City Council members are taking up a slew of money-related measures in committee meetings this week. Expect to hear debate over funding for rail, the new transit agency’s budget, whether a city subsidy for recycling companies should continue and new discussion of fireworks storage on Oahu.
We’ll also find out how Honolulu officials plan to cope with a cap on TAT revenue, which both Mayor Peter Carlisle and council Chairman Nestor Garcia warned would hurt the city’s ability to balance its budget. Civil Beat is reporting from the inside.
City Council members advanced Bill 40 to authorize the issuance and sale of some bonds in a special City Council meeting this evening. Council members defeated related Bills 39 and 41.
Bill 40 still has several steps of approval before the City Council is in a position to give it final approval.
City Council members continue to wrestle with a trio of measures that would authorize the city to issue and sell bonds related to rail. While a city lawyer and Budget and Fiscal Services Director Mike Hansen first emphasized that the council would still get final authorization down the road, City Council member Stanley Chang argued that the later authorization would just pertain to the timing of the issuances and sales.
“Again, to clarify, Bill 39, Bill 40 and Bill 41 all say that the administration is authorized to issue and sell the full amount, no less than the full amount,” Chang said. “After which, I believe the second step that keeps getting referred to is merely the council’s power to refer to the timing.”
City Managing Director Doug Chin said the council could vet those issues and tighten language through the next few readings of the bills, but Chang contended that issue, saying there were some critical things that the City Council wouldn’t be able to change.
City Council member Ernie Martin said he was disappointed in what he called “inconsistent” testimony from the administration, and the fact that Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka and Rapid Transit chief Toru Hamayasu were not present.
“I am very disappointed in the level of testimony,” Martin said. “For them not to be here, I find that very disappointing. Should we proceed further, if that’s the same level of participation we can expect, you can be sure as budget chair I’d be remiss not to delete this portion from the budget.”
City officials have sent out another warning to motorists about the outage. A text message that went out via the city’s emergency notification system reads:
“HPD asks all motorists to approach intersections with caution. Unknown when power will be restored. Thank your for your patience. No other information available.”
Weather outside remains gray and gloomy.
An emergency alert advisory from the Honolulu Police Department says: “Traffic signals are currently affected by an island-wide power outage. Unknown when power will be restored.”
City Council members are discussing three bills that would authorize the city to issue and sell bonds for its $5.3 billion rail project.
Budget and Fiscal Services Director Mike Hansen is answering the council’s questions on behalf of the administration, but at least one council member wants to know why Department of Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka and Rapid Transit Division chief Toru Hamayasu are absent.
City Council member Ikaika Anderson said he wants to know why — when the City Council believes an issue is important enough to merit a special City Council meeting — city transportation leaders didn’t show.
“I’m puzzled and quite frankly a little distrurbed that we don’t have anybody from RTD or DTS here,” Anderson said.
Ten members of the public have now testified against three bills that would authorize the city to issue and sell bonds for rail. So far, no one has testified in support of the measures.
City Council members are gathered for a special City Council meeting to discuss issuing and selling bonds to pay for rail. Eight of nine members are present: City Council Chairman Nestor Garcia is excused because he is out of town, Vice Chair Breene Harimoto said.
Some of the bond money would be used to pay for a new transit agency’s budget.
“This thing is built on nothing but a big pack of lies and they’re starting to come home to roost,” said George Fox in testimony before the council. “This is ridiculous. … You act like you don’t pay taxes.”
Also among them was vocal rail critic Cliff Slater, who said his attorneys are “very confident” they’ll win a forthcoming lawsuit against the city, focusing on the environmental assessment for rail. He called it “a project that most probably will fail.”
City Council member Ann Kobayashi said she “got really upset” when a member of the public, Edgar Miner called into question her support of Schnitzer Steel during discussion of Bill 47 this morning.
Miner had questioned her skepticism about the bill, which would eliminate a city subsidy that saves Schnitzer about $2 million a year. When he asked whether she had a “vested interest,” Kobayashi shouted at Miner for questioning her integrity.
Kobayashi says she has been “dealing with (Miner) for years,” and said he “attacked” her.
“Fair is fair,” Kobayashi said.
City Council member Tom Berg wants to see horse racing return to Kapiolani Park. His suggestion came during a meeting of the Kapiolani Park Trustees, which include all nine City Council members.
“I can’t think of anything more grand than to relive King Kalakaua’s dream,” Berg said. “I can’t think of anything more grand than to have a Kentucky Derby called the King Kalaukaua Derby.”
