New challenge, old arguments, on rail

A coalition of community groups led by former Gov. Ben Cayetano has scheduled a news conference today (12:30 p.m. On the city hall steps) to try to convince people that the fight to stop the $5.5 billion O‘ahu rail project isn’t over.

It’ll be interesting to see if it’s just the same old talk or if they have something new up their sleeves, such as a credible legal challenge to the rail environmental impact statement or a plan to shift some City Council votes.

If they’re not ready to move beyond the talk, rail is getting awfully close to being a done deal, with federal and state approval of the EIS, an apparent resolution on how to deal with burial sites found along the route, the city moving forward on creating a transit authority and the feds granting approval to begin transit-related construction such as moving utilities.

There are legitimate concerns about whether federal funds will come through with Republicans gaining power in Congress and whether the city’s half-cent excise tax for transit will raise enough to pay for the project, but the city has deflected questions about finances and gotten away with it because opponents have failed to mount political pressure to force answers.

A pro-rail referendum was passed by voters in 2008, a charter amendment to create the transit authority won easy approval in 2010, the anti-rail candidate finished a distant third in the last two mayoral elections and opponents have failed to make rail a pivotal issue in any council race.

Hardly a political mandate for Mayor Peter Carlisle and the council to change course.

The Cayetano group, which includes architects, Hawaii’s 1000 Friends, the League of Women Voters, Life of the Land and the Outdoor Circle, is focused on an old issue — the visual blight of the all-elevated commuter train — that has already been widely discussed without shifting public opinion. From their statement:

We believe the City’s proposed elevated heavy rail project will destroy mauka-makai view planes, create a physical barrier between the city and our famed waterfront and disturb Native Hawaiian burial grounds along its right-of-way.

Also, we believe that the proposed system will be an intrusion on the landscape, will forever alter the character of the communities through which it is built and will negatively impact the lives of people who live and work in Honolulu’s urban core.

“The City seems to have convinced the media that rail transit has permission to start construction, that ‘it’s over,’ ” the opponents said in their statement. “It’s far from over.”

That likely depends on whether they can either change the politics or bring a court challenge that convinces a judge that ugly is illegal.

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35 Comments on “New challenge, old arguments, on rail”


  1. There is no question that the overall benefits to the community achieved by a modern rail transit system outweigh the potential bad. And, I say “potential bad” because these groups have not proven any of their assertions, While they have every right to express their opinions, the majority of the community has every right to ignore them and support the project… as it has clearly done.

  2. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    I know most of these people and really find them offensive in so many ways. They are negative and have no other way of addressing major concerns other than banging their virtual drums. They think that by objecting to something that something good will happen.

    On several occasions over the past decade, I’ve asked representatives from many of these groups to help out on projects which would – and did & do – have a positive impact on the community, the county, and the state. Either no one responded or I was turned down because “I’m too busy.”

    I too received that press release and tossed into the trash as soon as I realized what groups were going to be at the press conference.

    NOTE: I have a 12:15 pm appointment with someone in the Carlisle Administration so I’ll check out the press conference as I leave the building.

  3. Richard Gozinya Says:

    I wouldn’t gloss over the issue of Federal funding too quickly. Sounds possible that Washington may not be inclined to cough up that critical $1.5 billion. GET revenue raised for rail is still a tad light,too.

    So what happens if the Feds do not cough up? I keep asking but never get a response in the form of a straight declarative sentence. Crossing a bridge when we comet it is not good planning.

    This uncertainty makes me mighty uncomfortable.

  4. Kolea Says:

    I attended the event at Washington Middle School coordinated by the LWV, which has helped clarify my thinking. I disagree with both the prior comments.

    I strongly disagree that “a majority” of Oahu residents “support” the current Rail proposal. The Mufi administration asked the general question of whether voters supported a steel on steel transit system being built. And a majority voted in favor, including myself. And, for that matter, groups like the AIA. We had been assured the question of what kind of rail system it would be would be open to discussion after that vote.

