Council allows panel to choose technology
Concerns voiced on transit secrecy
The City Council passed a measure yesterday that authorizes a panel of experts to select the technology for the city's planned multibillion-dollar mass transit system, despite concerns by several councilmembers that this crucial decision would be made behind closed doors.
The Council voted 6-3 to approve a proposal introduced by Mayor Mufi Hannemann to have five experts review information submitted by technology companies to the city and make the final decision, which is expected by March.
"I think what's important here is that we move ahead, and I think this panel is an important vehicle for that to happen," said city Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka.
But some councilmembers were strongly opposed to the technology panel after learning it would not have to abide by open-meeting laws and ethics rules that apply to city commissions and task forces, according to Donna Woo, deputy city corporation counsel.
"We should never cede our decision to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to ... un-elected, unaccountable, largely mainland experts," said Councilman Charles Djou. "A closed-door secret meeting on how to spend billions of dollars is something that is utterly unacceptable and something the Council should never condone."
About 30 people testified at yesterday's City Council meeting, some insisting it is the Council's responsibility to select the technology to ensure accountability, while others said experts would make a better decision that would not be tangled up in politics.
The city administration had wanted one member of the panel to be an expert in electrical power, bridge structure or control systems but agreed to replace that with a public policy expert to accommodate Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall.
Marshall, who was allowed to select one member of the panel under the resolution, chose Panos Prevedouros, a longtime critic of the mass transit system and a University of Hawaii-Manoa engineering professor.
Toru Hamayasu, the city's chief transportation planner, criticized Prevedouros, calling him "not qualified" as a technical expert, but said the city administration had reached an agreement with Marshall.
Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz said he was disappointed but not surprised with the Council's vote, adding that the city administration had made deals in the past with councilmembers, referring to the 5-4 decision in 2006 for the system's route to go to Salt Lake instead of the airport.
"It's unfortunate that we have a rubber stamp Council," Dela Cruz said.
Councilman Todd Apo reassured the Council that it would ultimately have the final say because it controls the city's budget and would have to approve funding for any technology selected. The Council could also select the technology by passing a bill, which would take at least three months.
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi rejected these safeguards. "I have the right to vote against the budget, but it may be in vain," she said.
The technology panel will be deciding whether the planned $3.8 billion fixed guideway system going from Kapolei to Ala Moana should be steel on steel, on rubber tires or on a magnetic levitation system.
The four members of the technology panel already selected will chose a fifth member as their chairman. The city will spend $100,000 on compensation for the five members, which will include a trip to Hawaii next month.
Transit technology panelists
The city has chosen four of the five members to select the technology for the planned $3.8 billion mass transit system from Kapolei to Ala Moana. The fifth, who will serve as its chairman, will be selected by the panel:
» Ken Knight, consultant, deputy project manager for the Washington, D.C., Metro system. Recently worked with the World Bank to assess transit projects in Europe and Asia.
» Henry Kolesar, group manager for vehicle engineering with the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District
» Steve Barsony, retired Federal Transit Administration official. He was director of the FTA office of engineering.
» Panos Prevedouros, University of Hawaii-Manoa engineering professor and longtime critic of the city's fixed guideway system