City Council member Romy Cachola seemed skeptical.
“I hope you find the money to do that without revenue,” Cachola said.
A racetrack that used to be in the park was demolished in the early 20th century.
City Council members approved four resolutions requesting additional legal resources for the city’s $5.3 billion rail project. Only City Council member Tom Berg rejected all four resolutions.
While discussion of the resolution took place behind closed doors, here are brief descriptions provided on the council agenda:
• Requesting additional funds to pay lawyers Frank Doyle, Timothy Houghton, and Craig Nishimura
• Requesting additional funds to pay Kobayashi, Sugita & Goda with regard to the procurement bid protests and procurement-related challenges for the rail project
• Requesting additional funds to pay Carlsmith Ball LLP for legal representation relating to the environmental impact assessment process for the rail project
• Requesting retention of the services of a private attorney to represent the City and County of Honolulu in matters relating to the environmental impact assessment process for the rail plan
Both Berg and City Council member Ann Kobayashi objected to the last resolution. City Council member Stanley Chang made the a disclosure that he received campaign contributions from members of the firm Kobayashi, Sugita & Goda and from legal representatives for two companies protesting the city’s rail procurement.
Council members did not discuss how much these resolutions would cost.
City Council members advanced a bill that would allow the storage of commercial fireworks on Oahu.
City Council member Stanley Chang, who introduced the bill by request, said its intent is to close a legal loophole introduced by the Oahu ban on fireworks that took effect in January.
Two fire fighters testified against the measure, calling it a threat to public safety, and arguing it would create a burden of enforcement-related duties for the department. A representative for the administration, Chrystn Eads, also testified in opposition.
Several city council members expressed concern about the bill, but only Breene Harimoto voted against advancing it. City Council Chairman Nestor Garcia was not present. Others said they were willing to move the measure forward in order to continue discussion. The city is being sued for an issue related to fireworks storage.
“We will get another crack at it,” said City Council member Ikaika Anderson. “There will be ample opportunities for the members of this committee to have the appropriate dialogue with our attorneys, the fire department, the police department and the administration.”
City Council members advanced Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle‘s pick, Thomas Heinrich, as head of the Neighborhood Commission. The full council still needs to vote on the appointment.
City Council Transportation Chairman Breene Harimoto says his fact-finding trip to Copenhagen produced more answers than questions, and called it “a good trip.”
Harimoto says he is too busy to discuss the trip today — he just returned to Honolulu last night and there are still three City Council meetings ahead today. The next meeting — the Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee — is now getting under way.
Items on the agenda include Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle‘s nomination of Thomas Heinrich to lead the Neighborhood Commission, and the storage of fireworks on Oahu.
City Council members will also go behind closed doors for an executive session, in which they plan to discuss the administration’s requests for more resources to fight rail-related lawsuits.
City Council members voted to advance Bill 47, which would end a potentially lucrative subsidy for recycling companies. The measure now goes before the full City Council for approval.
Council members are also considering two other bills that would merely reduce the subsidy.
During a heated City Council Public Works and Sustainability Committee meeting, several council members yelled at members of the public. City Council member Romy Cachola called one man “stupid” for insulting City Council member Ann Kobayashi, who had yelled at him.
City Council member Tulsi Gabbard said she believes it’s important to respect members of the public, and welcome their testimony. After Gabbard’s comments, Kobayashi thanked Cachola and City Council member Stanley Chang for having come to her defense.
Edgar Miner, the man who Cachola called “stupid,” told Civil Beat that he saw council members’ reaction as “political,” and didn’t take it personally. He said he worried his treatment would likely discourage other people from offering public testimony.
Toward the end of the meeting, City Council member Tom Berg apologized for having offended anyone with his “attitude.”
Three City Council members have yelled at members of the public offering testimony before the Public Works and Sustainability Committee, with City Council member Romy Cachola calling one man “stupid.”
A man named Edgar Miner challenged City Council member Ann Kobayashi for her defense of Schnitzer Steel. Kobayashi’s position is notable, given that she usually says saving taxpayer money is her top priority.
“Is there some vested interest or something I don’t get?” asked Miner.
Kobayashi responded by yelling at Miner.
“Do you know how long I’ve been in government?” Kobayashi shouted. “And I’ve never taken the side of a company. I don’t think we should use legislation to handle competition in business, and that’s why I was against it. I use Schnitzer as an example because that is who your guys are attacking all the time.”
“My guys are the taxpayers!” Miner responded.
