So Many Meetings, No Solutions

Larry Price
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Wednesday - April 23, 2008
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Last week the Honolulu City Council announced it was ready to take a final vote on our proposed multibillion-dollar transit system.

The news was like a breath of fresh air after years of listening to all the pros and cons of which system would be best for the taxpayers of Oahu. But this proves that any system that depends on human reliability is an unreliable one. In fact, the meeting scheduled for April 16 was intended to take a final vote on the type of system that would be selected. It had nothing to do with which route it would take and the environmental impact it would have on communities through which it would eventually run.

Behind closed doors, the big concern was with the potential noise created by steel wheels running on steel rails. After testimony by a panel of experts, the taxpayers ended up having councilmembers decide the type of transportation system we need based on their inner feelings about noise: How much noise? How loud? How often would the noise occur per day? - probably the same kinds of questions that were asked at the council meeting during the planning of the El train running through the heart of Chicago.

In the moments leading up to the all-important meeting, which was not all that important after all, new drama was injected. City Council chairwoman Barbara Marshall was unable to attend because of a family emergency, which left the meeting in limbo. With only eight councilmembers present, the possibility of a deadlock was very possible. Could a motion to defer cause another decision-making delay? Only time would tell.

Councilmember Todd Apo went ahead with the meeting as scheduled, leaving everyone in nervous anticipation. Would one of the councilmembers call for a delay to allow Marshall to be present for the vote? Like most important political meetings where an important vote will be taken, the vote is the last thing on the agenda. This means everyone in attendance, or watching it on Olelo (as I was), is left dangling in the wind.

Apo reminded fellow councilmembers that all of the facts were in and there was no point in delaying the all-important vote - all-important because the moment the technology is chosen, contracts can be met and millions of dollars can start changing hands.

One has to remember the politics of the council. Marshall represents the Windward side of Oahu and has been a constant critic of the proposed rail system. She has asked many tough questions during the course of the lengthy hearings. Apo represents Kapolei and is a strong supporter of the proposed system. Romy Cachola, the councilmember from Salt Lake, has the most interest in the vote because if approved, by default or otherwise, it will run right through the center of his district. This is good and bad because it will cause property values to both skyrocket and fall, depending on which side of the tracks the property lies.

Yes, the system is political to the maximum. Once we know which one Mufi Hannemann cherishes, most taxpayers would vote with the mayor. After all, he has $3 million in campaign funds, is so far unopposed in the upcoming election and has a bright political future. He has the backing of all the private unions in the state and the robust backing of our congressional delegation.

It was comical to hear Cachola say that he had an open mind on the matter. With all of the information available to the public, all of the testimony from the very expensive “expert” panel and the politics behind the largest public works project in Hawaii’s history, we should point out that there is a big difference between an open mind and a hole in the head. And while it is true that there is a good-sized political graveyard of aspiring politicians who have lost their public favor by opposing public works projects that benefit hardworking taxpayers, this is not the time in Hawaii’s economic slowdown to play politics with the transit system.

I fell asleep while trying to watch what happened on Olelo, but have confidence in the system that nothing conclusive was decided while I slept (or as of this writing). The reason for my confidence is because if politicians have enough meetings over a long period of time, the meetings will become more important than the problem they were intended to solve.

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