Four short weeks until the city budget is due, but city officials have plenty of other big projects ahead: A rail groundbreaking and the mess at Waimanalo Gulch are at the forefront. Plus, the new City Council is finally up and running. Civil Beat is tracking all of it, and reporting from the inside.

Giant Bats Could Come to Honolulu

3:04 p.m.
Giant bats known as flying foxes could make Honolulu their new home. Lawmakers are considering a bill that would enable the Honolulu Zoo to import up to 10 of the monstrous mammals.

The bats have clawed wings and furry faces, and their wingspan can reach six feet. In South Asia, India and other parts of the world where the bats live, the bats have been blamed for transmitting deadly infectious diseases to humans.

The bill would also up the number of non-venemous snakes government agencies can import from two to six. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for Feb. 8.

State Attempt to Borrow Rail Money May Be “Short-Lived”

11:41 a.m.
They tried it before and they’ll try it again. State officials want to borrow $200 million from the city’s rail coffers. Senate President Shan Tsutsui introduced Senate Bill 1426 — similar to a failed attempt from last legislative session.

“It’s a bill for the state to be able to utilize the cash surplus for rail, and in return, the state would issue bonds for the rail transit system,” Tsutsui said. “We realize that the rail project will probably cost more than what they initially anticipated … We would take $200 million and they would get $300 million back.”

Tsutsui said Gov. Neil Abercrombie loved the idea, and called it “a win-win for the city and the state.” Not everyone agrees.

“This would have to be something that the city would have to be on board,” Tsutsui said. “We know (former Honolulu Mayor) Mufi Hannemann didn’t like the idea, but we thought a different administration may have a different view. From what I’ve heard, they’re not too excited about this… This may be a very short-lived bill.”

The bill gets a hearing at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 12.

Some Relief as Federal Money for Homeless Reaches City

The power shift in Congress has sparked worries about what kind of federal money will go toward myriad city and state projects. So it comes as a relief to city officials to learn Honolulu will receive more than $8.6 million to keep nearly two dozen homeless assistance programs up and running through June 2012.

The money comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It will help continue services like job training, substance abuse treatment and child care.

“I am very pleased and grateful to HUD for its continuing support of these important local programs,” wrote Mayor Peter Carlisle in a statement issued by his press secretary. “These grants provide essential support to meet critical needs of individuals and families who experience homelessness in our community.”

City Council Chairman Nestor Garcia has told Civil Beat he worries that HUD won’t come through on some of the money it regularly doles out. Garcia said it’s critical for Honolulu to secure federal housing assistance, in the form of Community Development Block Grants.

Catch Up on Inside Honolulu

Feb. 3, 2011: Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa ratchets up fight against landfill; FTA to announce New Starts funding any day.

Feb. 2, 2011: Landfill hearing gets heated; Tom Berg wants to meet fellow tea partier Michelle Bachman; City Council asks Rush Limbaugh to apologize; Rail lawsuits start trickling in.

Feb. 1, 2011: Bulky item pick-up to start again; Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz introduces bill that would create development exceptions for rail; Tom Berg invites anti-rail groups into his office to discuss next steps in rail opposition.

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