Honolulu voters approved six ballot questions to amend the City Charter. The most high-profile change will be the creation of a semi-autonomous agency to manage planning, construction, operation and eventual expansion of the city’s rail project.

The move means the city’s rapid transit division — now one of five divisions in the Honolulu Transportation Department — will split away from the city to become the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit.

The new agency will use the Ali‘i Place work space the division already uses, and will be led by 10 board members as follows:

  • State Department of Transportation director
  • City Department of Transportation Services director
  • City Department of Planning and Permitting director (non-voting member)
  • Board member appointed by mayor
  • Board member appointed by mayor
  • Board member appointed by mayor
  • Board member appointed by City Council
  • Board member appointed by City Council
  • Board member appointed by City Council
  • A tenth board member will be appointed by the eight voting board members

Board members will be considered volunteers. Almost immediately, the board will begin working on a six-year capital program. The completion of such a plan in the first six months of the board’s existence is a condition of the resolution that created HART.

The authority will set all fares and fees, buy land, enter into contracts, promote rail-area development and seek federal grants. Board members will have the power to manage much of the project independently from the city, but there are some checks and balances, too. The board will be required to submit annual progress reports to Mayor Peter Carlisle and to the City Council. HART will also have to get approval for some decisions from the council.

Officials say HART will operate much like the semi-autonomous Board of Water Supply. The rail authority remains separate from TheBus management, though officials say the two could merge sometime in the future.

Those who supported the creation of the authority said it will help streamline the project, and reduce political distractions. Those who spoke out against HART had argued that it would reduce transparency, and add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the project.

Office of Housing returns to Honolulu

Voters approved a measure to restore a distinct Office of Housing within the city.

The genesis for its creation – after a similar office was removed from the city more than a decade ago – is to address the following:

  • Increasing costs to own and rent homes in Honolulu
  • Growing numbers of homeless
  • A lack of a central agency to field concerns for affordable housing advocates
  • The fact that every other county in the state has a similar entity

Mayor Peter Carlisle will appoint the housing office’s director, who will report directly to the mayor. Office leadership will work closely with the Office of Community Services, which now oversees many housing issues.

Carlisle spoke out against the need for such a housing office, saying there’s no justification for the added cost, and that the organizational structure already in place is sufficient.

The creation of the office seems largely symbolic. Its budget is less than $125,000 this fiscal year, which is enough to cover salaries for two full-time employees.

The other charter amendments voters approved include resolutions that will:

  • Create more precise laws regarding conflict of interest for newly-appointed city workers
  • Allow the Liquor Commission to hire and dismiss its leadership
  • Clarify some language inconsistencies in an existing portion of the Charter
  • Update the parameters by which departments can dispose of equipment that’s no longer needed

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