We might need another table and a few more chairs.

The federal lawsuit seeking to stop the Honolulu rail project in its tracks — already packed with eight named plaintiffs and a handful of government defendants — could get even bigger if three new would-be intervenors are granted a spot in front of the judge.

The new players filing requests Tuesday were Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE), a faith-based organization, Pacific Resource Partnership (PRP), a construction union advocacy group, and Kapolei resident Melvin Uesato. They’re jumping in on the side of the city and federal governments in support of the rail project, and hitting back against opponents who have been on the attack in recent months.

If the judge allows the intervention, FACE state director Drew Astolfi told Civil Beat the organizations will become “sort of co-defendants or junior partners” in the case. FACE is pushing for rail because the project will reduce commute times and get the city closer to tackling the affordable housing crisis.

“We’ve got a problem with the way the lawsuit is playing out,” Astolfi said, adding that opponents have had the “whip hand” in the lawsuit so far. “It just seemed like if we didn’t do it, we’d be really missing a chance to see our interests move forward.”

PRP’s main issues are job creation and economic opportunities, though quality of life is also near the top of the list. Executive Director John White said his group hopes to highlight the “human element” of the project in court.

“Our opponents believe that this was a venue to raise concerns for rail, so I think it’s important for us to engage those who don’t believe rail is right for Honolulu’s future,” White said.

After the first court appearance in November, a judge ruled all the plaintiffs and all their claims could stay in the case, at least until the city government and the Federal Transit Administration produce documents. Opponents hailed that as a victory and said the government is trying to delay the case and run up the tab.

“From our side, we’re trying to just assert the public interest in the case in a way that would not be done by the FTA or the city, who are going to be tackling the specific items of the complaint,” Astolfi said. “There is a real philosophical debate here about what matters most, and we think the lives of Leeward Oahu’s people should weigh heavier than viewplane issues or issues of cost.”

Cliff Slater, a vocal rail opponent and the man behind HonoluluTraffic.com, laughed when Civil Beat informed him of FACE’s motion to intervene.

“What is really strange … (FACE) has to be the only organization that speaks on behalf of the poor and the downtrodden so to speak that is on the side of the rail,” Slater said. “If you go to Los Angeles, Vancouver, New York, there the people from those kinds of groups are fighting the rail because rail always, when they run into financial trouble, they always cut bus service first.

“Wherever you’ve got rail lines, especially new rail lines, this is a major problem,” he said. “The average train rider on (San Francisco’s) BART is the wealthiest people using it as a commuter service. The people are paying for it out of the sales tax, and the sales is the most regressive tax there is.”

Slater rejected the assertion that the lawsuit is in part a public relations campaign against the project.

“What we’re saying is that the city has violated all the statutes that we enumerate in our claim, in our complaint,” Slater said. “What you’re supposed to do is choose a route and a technology that has the least impact on historic places and burial grounds. They didn’t do that.”

Astolfi said he believes his organization should be allowed into the case because it’s spent more than $100,000 advocating and organizing for the rail project and would see its corporate interests harmed if the project were delayed any further. He also said FACE raised the idea of bus rapid transit and monorail years ago and would have preferred those technologies, but believes that the process to eliminate them and instead move forward with steel-on-steel rail was above board.

“We’ll see if the judge says we have standing or not,” he said.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation welcomed the intervenors. In a written statement provided by a spokeswoman, HART Interim Executive Director Toru Hamayasu said:

The rail project has broad support among business, labor and community groups, as well as support from the majority of voters who backed the project and the creation of the public transit authority. This means rail supporters are ready to stand with the City in defending against the lawsuit because they know what it’s like to fight traffic daily, they understand the need for jobs and they see what this project will do for the community.

FACE, PRP and Uesato are sharing attorneys. Uesato, the Kapolei resident, works for First Hawaiian Bank and would not be available to comment until after business hours, Astolfi said.

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