Stealing Land For The Rail Plan

Larry Price
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Wednesday - June 25, 2008
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The Waikiki Neighborhood Board was quick to support a City Council bill that would ban people from sleeping at bus stops. The bill was introduced by Councilman Rod Tam, who said the purpose was to stop the homeless from sleeping or lying down at bus stops. Violators would be fined $50. Most of the affected areas are in Waikiki, downtown and Chinatown.

While the proposed bill was understandably popular with the Waikiki Neighborhood Board, others quickly pointed out the bill was flawed, almost impossible to enforce and not a solution that would relieve the plight of the homeless.

Prior to that, the City announced it wanted a piece of triangular-shaped property sandwiched between highways in West Oahu, which would be converted into a park-and-ride lot based on the City’s current plan for its new commuter rail line. The tiny “Banana Patch” neighborhood is a part of old Hawaii that has withstood encroaching urban development for many years.

At least six families may need to move to make way for a park-and-ride facility. Some of the families were upset, while others thought it might be a good deal for their families financially.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann wants to begin construction on the rail project late next year. Under current plans, the first phase linking East Kapolei to Leeward Community College would open in 2012, and the full 20-mile route to Ala Moana would open in 2018. This is just the beginning, because the City has identified 189 properties that may need to be acquired in whole or part to make way for the train, but those plans won’t be finalized until 2010. Many of the landowners who may be affected by the transit project have not yet been notified directly by the city, but will be before the release of a draft environmental impact statement later this summer. Contact with the landowners will be made once there is more precise information available about the impact on potential properties according to officials with the City’s transportation planning division.

It’s a good bet that the City Council will have to tweak its proposal to deal with that segment of the homeless population that chooses to seek shelter in areas built as bus shelters. Simply put, there is no way to enforce the proposal if it becomes law. It may well be very popular and worth a few future votes, but HPD is not trained or equipped to handle the homeless population, except for maybe evictions. The city has about 2,500 bus stop shelters to maintain, and since the Lions Club stopped building new shelters it’s become a chore the city has wisely put out to bid. For obvious reasons, anything dealing with bus stops has been a hot topic with the public.

It’s safe to say that purchasing the Banana Patch property will be accomplished with less fanfare than moving bus stops from one corner to another, moving them 100 yards, eliminating a bus stop all-together or a combination of all three.

There are a couple of lessons to be learned from these events. Residents who will be affected by these kinds of political vote-getting actions need to find out what’s going on themselves. If you wait, by the time you are impacted, its going to be too late.

One of the most powerful tools the government has at its-disposal to impose its wishes on the public is something called the power of “eminent domain.” This is real property acquired by the City, pursuant to HRS Section 46-61 and Chapter 101. It explains what will happen if land is needed for a public purpose or the greater public good. It is a sobering thought that a group of elected officials and its appointed task forces could condemn your private property, whether you want to sell it or not.

And while you are not likely to see a government body condemn any private or public property to build a homeless shelter, they do have the power. It’s a good bet that this will be one of the hottest topics in Honolulu’s city government in the next decade, because when you start condemning private and public property for any public works property, thousands of people will be affected, and some will be happy and others violently upset.

Maybe that’s why higher education is so valuable. It’s one of the very few things a taxpayer can own that can’t be taken away by the right of eminent domain.

Isn’t it interesting that many of these huge and impressive public works projects end up being named in honor of former elected officials? It’s almost certain they already have a name and acronym picked out for “our” mass transit rail system and just as certain nobody has thought about naming any of “our” bus stop shelters after infamous homeless people.

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