Rail route changes trigger harsh words


POSTED: Monday, November 17, 2008
This story has been corrected. See below.

The recent proposal to change the city's $5 billion rail transit line to go to the airport over Salt Lake has ignited a firestorm among city officials and bickering over alleged broken promises and political motives.

Two years ago, when Mayor Mufi Hannemann first proposed revisiting the idea of building a mass transit system in Honolulu, a majority of the City Council approved the project but were at odds over the route.

As a compromise to capture the support of Councilman Romy Cachola, the fifth of nine votes, Hannemann agreed to bring the 20-mile stretch through Cachola's district, Salt Lake.

The details of a meeting between Hannemann, Cachola and several members of the Salt Lake community before the crucial vote remained unclear at that time. Now that the City Council is once again considering a route change, details and slightly different versions of that meeting are slowly emerging.

“;I said to them, 'I have to keep rail going. For it to die right now would send a very negative message to Washington,'”; Hannemann recalled last week. “;So I'm willing to go along with Salt Lake, but we also need the support of your councilmember.”;

According to Cachola, Hannemann had told Salt Lake members, “;If you want Salt Lake, I will give it to you.”;

Apparently, councilmembers who were not at that meeting knew of the agreement reached behind closed doors.

City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who voted against the Kapolei-to-airport route but supported another version with a line running to her district of Manoa, recalled hearing of the agreement as well.

“;I was poised to vote for the airport route when we voted years ago,”; said Kobayashi at Wednesday's City Council meeting. “;But the day before the vote, the night before, the councilmember from that district approached me ... saying a commitment had been made by the mayor saying that the rail would go to the Salt Lake area. That's why I voted against the airport, because I did not want to be the one to break that commitment.”;

Apo, who recently replaced Barbara Marshall as the Council's chairman, called on the other members to drop their political bantering to support the airport route, which he views as the most logical to accommodate Hawaii's tourism industry.

Apo said the proposal would still allow for a spur to go to Salt Lake eventually, just not in the first segment with an expected completion in 2012.

AS CACHOLA accuses Hannemann of reneging on a promise, Hannemann is quick to point out an advertisement of Cachola endorsing Kobayashi for mayor in her failed election earlier this month.

In an advertisement that ran in the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle, there is a photo of Cachola, his wife and Kobayashi at one of her campaign fundraisers. Below the photo, the advertisement goes on to talk about Kobayashi's “;EZWay”; mass transit system, which she proposed to counter Hannemann's rail project.

“;He never supported 'steel on steel,'”; Hannemann said. “;He never came out to refute Ann on EZWay. For him to now accuse me on reneging on a commitment ... I haven't flip-flopped like he has.”;

In April, Cachola did not vote for Hannemann's preferred technology for a “;steel wheel on steel rail”; system that deadlocked the City Council in a nine-hour meeting.

While Cachola did not support the technology then, he said he voted “;yes”; in the Nov. 4 ballot question approving the rail system.

“;Saying that I did not support rail is not correct because I voted up on rail,”; Cachola said. “;I did not support Ann's EZWay.”;

Cachola said the ad ran with his photo without his consent. And while he endorsed Kobayashi for mayor, that was not an endorsement of her mass transit plan.

CITY COUNCILMAN Charles Djou and Apo resurrected the route selection issue after a majority of the voters approved the system on the ballot question.

While Hannemann failed to get enough votes for the airport route last year, with Djou's support there is a high possibility it could pass this time around.

This puts Hannemann in a difficult position since he has the power to veto the bill, though he has not said he would.

Djou called on Hannemann to veto the bill if he had made some sort of promise, a remark that Hannemann said is politically driven.

“;Djou is a political opportunist,”; Hannemann said this week. “;This is all about his congressional race in 2010. He doesn't care about the airport. He saw that 53 percent of the voters voted for (the rail system) and is now going along with that.”;

Hannemann's remarks come after the City Council completed one step of several more needed to change the transit alignment. “;(Djou) should be championing (the bill) all the way,”; Hannemann said. “;He should be saying, 'The mayor shouldn't veto. The mayor should do what he wanted to do in the first place.'”;

Djou, one of Hannemann's most vocal critics, had little in response. There is a possibility the two will face each other in future political races. Hannemann has expressed interest in running for governor or Congress in 2010.

“;I am championing the bill,”; said Djou, who has already announced his intent to run for Congress in 2010. “;If I didn't believe it was the best route, I would have introduced the bill. He likes to read motives into people.”;






        » City Councilmen Todd Apo and Gary Okino were not present at a 2007 meeting with Mayor Mufi Hannemann, City Councilman Romy Cachola and community members when an alleged promise was made that the city's rail transit route would go through Salt Lake. A Page A3 article yesterday said Apo and Okino attended the meeting.