Former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou took a break from the federal issues that have been his major focus of late and wrote a thoughtful piece in Hawaii Reporter on one of his pet local issues — Oahu rail transit.
Djou notes that the community is as divided as ever on the $1.3 billion project and argues it didn’t have to be that way if the Hannemann and Carlisle administrations had made any effort to build community consensus after the 2008 voter referendum that narrowly approved steel-on-steel rail.
In the months following the ’08 vote, the city squandered any goodwill resulting from the vote. Rather than reach out to proponents and opponents alike, the Hannemann administration, the majority on the City Council and the rail transit division charted a divisive path relying on the narrow mandate from the public to do as it pleased without regard to the nearly 50 percent of residents who opposed rail.
Since the 2008 election, the city has not adequately followed up with any broad outreach to the community in seeking consensus on rail. Instead of pausing to reflect and explain the costs of rail to the public, the current city administration and Council have brushed aside legitimate concerns by rail opponents.
Today, rail is embroiled in litigation and it appears the courts may ultimately dictate how rail gets done.
Djou, a former councilman, speaks with some credibility on the matter. He was the council’s leading rail opponent for years, believing the city couldn’t afford the expensive heavy-rail design being pursued.
But he respected the decision voters made in 2008 in favor of rail and shifted his focus from trying to kill the project to trying to improve it; he brokered the well-received deal to reroute the train past the airport instead of through Salt Lake.
Djou makes some good suggestions going forward.
As long as the city relies on a razor-thin majority favoring rail, it will subject success of the project to the whim of just 2 percent of the electorate changing its mind.
The city should alter its approach and start by making a stronger effort to include those who oppose rail in the decision-making process. …
The City Council should insist on transparent financial plans that clearly explain to the public what will happen to the project, and the city’s ability to finance the project if tenuous federal funding fails to materialize.
Decision-making should include all residents and not be limited to just the strongest rail supporters. …
If we want to move beyond constant squabbles, we need more consensus-building by city officials on this project. They need to understand that reasonable people can disagree.
Mayor Peter Carlisle blew a chance to improve public confidence when instead of bringing in some new faces with a more conciliatory tone, he kept on Hannemann’s top transit people who had lost their credibility with much of public and council because of their dismissive attacks on anybody who dared voice a contrary view.
The new transit authority that will soon be taking the reins has another chance to put a more open and accessible face on the project by bringing in some new players capable of involving a broader spectrum of the community in the planning.
They’ll only get one chance to make a good first impression.