    That open discussion never occurred. The Mufi group railroaded through the most massive, expensive, system they could. It was clear from what discussions I had with pro-rail forces that the alliance for rail had MOSTLY congealed around the project as a means of providing good paying jobs for the construction trades, along with the old fashioned “pay to play” opportunity to shake down campaign contributions from engineering firms, architects, and contractors to advance Mufi’s political career.

    With all due respect to CWD’s hope for a mass transit system which is environmentally sound, the heavy rail, heavy train proposal does not appear to live up to that expectation, once you look at the math. It will actually take MORE energy per passenger mile than a new car.

    I am NOT opposed to “public works” style projects to pump money into the economy. And if Senator Inouye is able to bring in more federal dollars to pay for these projects, I am just as SELFISH as other tax-payers in willing to take money from other states for our needs.

    But this project is overbuilt and delivers less bang per buck than a light rail system. And has a MUCH larger “carbon footprint” as well.

    At a time when the state and city budgets are stretched so thin that already barebone public services are being slashed and the rest of our infrastructure is crumbling, I disagree that Oahu taxpayers support going ahead with this project. The tide of opinion has turned. Whether the City Council is willing to turn with it or whether the deals have already been sealed and commitment made, I dunno. I tend not to focus on City issues.

    The opposition to the early rail proposals was dominated by the Grassroot-type, conservative ideological groups, as represented by Cliff Slater and Eric Ryan. Their strident “free market” rhetoric prevented those who did not share their political philosophy from coalescing with the effort. It was only when the AIA and, more recently, groups like the LWV have moved into opposition to THIS rail proposal that the opportunity for broader opposition has blossomed.

    It may be too late, but if the political establishment goes ahead WITH public support, they will just be feeding the Tea Party movement. And if the Legislature goes along with Abercrombie’s “tax the pensions” proposal for balancing the budget from the pockets of the elderly, the Democratic base will crumble away and the Tea Party Republicans will emerge from the rubble triumphant.

    It will be Inouye’s Folly.

  5. zzzzzz Says:

    I agree with Kolea. I stopped going to the C&C public meetings when it became clear to me that they were not interested in public comment unless it was in support of their specific plans.

    I’m in the middle on this. I would like to have a rail system, but I’m concerned about the costs and specifics.

    For example, I don’t think elevated rail through downtown is optimal. Besides adding a lot to the cost, this greatly limits its use for intra-town travel during the day. I’ve used the trains in downtown San Jose and Portland, both of which are at-grade, which facilitates many stops in the downtown areas. These frequent stops make it more convenient to use the train to get from one part of town to another (e.g., lawyers getting from their offices to court) than driving. Having such an option also obviates, for some, the need to drive in order to have a car during the day.

  6. zzzzzing Says:

    “… the anti-rail candidate finished a distant third…”

    I am adamantly against the Rail project as it is, but did not and will not vote for Panos. Panos did not lose because he was ‘anti-rail’ – he lost because he’s not Mayor material, imho.

    It seems that this Rail project could be fought on the sheer ‘cost vs. benefit’ premise, but I don’t know who can lead the fight. But if somehow the legislators could be convinced to change the law (.5% GET for rail only) & put those funds into the General Fund, the State budget could be balanced, and no one could be accused of raising taxes – clearly a win/win situation.

  7. Michael Says:

    Seeing is believing. When it is built,
    I hope it is what people who had dreams about it will be satisfied. Dreams are good but can turn into nightmares. Super Ferry, Da Boat, Turtle Bay, etc.
    Educated ones think they are smarter than a 5th Grader but have no idea on how to fix the problem when it happens. Hawaii lives pay check to pay check, Governor to Governor.

    Who has a future when day to day thinking is present? No one thinks of the future. To me rail
    will end up as Cement on Cement. All the sand on Waikiki will be for rail structure. People come to Hawaii and sit on beach sand imported from another country. Pay 1 dollar in a tree museum to see a coconut tree. Pay 10 dollars a day for parking to ride rail. No one came out with a cost on how much to ride rail. Build it and they will come.
    Welcome to Fantasy Island. Da Rail, Boss, Da Rail!
    Right on O’Rourke.