“I resent the way you talk and the way you accuse me of standing up for Schnitzer,” Kobayashi said. “I’m just talking about what’s fair in government.”
Cachola went on to call Miner “stupid,” saying he always defended his fellow council members. City Council member Ikaika Anderson then reminded members of the public that they should treat council members with respect, and Stanley Chang thanked Kobayashi for her years of public service.
Berg continues to deliver passionate remarks before the Public Works and Sustainability Committee.
At one point he said, “I apologize… I’m not showboating,” but later shouted: “You bet I got an attitude! End the subsidy! End it! … I take offense at being cut off. My district! My backyard!”
He then said he wanted Matthew LoPresti, a former opponent in the race for District 1 City Council, to be the city’s “landfill czar.”
LoPresti has been working as a consultant on behalf of one of the company’s pushing for Bill 47 to pass, and was testifying before the council.
“What does the landfill have to do with Plato’s Republic?” Berg asked LoPresti, a philosophy professor at Hawaii Pacific University.
While Berg’s question appeared to be rhetorical — he didn’t stop talking to hear an answer — those gathered for the meeting laughed at LoPresti’s response.
“Philosophy without action is meaningless,” LoPresti said.
City Council member Tom Berg tried to fight Stanley Chang for the right to continue a line of questioning in a Public Works Committee which Chang chairs, shouting at Chang when he was cut off.
After hearing about 15 minutes of questions between City Council members and a member of the public, Chang asked for the next testifier to step forward.
“Are you shutting me down?” Berg shouted. “Are you telling me I can’t talk? So Council woman Kobayashi can talk but I can’t?”
Chang sternly answered: “Council member Berg, I am not recognizing your question at this time.”
Berg exhaled loudly and shoved his chair away from the table in response. Chang later reminded fellow council members to keep questions succinct and related to the matter at hand.
After that, Berg shouted at at least one member of the public after she gave testimony. Another member of the public approached the microphone saying, “I’m not sure I really want to testify with him.”
When Keith Rollman testified in support of Bill 47 before the Public Works and Sustainability Committee this morning, City Council member Tom Berg grilled him about the city’s IT system.
After learning Rollman hadn’t worked for the city — as a senior adviser in the Department of Information Technology — since October 2010, Berg still demanded answers about why he had problems with his email.
Rollman told Berg he was available as a contractor, and was available for hire to help Berg with his IT problems but said Berg should first contact the city about his frustrations with its email system.
Other city council members appeared uncomfortable — and in City Council member **Romy Cachola’s case, visibly amused — by the line of questioning.
In a surprise turn, a local scrap yard will support a reduction to — but not elimination of — a subsidy it gets from the city, a company spokeswoman says. The move appears to be Schnitzer Steel’s attempt to reach a compromise as the council moves closer to approving measure that would eliminate the discount.
Schnitzer Steel gets about $2 million per year via the subsidy, which Bill 47 would eliminate. Schnitzer Steel has defended the subsidy against those who call the subsidy “corporate welfare.”
“It has increased the overall amount the recyclers pay in tipping fees to the city,” said Jennifer Hudson of Schnitzer Steel Industries’ Metals Recycling Business before the City Council Public Works and Sustainability Committee. “The existing program is also equitable… based on the volume of recyclable materials and residue that is diverted from the landfill.”
Hudson gave testimony against Bill 47, but indicated the company would support Bill 36, which would reduce the tipping-fee discount from 80 percent to 60 percent.
“I have never before seen so much interest in this issue,” said City Council member Tom Berg. “Of all the things that I got sworn in to deal with — gas tax, property tax — it’s this. Bill 47 has won the day. Bill 47 is the issue of the day.”
Officials will conduct their monthly test of Hawaii Civil Defense sirens at 11:45 a.m. today. You will hear a 45-second steady tone from one of Oahu’s 170 sirens.
If you don’t hear your siren, call the Department of Emergency Management at 723-8960, or email email@example.com.
City Council member Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo issued a statement over the weekend to formally announce she is dropping her married name, Tamayo, and will now use her maiden name: Tulsi Gabbard.
“As you may know, my husband and I divorced a few years ago, shortly after I returned home from an 18-month long Iraq deployment with the Hawai’i Army National Guard,” Gabbard wrote. “The deployment was very hard on my husband, and on our marriage. Sadly, Eddie and I became another statistic, another sad story, illustrating the stresses war places on military spouses and families.”
Gabbard says she kept her married name for a while, hoping she and her ex-husband might get back together. She pointed out that she will personally pay for any costs associated with the change, including new business cards, signs and other items.