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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 27, 2003

Capitol security may cost $5M

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Gov. Linda Lingle's administration has been working on a security-tightening plan for the State Capitol that would eliminate public parking in the basement and require people entering the building to walk through metal detectors, a proposal that could eventually cost more than $5 million.

State Comptroller Russ Saito said the changes are being prompted by the state's decision two weeks ago to move its security threat alert level to orange, defined as "high risk" under the federal alert system.

The administration is still talking to lawmakers about exactly what type of security equipment to implement at the Capitol, Saito said.

"We've identified different components that we think we need to consider and put in place, but we haven't completed the design on that. If we do everything we're thinking about, it's going to take us, at a minimum, $5 million but we haven't decided what elements to go forward with," he said.

Saito said he, Public Safety Director John Peyton and Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the state adjutant general, hope to have a final plan to present to the Legislature before the new session starts Jan. 21. Money for such improvements was not included in the supplemental budget that was submitted to lawmakers on Monday, Saito said.

The most immediate change, which the administration hopes to have in place in the coming weeks, would be to block the public from parking in up to 75 public, metered stalls in the basement of the Capitol. It is the only on-site parking available to the public. A security checkpoint would be set up along Miller Lane leading into the basement, possibly at the turnaround near the entrance to the 1-year-old governor's residence.

"One of the main things we need to do to beef up security is to restrict access," Saito said. "The fact that the public can just drive into the Capitol basement and seek out one of those metered parking stalls is a concern."

What, if any, replacement parking would be made available for Capitol visitors remains to be seen. Saito confirmed that one idea under consideration would require those working in the Department of Health building, on the makai side of Beretania Street from the Capitol, to swap parking stalls with those now being used by the public in the Capitol basement.

"We understand that people have a desire and need to park their cars and gain access to the Capitol," he said.

The orange alert level will eventually be downgraded but the change is expected to be long-term, if not permanent, Saito said. "Right now, there's no access control at all."

A second measure being considered would restrict pedestrian traffic in and out of the Capitol. That would likely entail the use of metal detectors, Saito said, and a reduction of access points.

"Access would not be as easy as it is now," he said.

Those who designed the Capitol in the 1960s intended for it to convey an open and welcome nature to the public, making the restriction of access not just an ironic feat, but a logistically difficult one.

"It was designed to be open, but it was designed before 9/11," Saito said. "All the rules changed."

Part of the $5 million estimated would include construction of barriers, mounds and other obstructions, as well as closed-circuit cameras.

Sheriffs from the Law Enforcement Division of the Department of Public Safety are in charge of security of state facilities.

John Souza, division administrator, said he has increased patrols at the Capitol, although he declined to give specifics citing security precautions. A more detailed security plan has been proposed, Souza said.

House Speaker Calvin Say, D-20th (St. Louis Hts., Palolo, Wilhelmina Rise), said he was saddened that access to the Capitol is being restricted but added that "we have to change with the times for public safety purposes."

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8070.