    I understand that there are flights daily going West. Hawaii is Hawaii, the Mainland is West.

  8. Kolea Says:

    Small correction to my typing above.

    I had meant to write:

    “…if the political establishment goes ahead WITHOUT public support, they will just be feeding the Tea Party movement.”

    AS to how to stop it from going forward in its current form, I do not know if that is possible. But here are some possibilities:

    The City Council could assert itself and demand the public discussion be re-opened with an honest consideration of light rail, and less costly alternatives. They can use the projected costs as an excuse for this re-examination.

    I do not know if the new council members are OPEN to such a tack or if they have already committed, in exchange for committee assignments. I would recommend people call them and find out.

    Given the GOP dominance in the House, it would be helpful if there were a Republican conduit to them able to get them to release funds but only if less costly alternatives are honestly considered. They still need to bargain with Inouye if they want appropriation approval from the Senate side, so the idea Inouye is now powerless is only as true as the assertion that GOP congresscritters do not seek appropriations for projects in their home district.

    But Inouye is undoubtedly a strong advocate for BIG RAIL and disinclined to help shift the discussion to light rail. UNLESS that becomes the ONLY way to get any federal funding. I doubt he thinks he is that desperate yet.

    THE STATE ROLE:

    Cayetano is lending his name to today’s press conference. Ben is VERY close to Neil. If both the City Council and Congress are reluctant to approve the HEAVY rail project, it might free up Neil to send a team to Washington to negotiate with the House, asking for reduced funding for a light rail system. I don’t think Neil is likely to “interfere” with a City decision. But he can justify injecting the State if the proposal otherwise looks like it will fail completely.

    And, if he is still in his, “Nixon to China” mode (as per the Marc Alexander appointment), how’s about asking Charles Djou to join a bi-partisan delegation to Washington to lobby Congress on behalf of light rail? Would enough local Republicans support “light rail” so this would reflect an honest “bi-partisan” consensus? Or do those who are uncompromisingly anti-rail dominate the local GOP moderates?

    (I’m thinking “outside the bun” here).

  9. ppcc Says:

    One thing our elected officials, which our local media has gone along with, is to DISCONNECT the current and upcoming fiscal crisis in Hawaii with having to pay for the actual construction of rail, which like other projects in Hawaii will be delayed and take about 20 years AND the cost for rail related maintenance FOREVER. If I am not mistaken, the $700 million 2 yr State budget deficit being reported in the news does NOT include costs for rail contruction & maintenance. Trying to compartmentalize that this the rail is a City project vs State project is BS as the SAME distressed taxpayer, including a heavier burden on retirees and NON-DOE/UH gov’t unions will have to bear for ALL costs incurred by the rail. It will turn out that much of that money will NOT stay in Hawaii and will go out of State as our construction industry has absolutely no experience/expertise on rail projects and Hawaii must hire mostly outsiders to accomplish this project.

    If I am not mistaken, Parson’s EIS states during the rail construction phase, Hawaii taxpayers must cough up anywhere from $300(?) to $600(?) MILLION per year. The forever cost of rail maintenance, employees, etc. probably would be around $60 to $100 million. Obama is serious about getting re-elected and so are many Demos and it is clear the national public wants the Feds to reign in spending INCLUDING not funding $1.5 billion for a train to nowhere.

    Given former Gov. Cayetano is a lawyer and is making noise about the rail, I figure he will be the one (or knows who it will be) to file the anti rail lawsuit WHEN the time is right. I think it is way to early for Cayetano, or whomever to expose their anti-rail arguments they will use in their lawsuits. Like the SuperFerry but especially Mufi/Apo’s failed trans-Pacific garbage shipment, the best time to file the lawsuit and outline the legal challenges against the rail is at the very last minute, just before they are about to put shovels in the ground. Seems the City’s lawyers who will defend the rail are not the sharpest around and are types to be reactive rather than proactive. Therefore, like in poker, makes no sense to expose your hand until you absolutely have to.

