Grumbling about rail isn't going to go away


POSTED: Sunday, October 25, 2009

If colorful language were the standard for a successful election, Mufi Hannemann would stand taller than Neil Abercrombie as figuratively as he does literally in the race for governor.

Abercrombie, no slouch in the mouth department himself, was upstaged by Hannemann this week when the mayor, once again, had to defend his signature rail project against the tag-team opposition of City Councilman Charles Djou and eternal mass transit dissident Cliff Slater.

“;It's easier to grumble, grumble, grumble, to complain, complain, complain, monku, monku, monku,”; Hannemann said, summoning the word that many kids of Japanese ancestry probably heard when they whined about one thing or another, and that has been appropriated by local pidgin tongues.

If he's not already used to monku, Hannemann had best prepare for more.

City folks are champions when it comes to raising stink. Just about anything will get them going—garbage can placement, tree-trimming, bounce toys, the discomforting sight of homeless people. Monku, monku, monku.

Trivial as some of this fussing may be, people have a right, if not a duty, to complain and question what government leaders are doing.

Rail transit is too big a venture to let slide. It's not just the initial cost, now pegged at $5 billion, give or take a few hundred million, but the price tag that will persist through decades of operating and maintaining a system.

If some citizens see homeless people as unlovely, they might consider how unattractive miles of sweeping concrete palisades several stories overhead will appear on the island landscape.

There are myriad other issues: noise, pollutants, energy efficiency, flexibility and potential for integration of new technology, levels of use and displacement of homes and businesses, iwi and historic structures, to name a few.

Hannemann is well aware that these and the host of other problems, predictable and unforeseen, could interfere with his timeline for getting the first leg of rail going within the next three years. Anticipating monku in the form of legal challenges, the administration has asked Council approval of $300,000 to pay lawyers should there be a lawsuit on the city's environmental impact statement.

The mayor has been largely successful in fending off complaints by saying he has put out lots of information about the project, conducted dozens of town meetings, distributed thousands of color brochures and newsletters.

Even so, he can't simply say “;We told you already,”; and demand that if opponents have a better idea for lessening Oahu traffic congestion, they should bring it.

It's safe to say support for the project is there. It's also safe to say people still have legitimate concerns, even if they are echoed by anti-rail factions.

Regardless of who is voicing them, leadership means working hard so the community is assured that the project will be done right.

To guard against lawsuits, the mayor should have all his ducks lined up properly, his EIS properly vetted, his outreach to interest groups snugly wrapped.

Hannemann needs to alleviate fears that rail won't end up being a 6.5-mile run of high-and-dry track with good mauka-makai views not through one-upsmanship or denying them but by resolution. Muting monku isn't the answer.