Council duo claims they were railroaded from transit panel
Two City Council members critical of Mayor Mufi Hannemann's transit plans say they were kicked off a key committee to prevent them from voting on the city's first leg of a mass transit route.
Donovan Dela Cruz and Ann Kobayashi were members until yesterday of the Council Transportation Committee -- traditionally qualifying them to sit on the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee.
"Councilmember Dela Cruz and I want to make sure that the project is done in the right way," Kobayashi said yesterday during a news conference at City Hall. "We've been asking very tough questions, challenging some of the answers given to us. And, I guess, so we are now no longer able to ask those questions."
OMPO's Policy Committee, the agency's key decision-making body, will take a vote on the route May 4. It is the next approval needed by the city in the federal-funding application process.
Councilman Charles Djou, a member of the Transportation Committee and OMPO, said having Dela Cruz and Kobayashi taken off Transportation and eventually OMPO will make it easier for the Hannemann administration to get the approved segment through OMPO.
"I think what this all does is to cast further doubt on the planning of this mass transit project. ... Unfortunately, we seem to be doing it by politics," Djou said.
City Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall, who has also opposed the mayor's route, restructured the Transportation Committee yesterday by taking Dela Cruz and Kobayashi off the committee and replacing them with Todd Apo and Rod Tam.
"The change in the committee came as a request from the committee chair (Nestor Garcia)," Marshall said. "We try to make the committees work as best we can, and I assign the membership based on what seems to be the best operating committee."
Garcia could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Marshall said the decision to change the membership of the Transportation Committee had nothing to do with OMPO.
"I didn't even know there was an OMPO meeting next week, and so I hadn't given it any thought," Marshall said. "Traditionally the members of the Transportation Committee are the OMPO delegates, so will I change it by next week? I don't know. I suppose it should."
Marshall also responded to a suggestion that the mayor was behind the changes. "Absolutely not true. I've not even discussed this with the mayor," she said.
Bill Brennan, the mayor's press secretary, said, "It's an internal Council matter, and the mayor will work with whatever the makeup of their committee."
In February the Council voted 5-4 to support as the first segment a route from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center via Salt Lake. But critics including Djou and Gov. Linda Lingle said that the initial line should go by the airport instead of through Salt Lake.
And Djou, Dela Cruz and Kobayashi all support the first segment ending at the University of Hawaii at Manoa instead of stopping at Ala Moana.
Gordon Lum, OMPO executive director, said the leaders of the Council, House and Senate can change their appointments at any time.
The Policy Committee will be asked to amend the regional plan for a fixed-guideway route approved by the Council, according to OMPO's Web site.
"If the Policy Committee does approve it, then the city, who is in the process of submitting a grant application for preliminary engineering for a (first) segment going from East Kapolei to Ala Moana via Salt Lake, it's one of the many things that's needed for that grant application to go through," Lum said.