    As for countering rail PR (ie propaganda), paid for with taxpayer monies, in the interim, it would be appropriate for anti-rail factions to coalesce and start framing to the public the issue of COST of rail with all of the current proposals to massively raise fees, tax pensions, etc (which there IS a connection). NON DOE/UH and non-construction gov’t/private unions better start grumbling to their union leadership that backing Abercrombie, Carlisle and other elected official who are blindly supporting rail is NOT in their best interest & will severely degrade their living standards.

  10. ppcc Says:

    PS:
    Cayetano might be “close” to Abercrombie but I doubt Cayetano is “owned” by Abercrombie and will do what is best for himself and his backers. Abercrombie’s proposal to tax retiree pensions and cut salaries only for non UH/DOE gov’t workers I think will finally awake a sleeping giant of Hawaii resident/voters who normally are completely apathetic and do only what their union leadership tells them to do.

    To me it is completely UNFAIR to first tax retiree pensions and cut salaries for non UH/DOE gov’t employees without FIRST greatly reducing the waste, fraud and corruption that occurs in our gov’t. To start the DOE HAS to be independently audited as Hawaii taxpayers should NOT have to pay for the fraud, waste and corruption that goes on in the DOE (ie refer to Higa’s audit and the news stories on DOE credit card cheaters). What about vigorously going after tax cheaters such as the contractor who had a complaint in the Kokua line and turns out he owes the State $1.9 MILLION in back taxes? Why is he not in jail and his assets seized by the State? What about the massive loopholes companies and insiders received from the secretive and overly generous Act 221(215) high technology credit that will end costing Hawaii taxpayers a loss of $750 million to $1 billion in lost tax revenue??

    The definition of a bully is someone who picks on the weakest of people, people least likely to fight back or cause some negative harm to the bully. Seems there is a similarity on who will be expected to shoulder the burden to pay for rail and the Hawaii/US’s failing economy.

  11. Michael Says:

    Thought for Today: “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him” -Jonathan Swift, Anglo-Irish satrist (1665-1745)

  12. Michael Says:

    correction:
    satirist not satrist.

  13. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Wow.You guys have so many good points pro and con and all kinds of arguments. And here I was hoping to just get a simple declarative sentence that answered my question: what happens to the rail project if the Feds do not cough up $1.5 billion?

  14. David Shapiro Says:

    Richard, if you can get an answer out of them on that, you’re a better man than me. Here’s my last try: http://www.staradvertiser.com/news/20101215_Less_rant_more_rationale_needed_on_cost_of_rail_transit.html?mobile=true

  15. MynahBlog Says:

    Ben’s “new” anti-rail coalition was first promoted by the Grassroot Institute and Stop Rail Now… both avocations of Cliff Slater back in 2008. Why is Ben Cayetano now the front man?… and who is paying for this Kabuki theater?… when the lawsuits start flying it won’t be cheap!

    Does anybody but me smell a rat: http://www.grassrootinstitute.org/system/old/GrassrootPerspective/ProposedRail122408.shtml

  16. Michael Says:

    In past articles concerning Rail, even Senator Inouye got worried about earmarks since the majority is now Republican.

    Each Tax payer will have a miscellaneous deduction added per pay check. Make more money.
    Why not pay for rail out of each pay check?

  17. David Shapiro Says:

    Mynah, your guilt by association is one of the lowest forms of argument and the quickness with which two city administrations now have resorted to it is one of the main reasons many just don’t trust the info they’re putting out.

  18. Guido Sarducci Says:

    Mynah, Grassroot and Cayetano are bitter enemies. If you pay any attention to Malia Z, she will tell you that Cayetano cost her her job at PBN.

    Having poiiunted that out, I will add that the burial related lawsuit is a key methodoolog of successful anti-development lawsuits. Under the PASH decision, a lineal or cultural descendant can intervene legally. If the litigants stick to a demand of “preserve in place” for burials, it is guaranteed to put the judge in the position of either killing rail or killing the foremost legal tool for blocking development.

