children and grandchildren to have a chance to live in a prosperous Cobb County."

So , what exactly is the thing that will make Cobb County prosperous??? Steel tracks in the road?? The daily trains going back and forth outside one's development? I do not mean to be sarcastic, I just am tired of trite sayings that provide no specifics. Are you suggesting that Cobb will falter and fail unless it gets really heavy in population?? In most urban areas, the jobs are brought to the city hub. In many successful areas, the outlying suburbs are doing quite well with their own pockets of opportunities.

Please no more trite sayings without some facts to back them up.
FireBobOtt16
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September 12, 2011
This was a beneficial, informative and open meeting. No wonder Ott was mad when he left, he couldn't control it.
Kennesaw Voter
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September 12, 2011
Amazing that Stoner and Lee and Mathews take to bashing the voter if they say No to this project list....Nobody is saying NO because they want money spent in their neighborhood or on their "little street"....

Cobb Taxpayers are saying NO because the transit line is being built in Fulton County...but with Cobb County's share of the TSPLOST...THAT is a JOKE ON COBB COUNTY!!

Stop insulting the Cobb taxpayer because they see right through your nonsense. Why should Cobb County get short changed just so MARTA can get another train line?? Why are the Cobb leaders giving the Cobb taxpayers a knuckle sandwich and telling them to like it??

I am not stupid. I don't fear a train coming into Cobb county. I don't believe a train will bring crime into Cobb. I do know Cobb Countians will not ride it but northwest Fulton folks sure will and Cobb will be funding it...WHY?? If only a mile or two will be in Cobb County then that is all Cobb share of the TSPLOST should be...Fulton County should pay for 90 percent of the line.

Mark Mathews and Tim Lee will feel the rath of the voters when they are on the ballot; If anyone out there is interested in getting into politics...NOW would be a good time because I will NOT vote for TIM LEE OR MARK MATHEWS....those two losers can go get a real job and stop feeding off of us taxpayers.
Mike Holzknecht
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September 12, 2011
Of the three T-SPLOST forums that I have been to, this was the most informative and polite. Sen. Doug Stoner is the most knowledgeable person on transit issues in the county. Rude or just plain dumb questions were handled with grace and facts.

At the Walton High forum, Sen. Stoner was frequently asked to explain parts of the T-SPLOST because the East Cobb politicians either didn't go to the meetings or understand the issues.
mk- the love of $$$$
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September 11, 2011
MDJ, please do an investigative piece on all who are connected to pushing this TSPLOST through, & where they & their family members own property throughout Cobb.

It could prove enlightening.
LIES LIES LIES
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September 11, 2011
Another complete waste of my tax money - shame on anyone who votes for it. We will be paying for it forever just like 400. There was a lie there too if I recall correctly!

Those toll booths will never be removed and I know it before the first shovel of dirt was moved. Just like I know this rail will NEVER sustain itself and we will ALWAYS be supporting it through taxes.
West Cobb Resident
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September 10, 2011
Clayton is a mess because they tore down all the public housing in Atlanta, not because of mass transit.
Brass Balls
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September 09, 2011
Stoner what does this do for Cobb County. Sure the folks in South Cobb will enjoy the ride but the rest of the county is paying for it. We either need the rail through the whole of Cobb or we do not need it at all. Just like CCT which does not cover most of Cobb already. Stop your Vote buying.
CupOJoe
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September 09, 2011
I think that Atlanta ought to just dismantle MARTA altogether. Think of the money you'd save if you didn't have to pay all those salaries, money that could be used to build or expand the roads.

Public transit is for big cities like New York or Chicago, dense population centers where people can walk, not for suburban cities like Atlanta or Phoenix or any other city built with cars in mind.

Wise up, Atlanta! Save yourself a lot of money and effort and get rid of MARTA! The majority of you clearly doesn't want it and you really can't afford it anyway!
anonymous
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September 09, 2011
I think I hear a train is coming--watch out!
TrishaDisha
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September 09, 2011
@Anyone who thinks mass transit can't destroy a county, I humbly submit as exhibit A: Clayton County.

BUT, anyone upset at what these liberal democrats are saying, take heart..they have not got a chance in hell of passing the regional sales tax.

Best way to increase quality and life in metro atlanta and lower unemployment? Enforce immigration laws..that will lower the population 10% and we can have full employment..(might lower it 40% in smyrna), and it would be back to an actual ENGLISH SPEAKING area.
Brain Child
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September 09, 2011
Anyone been to Cumberland Mall lately? I worked there in the 80's when it was a truly upscale venue. I recently returned to it out of curiosity... what a disappointment! Unruly groups of teens hanging out everywhere in 'gangsta garb', leering at us as we walked past... stores with clothing strewn all about as though people were taking something from the rack and dropping it rather than hanging it back up... generally a sad atmosphere.

Frankly, people in Midtown should be concerned about an increase in THEIR crime rate if the lite-rail is built!

