Welcome to Inside Honolulu! The Honolulu City Council has recessed until 2011, but there’s still work to be done. There’s also a council vacancy to be filled, with one day until the special election. Civil Beat is reporting from the inside.

Scoping Out New Digs

12:09 p.m.
Incoming City Council member Stanley Chang stopped by to check out the photos of City Council members posted on the wall at Honolulu Hale this afternoon. His photo will soon be among them. The wall will look very different when four new City Council members are sworn in this week. (Council members will be sworn in on Thursday, but the ceremonial swearing in will take place at a Jan. 3 council meeting.)

A fifth new council member will join them after he or she is elected in Wednesday’s District 1 special election. That person can’t be sworn in until after a 20-day challenge period.

Chang also ran into acting Neighborhood Commission Executive Secretary Baybee Hufana-Ablan. She welcomed Chang to the city, and said her friends had jokingly placed bets on whether Chang, “the young man,” would beat “the old man,” his District 4 opponent Rich Turbin. Hufana-Ablan assured Chang that she took the bet he would win.

Back to Business for City Leaders

11:02 a.m.
It’s a slow week at a heavily decorated Honolulu Hale, where Christmas music is still piping out of loudspeakers.

It’s likely things won’t really pick up until after the new year, when new City Council members are sworn in. But it’s back to the daily grind for the mayor’s Cabinet.

Department directors like Wayne Yoshioka, Collins Lam, Sam Moku, Gordon Bruce and Dave Tanoue arrived at Honolulu Hale for their regular Tuesday morning Cabinet meeting today. We also spotted Bill Balfour, Honolulu’s former Parks & Recreation director who is rejoining the department as a special assistant under Mayor Peter Carlisle.

City Council Chairman Nestor Garcia gave us a quick wave in passing. He then turned and called over his shoulder: “I’ll have to get back to you on your request (about credentials for Furlough Fridays).”

Civil Beat is also still waiting for a response from the mayor’s office on whether reporters can have access to City Hall as Honolulu officials conduct business there on furlough days.

Rail and Identity Politics

9:27 a.m.
Honolulu isn’t the only city engaged in a seemingly never-ending rail debate. Our city’s director of transit-oriented development says the debate is natural. In his experience, he says, about a third of the population is always either for or against a major infrastructure project, and it’s the remaining third that must be convinced.

Maybe so, but The Economist offers another theory: Maybe high-speed rail in America has stopped being about transport or traffic or smart growth, and has become “part of America’s never-ending culture war.” The writer goes on to describe the American resentment for the educated elite, and how that seeps into rail debates.

The essay is actually in response to another commentary by Economist writer Ryan Avent, who expresses frustration about the fundamental debate over high-speed rail (HSR):

“With heavy auto subsidies, HSR becomes a boondoggle rather than a savvy investment, and so bollixed is better than bollixed plus HSR. But that’s not actually the choice we face. Amid heavy congestion and with the pressure of 100 million more Americans bearing down on governments, new construction will take place. And so the decision is between bollixed plus HSR and bollixed plus new highways. And on almost every measure, bollixed plus highways is the worse of the two options.”

But then, Avent is writing in response to a tweet by the business and economics editor for The Atlantic, Megan McArdle, who on Dec. 13 wrote: “Okay, I like trains and all, but the bemoaning of America’s lack of high-speed rail seems out of proportion to any possible benefits.”

Even news parody The Onion is joining the debate, with these quips about “The Future Of High Speed Rail.”

So where does all of this leave us? With added layers to a high-speed rail debate that shows no signs of resolution, with or without new trains.

City Fills Thousands of Potholes After Heavy Rains

If you’ve found your morning commute a bit bumpier than usual since winter rain began soaking Oahu last week, you’re not alone. The city’s pothole hotline has been ringing, and the Road Maintenance Division’s Lan Yoneda says there’s been no shortage of work.

“After last week’s storm, crews filled in about 2,600 potholes,” Yoneda told Civil Beat. “We try to fill up the potholes after the rain as soon as we can get the material. Pothole repair is a priority, especially because it becomes a liability.”

But Yoneda said he doesn’t know how many road repairs remain undone.

“We only get a report of our crews what they did,” Yoneda said. “We don’t actually actively look for it. We get (repair work) from the hotline calls. They go out and look at it and if they see others along the way they fill that in, too.”

Catch Up on Previous Editions of Inside Honolulu

Monday, Dec. 27: Old fireworks laws to go out with a bang; Final push for candidates in the District 1 special election; city encourages residents to recycle Christmas trees; More rain on the horizon.

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