Why We Must Vote On The Rail Plan

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - September 03, 2008

The recent ruling by Circuit Court Judge Karl Sakamoto affirming the Stop Rail Now organization petition and signature submission to City Clerk Denise DeCosta as legal is a breath of fresh air in a debate that has become acrid and odious. With this ruling, it appears that a vote on rail will take place in November.

Or will it?

The Honolulu City Council has determined the language of the ballot question and, thankfully, rejected the proposal to create a transit authority. However, the objective of Stop Rail Now differs from the council. Their initiative dictates that no trains or rail will comprise a mass transit project. The judge directed that the city clerk accept the Stop Rail Now petitions, so the ballot question is a done deal, right? The public will be able to vote on rail, right?

Not so fast.

Judge Sakamoto is now being asked to determine the legal number of verifiable signatures needed to qualify the Stop Rail Now question. This is the critical determination. One would think there would be no ambiguity in the Honolulu City Charter regarding this issue, but with so much at stake and lawyers on both sides, it is almost natural to have the court determine the definition. The bottom line is if the court says 10 percent of registered voters (approximately 44,500 signatures) signing the petition is required, the Stop Rail Now initiative is dead. If, however, the court says 10 percent of those who actually voted (approximately 29,500) signatures are sufficient, then the Stop Rail Now question will appear.


We have to remember there are billions of dollars at stake with this project. Millions of dollars will be flowing into the coffers of developers, architects, construction companies, contractors and consultants with major entities benefitting from its construction and maintenance. Are we all aware of the impact of $6 billion? This amount of money is the Gross Domestic Product of some countries. Unions are clamoring for this project because it ensures revenue for their members. Why do you think so much money has been spent crafting clever and influential commercial messages not to inform, but to convince you that rail is the only real transportation alternative? Oh, and by the way, the thousands and thousands of dollars spent on this propaganda campaign was paid by you.

I appreciate the fact that Mayor Hannemann is supportive of the process. However, it is no secret that he is a vociferous supporter of this project. He has invested a great deal of his political capital in ensuring rail is approved, ground is broken and the project is well on its way even after he leaves office. I believe the mayor thinks the rail project is best for Honolulu. But as supportive as he says he is of the process, it’s the process itself that is the basis of the ire found in rail opponents. It seems to me if you are going to ask people to fund a public works project to the tune of billions of dollars, you would allow them to exercise their right to vote yes or no. Why was this opportunity not afforded to the people of the City and County of Honolulu? If the answer is that duly elected officials representing the people made the decisions then, yes, that is an answer. But it’s not an adequate answer.


The City and County charter provides for initiative referendum. That means the city government anticipated issues would arise demanding a direct response from the people. Our current elected officials understand our laws provide for direct democracy. The administration and the council knew other communities placed rail transit questions on their ballot. The city should have had the common courtesy to include the people of this community in the direct decision-making process. Excluding the same people who will have their lands condemned, view planes altered, endure countless hours of disruption and then pay for it all seems like just plain bad manners. (Before you go rushing to their defense, let’s all remember the mayor said he would do everything legally possible to stop this initiative from getting on the ballot, and the council never considered allowing the community to vote on this issue until it was clear the Stop Rail Now petition drive was succeeding).

Whether a question appears on the ballot or not, you still have a voice regarding the rail project. Choose the mayoral candidate who represents your position on this issue. Choose the council candidate who represents your position on this issue. Then vote.

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