Also, WHY would the line be counted as a Cobb project rather than a Fulton project? Is this an attempt to manipulate the funding so that it doesn't draw too much attention to the funds actually being redistributed to Fulton & MARTA?
South Cobb Resident
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September 09, 2011
It is so unfortunate to still hear the repeated race baiting rhetoric of a community voice Mr. Lance Lamberton. I wonder if he has true fellowship with other cultures. Ignorance is the root of prejudice. Does he speak for the Cobb County Tax Payers Assoc membership? If so, then the true criminals are those who murder the character of people and communities because of their ignorance and fear.

NW Cobber
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September 09, 2011
"investment" = We don't care what you, The People, want or think is wise. We're going to railroad this thing through anyway!

Don't be railroaded, Cobb!
UnmitigatedGall
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September 09, 2011
Are you trying to tell me that if you run a transit line right through the middle of two of the highest crime rate areas in NW Atlanta that it will not be used by the criminals in that area?

Get real!!

And even if you, Senator Stoner, have adopted a pollyanna attitude about this issue the fact remains the same:

Perception is reality.

And that perception will have a negative impact on ridership which is the lifeblood of a transit system!! Constant transfusions of funding in the form of tax supported subsidies is not the answer.

It sure looks as if Stoner, just like Lee and Mathews, is drinking the Atlanta/MARTA/CID/Chamber flavored Kool Aid and avoiding the more common sense solutions to addressing our transit issues.

There are better less expensive solutions to our dilemma, but I guess better and less expensive don't matter if you are using someone else's money.
emil
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September 09, 2011
As a fairly conservative republican, I do hate to see this depicted ad GOP vs Dems. I don't believe it is. Nor, do I believe our local arguments have much to do with what is happening at the national government level.

I support transit because I support thinking, and planning ahead beyond my own neighborhood. It is disappointing to see so many frightened, "pull of the bridge on the river" folks, especially in East Cobb. We must think beyond our own back door if we want our children and grandchildren to have a chance to live in a prosperous Cobb County.

Those who throw names at our leaders, such as self-serving, and Ignorant , or, duplicitous, do not know these leaders personally or they would recognize the leaders, elected and staff, are people of strong integrity with whom you may disagree, but they are NOT stupid, self-serving or duplicitous. Could you please argue your own opinions without the name calling and fear tactic? Could we return to a civil debate, please? I am embarrassed by the tone of some of my neighbors' comments. Cobb Countians, we are better than this! Please tone down the angry rhetoric and present your debates civilly.

Mr. Editors, please use this one in your next printed list of online blogs.

Thank you.
mk -the chickens....
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September 09, 2011
are coming home to roost , in Cobb County.

FINALLY, after ignoring MOST of Cobb for years & years, the reality is that businesses simply aren't interested in Cobb.

All the power & money is up the Johnson Ferry Corridor- where the Whole Foods just opened across from the Trader Joes, that's down the street from the Freah Market.

I don't see where Smyrnas mayor was even there. That shows his total lack of concern for the city he has reigned over 26 years. You will find zero quality of life in the Smyrna, Cobb Parkway & south Cobb County. The most exciting thing to the Smyrna mayor & council is a 'mega' Race Trac Station right at Smyrnas 'gateway'. Yet the power thinks a train in 10 to 12 years will make a difference?

Business are flocking to Gwinnett, Norcross, Duluth, North Fulton, Dunwoody ,Decatur.

Just take a ride to these areas. Ashford Dunwoody all the way north into Dunwoody- just beautiful. The other direction, into Chamblee- follow it to the Brookhaven Town & the Brookhaven Village. House values are holding & rising & surrounding communities are solid & livable.

Smyrna & Cobb County is LOSING due to all its cronyism & has become nothing but a sad joke.

These folks (including Stoner), aren't addressing the real issues!
Al in Marietta
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September 09, 2011
Having been a victim twice of criminals who utilized MARTA, I can tell you how it works. In one case I had my brief bag snatched from the luggage area of the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. Police later recovered it on a MARTA train minus the valuables. In another instance, my car was broken into and stolen from East Cobb. The criminals were apprehanded ditching my car and attempting to board Marta at Cumberland Mall.According to the police report, these individuals were juveniles with no drivers license from the downtown Atlanta area.
Typical Trash
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September 09, 2011
This was obviously the biggest bunch of Democrat, government-is-best, spend-because-it-feels-good claptrap I have seen since....well, Mr. Obama's speach last night. (Before that, it was Mr. Obama's speaches about passing Porkulus 1.)

There is not one iota of economic sense in Rep. Stoner's arguments. Worse, Phase 1 won't be built for many,many years and will never be an operating success in any form. To expect Cobb will tax itself even more to add to an already failed system to get Phase 2 is abject lunacy. It won't ever happen.

As for economic benefits, the costs for this nonsense (capital and operating) exceed the potential benefits by a multiple, if not an order of magnitude.

Please save me from people like this attempting to be public servants and good stewards of the public interest.
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