Public vote on rail system will end divisive debate
I voted against the largest tax increase in Hawaii history to finance Honolulu's rail system because I believe the system is too expensive and not enough people will ride the project to justify its enormous cost. Nevertheless, I respect that reasonable people can disagree with my position. This debate on rail is one of the most contentious and divisive in recent Hawaii political history. We now must let the people of Oahu vote at the ballot box and settle this debate once and for all.
A direct vote on rail benefits both sides of the rail debate. For those who support a steel-on-steel rail system, nothing can more effectively lend confidence toward the construction of a rail system, silence naysayers and end the endless debate as a favorable vote at the polls. For those who oppose rail, nothing can more effectively kill the system than a negative vote. Your city government has debated rail off and on for more than three decades now. Rather than have the politicians (or the courts) continue to dicker over this question, the time has come to let the people decide.
Thus far, the mayor and nine City Council members are the only people who have had the opportunity to directly participate in the decision to move forward with a steel-on-steel rail system on Oahu. This rail decision holds enormous implications for everyone who lives on Oahu. Rail will literally transform the landscape of our island and affect the pocketbooks of every resident for decades. In my political career, no other issue has divided the public as much as rail. That's why all of Oahu's voters deserve the opportunity to directly tell Honolulu Hale if they want this system or not.
The city's decision to move forward on a rail system thus far has clearly proven to be extremely divisive and controversial. On a project of this magnitude, with no clear community consensus, your government should look directly to the voters to definitively resolve this rail issue. If rail moves forward without a direct mandate from the people, the system will always have a cloud hanging over it and doubts about the system's legitimacy will always linger. Such doubt is unhealthy for any democracy and will prove fatal to any system's long-term success. A positive rail vote will bind future mayors and City Councils, and prevent further squabbling over mass transit.
Of course, I don't support putting every question before the government on the ballot. That is impractical and inefficient. But from time to time a major issue of significant impact arises and the public clearly understands its importance. In a democracy, those major questions deserve to be placed on the ballot for a vote and rail is such a question. In 2006, the city put a question on the ballot to ask voters if bikeways should be a part of Honolulu's transportation plan. Surely, in 2008 we can similarly find a way to allow the people to vote on whether a rail system should be a part of Honolulu's transportation plan.
Virtually every U.S. city that has opted to move forward with a rail system put the question on the ballot and asked the public for approval. Oahu voters deserve the same respect -- let's finally end this debate on rail with a vote at the polls.
Charles K. Djou represents District IV (Waikiki-East Honolulu) on the Honolulu City Council.