MIKE BURLEY / MBURLEY@STARBULLETIN.COM
Stop Rail Now organizer Cliff Slater carried a box of signed petitions after the courts ruled yesterday morning that the initiative would be placed on the ballots for voters to decide the fate of a rail system for Honolulu.
Anti-rail effort wins in court
The City Council is considering pulling back on its effort for a charter amendment
STORY SUMMARY »
Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto ruled in favor of an anti-rail group yesterday, ordering the city clerk to immediately begin processing its petition initiative -- a small victory in its attempt to stop the city's planned $4 billion rail transit system.
In a strongly worded ruling, Sakamoto said yesterday, "The voice of the people cannot be suffocated by the erroneous reading of the law by its own government."
City Clerk Denise De Costa began processing the 49,041 signatures on the group's petition yesterday afternoon and said she will abide by Sakamoto's ruling, although the city might still appeal.
Stop Rail Now and De Costa could also return to court over an unsettled dispute on the number of verified signatures of registered voters required to place a question on the November general election ballot.
The ruling could also jeopardize measures moving through the City Council calling for City Charter amendments relating to the rail transit system. Some councilmembers contend that having multiple questions would be too confusing for voters.
FULL STORY »
Oahu voters could have the chance to vote on up to three questions related to the city's $4 billion rail transit system on the November ballot ... or perhaps none.
Stop rail petitions will be counted.
Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto's ruling yesterday in favor of anti-rail group Stop Rail Now is a small victory for the group's attempt to block the city's project but does not guarantee that a rail question will appear on the November ballot.
The decision could also affect several City Charter amendment proposals before the City Council that would allow Oahu residents to vote on the project.
Some councilmembers said they might withdraw their support for the amendments, saying that having more than one question on the ballot would be confusing for voters.
"I want to make sure we have one question on the ballot, not zero or two," said Councilman Charles Djou. "I think multiple questions would be unnecessarily confusing, especially the way the questions are phrased."
Councilman Todd Apo disagreed, saying the City Council should still act in case Stop Rail Now's petition does not appear on the ballot.
"I think it would be crazy at this point for the Council to stop this process," Apo said. "It's not preferable to have two questions on the ballot dealing with rail, but it would be dangerous to stop the process and end up with no question."
Mayor Mufi Hannemann would prefer one ballot question on rail, according to his office. Hannemann also has the power to veto City Charter amendments approved by the City Council, vetoes that cannot be overridden.
Sakamoto's decision yesterday reverses the actions of City Clerk Denise De Costa, who refused to accept Stop Rail Now's petition on Aug. 4, saying it called for a special election and could not be included with the general election in November.
"The public interest is quite clear," Sakamoto said. "The voice of the people cannot be suffocated by the erroneous reading of the law by its own government."
Don Kitaoka, the city's deputy corporation counsel representing De Costa, said the city will abide by Sakamoto's ruling and will determine later whether the city will appeal.
"If they (Stop Rail Now) had asked to put the petition on the general election ballot, we wouldn't have any problem today," Kitaoka said yesterday. "We wouldn't be in court and wasting anyone's money. We would be verifying signatures as we speak."
But there is also a strong possibility the Stop Rail Now initiative might not have enough signatures to make it to the November ballot.
Sakamoto, in his ruling, ordered De Costa to process Stop Rail Now's petition but did not make clear his stance on the number of signatures necessary.
For several months the city clerk and Stop Rail Now have debated whether the group needs about 30,000 or 45,000 signatures from verified registered voters to succeed in its petition initiative.
The group has collected 49,041 signatures. But many signatures are normally thrown out if residents list an address different from their voter registration forms or if they are not registered voters.
"I doubt if we have the 45,000 signatures," said Earle Partington, the group's attorney, "but we need about 30,000. Unfortunately, the court did not address that, so that means we may have to go back to court."
Stop Rail Now submitted its petition, which totaled more than 11,000 sheets, to De Costa again yesterday.
De Costa has 20 working days to certify the signatures, according to the City Charter. It is unclear whether the 20-day countdown started yesterday or on Aug. 4, the original date the group had tried to submit its petition.
The deadline for De Costa to submit any ballot information, including questions for voters, to the state Elections Office is Sept. 5.