Council, court could keep rail off ballot
Two proposed City Charter amendments split councilmembers
STORY SUMMARY »
Citing recent polls favoring putting mass transit on the November ballot, city councilmembers advanced a measure to do just that.
But the Council is split on the question of creating a Public Transit Authority to run the rail system, and that could create a potential problem for the final passage of a charter amendment on mass transit, councilmembers said.
In the meantime, the Stop Rail Now group that is seeking a voter initiative on mass transit is still planning to present a petition to put its own rail transit question on the ballot and will go to court if it is refused.
The bottom line: There could be as many as three rail questions before voters ... or none.
FULL STORY »
At least two proposals to put the question of whether there should be a mass-transit system for Honolulu on the November ballot are moving forward on separate tracks.
A City Council committee yesterday advanced a proposed City Charter amendment to ask voters to approve mass transit, while the Stop Rail Now group says it will submit its petition to put rail on the November ballot on Monday and will go to court to make sure it gets before voters.
But it is still possible that voters will not get to have their say on the $4 billion system.
The court could rule against the Stop Rail Now petition and in favor of the city clerk, who has said the initiative must be put before voters in a special election and not as part of the general election.
And while the Council's Executive Matters Committee unanimously advanced the charter proposal, it is split on another charter amendment to create a public transit authority to plan and run the system. That split threatens to fracture any agreement to put transit on the ballot.
The mayor could also veto the charter amendment.
"Somebody's got to give in," said Councilman Gary Okino, a mass-transit supporter. "It's probably a game of chicken. Who is going to back away first?"
Councilman Charles Djou, a rail opponent who supports having voters decide the issue on the November ballot, said, "I am still cautiously optimistic that maturity will come to Honolulu Hale."
But "it is a very precarious situation," he added. "If we don't build consensus and work together on this, everything is going to fall apart."
Six Council votes are needed to put a charter amendment on the ballot. Four councilmen -- Okino, Todd Apo, Nestor Garcia and Rod Tam -- appear to favor having voters approve rail and the public transit authority in one question.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann and other rail supporters also favor one question on the ballot.
But four other councilmembers -- Ann Kobayashi, Barbara Marshall, Donovan Dela Cruz and Romy Cachola -- favor two separate questions on rail and the public transit authority. They also want to give the Council more power over the authority's actions.
Djou said he is opposed to creating the authority, but wants to see the rail question on the ballot.
The split was evident during nearly three hours of discussion at yesterday's committee meeting. Marshall was not at the meeting, but during votes to decide between six proposals for a charter amendment to create the transit authority, the votes split 4-4, with Djou siding with those who want to give the Council more power over the authority and have two questions on the ballot.
It was also evident that the Council is feeling pressure from voters who appear to favor putting the issue on the ballot.
"We've got to hold hands and we've got to stay together," Djou urged his colleagues.
"The people have the right to vote on it," Kobayashi said.
"I'm going to hold hands, because if we don't, the public will crucify this institution," Cachola said.
In the end, councilmembers decided to hear from the public on the issue at the next regular Council meeting on Wednesday, before choosing between the two competing proposals.
A final vote on the charter amendments is expected on Aug. 20. The mayor has 10 working days to veto charter amendments. If he does not veto, the amendment or amendments will be submitted to the city clerk to be put on the Nov. 4 ballot.
The City Council is split over a proposed charter amendment that would create a Public Transit Authority to plan and run a mass-transit system. There are two competing charter proposals being pushed by Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall and Councilman Todd Apo that advanced with small changes by Councilman Charles Djou. The Council is planning a public hearing on both proposals on Wednesday.
Todd Apo proposal's (known as option E)
"Shall the revised City Charter be amended to 1) establish and implement a rail mass transit system; and 2) create a semi-autonomous public transit authority responsible for the planning, construction, operation, maintenance, and expansion of such transit system?"
It would also create a board of directors consisting of nine voting members -- four appointed by the mayor, including the director of transportation services and the director of planning and permitting, and four appointed by the council. The final member would be selected by the other eight directors.
Option E would give the board more authority to set rates, issue bonds and enter into agreements with other entities.
Barbara Marshall's proposal (known as option F)
"Shall the revised City Charter be amended to create a semi-autonomous public transit authority responsible for the planning, construction, operation, maintenance, and expansion of the city's fixed guideway mass transit system?"
It would also create a seven-member board, with two members appointed by the mayor, subject to Council confirmation, and four members appointed by the Council. The seventh member would be the city's director of transportation services.
Under Option F, the Council would have more power to change fares and the budget of the transit system and to approve any deals or plans made by the transit authority.