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Opinion

Letter to the next mayor: We need a better planning process

Hardline supporters or opponents of this rail plan have an easy choice on Tuesday. But moderates – such as myself – who want mass transit yet oppose the specifics of this rail plan are in a difficult position.

in Honolulu Mayoral Race in Rail

In Kirk Caldwell, we have an advocate for rail, but a poorly thought out and executed plan. Caldwell is a development attorney tied into the gravitational center of Hawaii politics, and he supports the development of Ewa ag lands. He was at or near the helm of the city when the current round of rail contracts, with their skyrocketing costs, were negotiated. A vote for Caldwell is a vote for rail, but also an endorsement of Hawaii’s powerful development-finance complex.

In Cayetano, meanwhile, we have a candidate who no longer needs the support of the downtown business establishment, and so can stand up against it. His “FAST” plan hasn’t had any public hearings, and at first glance is too accommodating of our automotive addiction. A vote cast for Cayetano is a vote against the power elite, but it may not really address our fundamentally flawed transportation or land use system.

We’re in this position because the supporters of rail – Hannemann, the multinational rail contractors, Ewa developers, the Star-Advertiser, and construction unions – fast-tracked a system with minimal public participation. The result? Litigation, polarization, and a strange mayoral vote which is a proxy for a transit policy.

The public deserves a real public process around transit, separate from the question of who should be mayor.

Both plans suffer from the lack of public process. In spite of the Nov. 1 federal court decision, the city’s plan plainly lacked a discussion of a range of alternatives. Well thought-out proposals like Kamehameha School’s light rail proposal were dismissed out of hand.

Good ideas for the future of our island deserve a fair hearing. The KS proposal, FAST, the current HART plan – put them on the wall, and let’s talk about it.

Right now, Oahu’s General Plan is undergoing revision. The process has been delayed, and has received a tiny fraction of the funds that have gone into promoting rail. The revision of the General Plan (and the regional plans) is the perfect opportunity for our community to reexamine land use, which should lay the foundation for a smarter transit plan.

So to our next mayor: let’s have a renewed public planning process around land use and transportation.

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