Council OKs ballot question on transit
Unanimous Council vote would put rail on ballot
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Oahu residents will likely have the opportunity to vote on the city's proposed $4 billion rail transit system.
In a unanimous vote yesterday, the City Council approved a ballot question that would ask voters, "Shall the powers, duties, and functions of the city, through its director of transportation services, include establishment of a steel wheel on steel rail transit system?"
Several councilmembers say the outcome of the November ballot question will finally put the debate of building a mass-transit system -- an idea that had been proposed as early as the 1970s -- to an end.
A petition by an anti-rail group to place a question on the ballot is pending.
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The City Council unanimously approved a measure yesterday to make sure Oahu residents have the opportunity to vote in November on the city's proposed $4 billion rail transit system.
Here are the two proposals for rail-transit questions on the November general election ballot:
A bill passed by the City Council would create a City Charter amendment with the question:
"Shall the powers, duties, and functions of the city, through its director of transportation services, include establishment of a steel wheel on steel rail transit system?"
Stop Rail Now's proposal for a petition initiative would create an ordinance:
"Shall an ordinance be adopted to prohibit rail or trains for a mass-transit system?"
There will likely be only one rail-transit question on the general election ballot.
The City Council provided a condition that if an anti-rail group is successful in getting a petition initiative on the ballot, the Council's question will not be placed on the ballot.
Several City Council members say the outcome of the November ballot question will finally put the debate of building a mass-transit system -- proposed as early as the 1970s -- to an end.
"The real winners here today are the voters of the Oahu, because they get the final vote on rail," said Councilman Charles Djou.
The City Council voted 8-0 to approve a question on whether the City Charter should be amended to allow a "steel wheel on steel rail" transit system.
Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall, who is undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer, was absent from the meeting. Due to the death of her mother, Marshall missed two other meetings this year with crucial transit decisions -- selecting the technology for the mass transit system -- that resulted in repeated 4-4 deadlocked votes.
The bill now goes to Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who has said he favors giving the public a chance to vote on the issue, but he has not ruled out vetoing the bill depending on the wording.
Hannemann has long favored a light rail system for the first elevated 20-mile stretch from Kapolei to Ala Moana, and wants a transit authority to oversee its operation. While a majority of the Council supports the transit system in general, a minority has strongly opposed the technology Hannemann has selected.
"Given what has happened over the last few months, I think it has become urgent that the voters get the chance to vote," Councilman Todd Apo said.
Apo said he prefers the City Council's question to pose to voters versus Stop Rail Now's version, which would create an ordinance to prohibit rail transit.
Essentially, though, several councilmembers say, the two questions have the same impact. If voters reject the rail transit system, it would show there is no public support for the project, and it would not receive the funding or political backing it needs to move forward.
In another decision yesterday, the Council rejected Hannemann's proposal to ask voters to create a semiautonomous public transit authority to oversee the transit system. The measure would have needed six votes to be placed on the November ballot but received only five votes.
The dissenting councilmembers were Donovan Dela Cruz, Ann Kobayashi and Djou. Dela Cruz said he could not support a public transit authority that did not have more state representatives on the board since the state would have to provide the bulk of the funding.
City Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka said he was disappointed the Council rejected the transit authority but that the issue will be revisited in another election in two years.
"We're sorry we were unable to come up with a configuration that everyone was able to agree on," Yoshioka said. "We fully anticipate in two years we'll try it again. We can still function without the authority now, but ultimately, when we're going full steam ahead, we want the public transit authority."
City Clerk Denise De Costa is still checking whether Stop Rail Now has enough signatures on its petition initiative. De Costa's deadline is Sept. 3. The deadline for the city to submit all general election information to the state Elections Office is Sept. 5.
Stop Rail Now said it has collected 49,041 signatures, of which they anticipate 20 percent to 25 percent will be invalid. It is unclear whether the group needs about 30,000 or 45,000 signatures of registered voters to succeed in getting a ballot question.
The City Council began examining ways to create a charter amendment late last month after De Costa ruled that a petition initiative to block the city's project could not be on the November ballot, according to her interpretation of the City Charter.
Stop Rail Now followed by filing a lawsuit that resulted in a state judge ordering De Costa to process the petition.