CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
At the Stop Rail Now rally at City Hall yesterday, Dan Douglas was among activists launching an anti-rail petition seeking a referendum on November's election ballot.
Rail critics utilize power of pen
About 50 opponents initiate a petition to halt the city's plans for the transit system
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An effort to hold a referendum on the city's plan for rail transit slowly gained steam yesterday as about 50 residents gathered at Honolulu Hale to sign the necessary petition.
The leader of Stop Rail Now said it will be a "daunting" task to collect the more than 44,000 signatures needed by Aug. 1 to place a measure on the November ballot.
The group is not opposed to mass transit -- only trains and rail -- and contends that traffic congestion would be better alleviated through elevated, dedicated freeway lanes during certain hours.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann's administration dismissed the effort, calling it "not really anything new."
The city will continue planning for a $3.7 billion steel-rail mass transit system, with groundbreaking tentatively set for late 2009.
This method to create a city ordinance using community petitions is rare and was made to be a "fairly difficult process," said Neal Milner, a University of Hawaii political scientist.
That last time it was successful was 20 years ago with the effort to stop development at Sandy Beach, when 40,000 signatures were collected in 10 weeks. That was before the Internet and e-mail.
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dan Douglas, left, and Dennis Callan spoke against a rail transit system during yesterday's Stop Rail Now rally at City Hall.
Collecting about 45,000 signatures in three months for a petition to stop the city's proposed $3.7 billion steel rail system poses a challenge, the initiative's leader conceded yesterday.
"It's very daunting," said Dennis Callan, chairman of newly formed Stop Rail Now. "It's going to be a grass-roots effort all the way. We're optimistic, though. The Internet will be critical to get the information out there."
About 50 Hawaii residents against the mass-transit project from Kapolei to Ala Moana gathered yesterday at Honolulu Hale to be the first to sign the petition. Wearing shirts that said, "Stop Rail Now," many called for the decision to build a rail system for mass transit to be placed on the ballot in November.
The city administration had little reaction to the group's effort. Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who said last week the city will move forward with steel rail as the technology for the system, is determined to break ground in late 2009.
"From the very beginning, opponents of transit have talked about this," Hannemann's spokesman said in an e-mail statement to reporters. "It's not really anything new."
The petition proposes a city ordinance to say, "Honolulu mass transit shall not include trains or rail."
Members of Stop Rail Now are familiar faces -- including businessman Cliff Slater, who helped lead the fight against rail transit in 1992, and John Brizdle. Both have consistently testified against the project.
The group contends that traffic congestion would be better alleviated through managed lanes, where cars can drive on elevated, dedicated lanes during certain hours.
"The mayor has a stubborn, arrogant view: pro-rail or nothing," Callan said.
"I think it's all about fairness," said Panos Prevedouros, a University of Hawaii engineering professor and former member of a panel of experts hired to select the project's technology. "My perspective is to let the people vote. This is $5 billion-plus of our money, and there are people with mixed reaction to it."
Creating a city ordinance by community petition is rarely attempted. The last time Honolulu residents accomplished this was 20 years ago to stop the city from building homes across from Sandy Beach in Hawaii Kai.
Phil Estermann, who headed up the Sandy Beach preservation petition, said it took about 10 weeks to collect about 40,000 signatures.
"It was a very controversial and high-profile issue," Estermann said yesterday. "There wasn't Internet in those days or even e-mail, but there was a lot of support from all parts of the island to protect Sandy Beach."
But the mass-transit issue could have trouble garnering support, said Neal Milner, a University of Hawaii political scientist. "It's made to be a fairly difficult process," Milner said. "I have no idea if they can get the signatures needed. I would say, if it got on the ballot, the anti-rail (supporters) would have a shot."
The City Clerk's Office must receive 44,535 verified signatures of registered voters by Aug. 1 for the issue to go on the ballot, said Election Administrator Glen Takahashi.