Honolulu’s train is planned to run 20 miles, from Kapolei to Kakaako.

But the vast majority of the people who will make all the decisions regarding Oahu’s transit project don’t live anywhere near the proposed route.

Eight of the nine confirmed members of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit live east of Chinatown. Six of them live east of the final station and may never use the train in their daily commute.

The semi-autonomous authority is tasked with construction, maintenance and operation of the project. Rail broke ground in Kapolei in February.

In terms of geographic representation, only one member of the authority, Damien Kim, lives in an area relatively close to Kapolei. Kim, a business manager and financial secretary of the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers chapter, was nominated by the City Council and confirmed Wednesday. He told Civil Beat his residence is in Waikele, above Waipahu. Google maps plots him about 4-5 miles from the start of the line.

Is it a problem that the multi-billion dollar project has so few decision makers living in regions that will be actually be affected by rail? Should more members have been chosen that live closer to a route constructed solely for the purpose of relieving traffic congestion in the west?

Not according to the chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee and a longtime rail supporter Breene Harimoto. He says the members were selected by the caliber of their abilities — not their proximity to the project.

“First thing is that the council resolution does specify the requirements in terms of expertise and that’s really what we focused on,” Harimoto told Civil Beat. “Our goal was to get a mix of expertise, so members compliment each other’s skills. That was the goal.”

But Christopher Grandy, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who specializes in public administration, said that if the members didn’t have experience in the western part of Honolulu, it could be a problem.

“Suppose that, in fact, these eight of the nine have lived for a long time in east Honolulu, would that be a concern?” Grandy asked. “I think, actually, that would be of some concern. At least there would an appearance of some sort of problem here that I would think would have to paid attention to.”

Two other members of the authority live near where rail will terminate. Keslie Hui, development manager for Forest City Enterprises lives in Kakaako. David Tanoue, Honolulu’s planning and permitting director, lives Downtown. Tanoue is the non-voting member on the board.

The current phasing plan for rail calls for the project to finish in Kakaako. So, assuming city estimates are correct, and the line is completed by 2019, it’s possible Hui and Tanoue could see the project impact their immediate surroundings while they’re still on the board.

The other members of the authority live in Aina Haina, Diamond Head, Hawaii Kai or the Kahala/Kaimuki area. The table and map below show what areas the members live and their zip codes:

Member Home Zip Code Area
William “Buzzy” Hong 96825 Hawaii Kai, Koko Head
Carrie Okinaga 96821 Aina Haina
Don Horner 96815 Diamond Head
Keslie Hui 96813 Kakaako
Damien Kim 96797 Waikele, Waipahu
Ivan Lui-Kwan 96821 Aina Haina
Wayne Yoshioka 96825 Hawaii Kai, Koko Head
Glenn Okimoto 96816 Kahala, Kaimuki
David Tanoue 96813 Downtown, Honolulu


(Residential locations on the map do not indicate the exact address of a board member, just their ZIP code.)

Harimoto said the problem he has with creating an authority based on geographic representation is that each community would lobby for its own member.

“I think it’s just human nature,” Harimoto said. “I want somebody from Kapolei because that’s where it starts. I want somebody who lives in Aiea because that’s where a major station is. I want somebody from the Windward side… It’s like, where do you stop? (The council) only has three nominees and I think it’s wise for us to just concentrate on what they bring to the table, rather than where they live.”

When Harimoto was reminded that he himself represents a geographic district, and that individual communities may have individual needs that could be best understood by someone living in the district, Harimoto said that’s precisely what he’s trying to avoid.

“That’s exactly the issue that, personally, I’m trying to stay away from. Because we only can appoint three representatives. So which three communities do you pick?”

Harimoto offered the example of ethic diversity as rationale behind avoiding selection of specific community representatives.

“To me, it’s similar to Council Member (Romy) Cachola’s requirement that we pick somebody who is of Filipino ancestry,” Harimoto said. “So where do you end? I want somebody with Japanese ancestry, I want somebody of Korean ancestry, I want somebody Caucasian. Where do you do draw the line?”

Grandy, the UH prof, told Civil Beat that because Hawaii has become so much more mobile over the last century, there may be no issue with HART members living apart from the rail project.

“My guess is that, historically, this concern about geographic representation would have been quite important because people were less mobile,” Grandy said. “That may have changed dramatically — in fact, I’m sure its changed dramatically in the last fifty to one hundred years — people move all the time. So it may, in fact, be not desirable to have the person whose chosen from, say, Waipahu, have just recently moved there from Aina Haina.”

Grandy’s point is that some of the members may have lived or had experience on the west side of Oahu before settling in the east. If that were the case, they, presumably, could be just as qualified to represent those communities on the authority as those who currently live in the west.

On the other hand, Grandy says if they have had little experience in the west, there could be a problem with representation.

He said if that were the case, it’s possible that the abilities of the members could outweigh geographic importance. “But I would think that would have to be articulated in order to allay the concern,” Grandy said. “And I think it’s a legitimate concern.”