  19. MynahBlog Says:

    Dave, I don’t work for the city anymore, and just engage in blogs for the fun of it. So, your attempt to intimidate me has failed. I’m a little offended that you would make such derogatory accusations without facts, but since it’s just a blog I guess you can say anything you want, huh?

  20. kalaheo Says:

    Mynah,

    Dave didn’t say “city administrators, he said, “city administrations.”

    I think you need to settle down and learn to read more carefully… and maybe apologize for flying off the handle too.

  21. MynahBlog Says:

    Guido, what you say is true, but there’s a nice photo of Cliff and Ben together at a Grassroot function late last year that would indicate a thaw in relations. I tried to upload the link but got bounced out.

  22. MynahBlog Says:

    I apologize if I seemed out of line, but there was a lot of implications in his statement that carry over from earlier conversations.

  23. MynahBlog Says:

    Kalaheo, I have an idea. Let’s ask Dave what he meant by: “two city administrations have now resorted to it.” Resort to what?

  24. kalaheo Says:

    MynahBlog,

    I appreciate your civility.

    As for what Dave meant, I thought I understood it. Both Mr Hannemann and Mr Carlisle seem to refute critics of the rail not on the facts of the rail but on who the critic is, or who the critic has associated with.

    Most recently we saw it when the State financial analysis was presented. It was immediately disregarded because Governor Lingle commissioned it and someone who had expressed “a pro-bus bias” was one of many involved in its authorship. The facts, assumptions, and methodology of the report never were refuted.

  25. atomicmonkey Says:

    “Refuting critics on who the critic is, or associated with instead of the facts” is the perfect synopsis of my relationship with Shapiro. I’m now more certain than ever that you misunderstood the point of his comment. I eagerly await his clarification.

  26. David Shapiro Says:

    @MynahBlog/atomicmonkey

    I’m often at a disadvantage here in that folks know who I am but I don’t know who you are because of the use of aliases. Now that you’ve filed under your old alias, I know who you are and understand your references to past interactions. My only “clarification” is that kalaheo’s restating of my point was pretty much right on and that you read something personal into it that just wasn’t there.

  27. Michael Says:

    A person presents themselves in what they write.
    How they write. Why they write. When they write.
    I can by reading some comments tell the character of the person who is writing and if they are born or raised in Hawaii or on the Mainland. Doaikea? Not really, but my lifestyle is influenced by others who lead or talk, I will put my foot up rather than be stepped on.

    I was taught to respect a persons home when entering. When I don’t I get the boot.

  28. Kolea Says:

    ppcc,

    I was not implying Ben “is owned by Abercrombie.” When I mentioned their closeness, I was trying to suggest a couple of things. One, if someone as close to Neil as Ben is joining the effort to slow down the Rail project, that is may be significant. Not because one “owns” the other, but because it suggests someone Like Ben is well-positioned to talk with Neil. Second, and related, the anti-rail movement deliberately (and stoopidly, IMO) presented itself as a very Republican, Sam Slom, Grassroot Institute type of rightwing group. The AIA, Kam School and LWV entry sent signals that it was no longer a rightwing issue.

    But Ben is the first major Democratic figure to step forward and say “stop”, outside of City Council people whose views are too easily dismissed as symptoms of perpetual council infighting. This breaks the rightwing image more effectively than ever before.

    And with Ben stepping forward like this, it also suggests we make a mistake in assuming the battle is over and accepting defeat. If a former Governor like Ben thinks it may still be possible to “de-rail” the train, he may just know something.

  29. shaftalley Says:

    if we are going to have a railroad,let’s set it up so that the trains can carry freight as well as passengers.mail,UPS,FEDEX,etc from the airport.containers from and to the docks from all points on leeward side and downtown honolulu.the tracks will have to be laid on the ground.do it right.personally,i think ligt-rail or any rail that involves the gov’t. will always be a “paynow,pay later,pay forever”

  30. ppcc Says:

    Kolea:
    Who said the battle was over? The only people saying that are wishful thinking pro-rail operatives and elected officials. It was NEVER over as seen by the successful legal challenges over the failed SuperFerry and Mufi/Apo’s transPacific garbage shipment.

    Interesting I briefly listened to Perry & Price this Wednesday morning and one news item mentioned was that contract negotiations for HPD was stalled with Carlisle proposing a paycut for police officers. I checked the StarAdv. and KITV.com online and did not find any mention of this. Not surprised. As stated earlier BOTH Carlisle and Abercrombie in anticipation of the needed $300 – $600 million for every year the rail is under construction, and their combined strategy is to force the rail project into existence at the expense of City workers, including police officers who are designated essential; in addition to all State non DOE/UH gov. employees mostly in AUW, HGEA, etc. Also stated earlier it is time for these union leaders and different organization to put their personal prejudices and bias aside to form a “loose” alliance, at least temporarily, with ALL other groups against the rail such as the Native Hawaiian legal corp, Outdoor Circle, etc and create a solidified front to State legislatures who HAVE the power to end rail by defunding the .5%GET to the rail project.

    Pro railers have used the strategy of “conquer and divide” by demonizing people like Cayetano, Aiona, Panos, Slater, etc. to try to divert attention away of the actual cost of this rail to nowhere and the DIRECT negative consequences it will have on the quality of life of many longtime and established Hawaii residents in the form of higher taxes, wage reductions, etc.

    PS:
    As anyone who has lived in Hawaii knows, even if you live off of $40K or even $50K a year per person in retirement pay, you are NOT living the life of luxury if you are using that money to pay for housing, food, gas, electricity, water, sewage, home/car insurance, current city/state/federal taxes, support for the grandchildren of their children who can barely afford living in Hawaii, etc.

  31. ppcc Says:

    PS2:
    Actually the strategy to end rail is multi-fold:

    1) File multiple lawsuits based on a flawed EIS (ie cost issues, not honestly looking at viable alternatives, not properly identifying potential ancient Hawaiian remains, etc.) (the EIS was railroaded into existence and as a result IS flawed)

    2) Create a solid front from various unions, organizations, groups, etc. and directly put pressure on their State legislatures to defund the .5% GET used exclusively for rail.

    3) Create some national attention on how Hawaii residents are battling against special interest with the backing of elected officials to end a 20 mile $6-$10 BILLION train to nowhere. Given Obama’s Hawaii ties, this will be an embarrassment to him and his 2012 bid for re-election and to Inouye as well who are in losing battle with the nation in controlling out-of-control pork barrel spending.

    4) Offer real alternatives to addressing Oahu’s traffic such as express buses tailored for the upcoming bi-directional Zip lane with additional priority lanes for these buses to travel from Kapolei to UH in less that 40 minutes throughout the entire morning/ afternoon rush hour commute.

    5) Provide REAL work alternatives for Hawaii’s construction industry by having them work on improving Hawaii roads/highways, including addressing bottlenecks such as the E bound Punahou off with a “flyover” for that section. This is much better alternative instead of using the rail project as a vehicle to use eminent domain to force residents out of their homes so that developers can use construction workers to build high density condos in appropriate locations under the guise of TOD.

  32. ppcc Says:

    Correction
    appropriate -> inappropriate

  33. Michael Says:

    PS
    “As anyone who has lived in Hawaii knows”
    Did someone move and make this comment?

  34. ppcc Says:

    Michael
    I’ve been reading comments both in the editorial section of the StarAdv and the discussion forums stating Abercrombie’s proposal of taxing only ‘rich’ retirees living in Hawaii and the number that is getting bounced around that defines ‘rich’ is greater than about $37,500 per person per year in retirement benefits.

    My snide comment that you identified was aimed at the propaganda meisters trying to defend Aber’s ‘affordable’ proposals to raise taxes, cut gov’t worker salaries, and tax pensions in order to pay for rail and other mismanaged, wasteful and/or unnecessary (ie DOE, etc) gov projects & expenditures.

  35. Michael Says:

    Old News. Nothing has changed since 1959 when Hawaii became a State.

    “who has lived” is a past tense.


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