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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 24, 2006

COMMENTARY
If you want change, you need to be heard

By Sen. Gordon Trimble

The mark of a civilized society is that its members use ballots instead of bullets to determine transitions of power. Nov. 7 has passed and you have voiced your intentions through the ballot box.

However, if you truly want and expect change, your work has just begun. You will be heard only if you add the strength of your voice to your ballot: Go down to Honolulu Hale and the state Capitol to let politicians know that you are still engaged and you will not sit back for another two years waiting to be fooled by another stream of empty promises. Your testimony does make a difference.

On some level, the real problem is that good public policy is the antithesis of old-boy politics. Politicians are really hoping that you will retire to the sidelines for another two years because they have debts to repay. Frequently, our elected officials seek to undertake expensive multi-year construction projects to repay these debts. They might say that these projects are for you, but they do not fully respect you with the ultimate test. Massive projects and policy issues, such as a fixed-rail system or the Akaka bill, should be chosen by the public in a referendum vote.

Generally, your biggest priority is aimed at a better quality of life more income, better government services, lower taxes and a secure future for your children. You probably measure the quality of your life in terms of how much space you and your family have and how much space you have to share with other people. It doesn't matter whether we are talking about park space at Sand Island or traffic on Dillingham. One of our nagging concerns in an island community is "How many people are enough?"

Kalihi is a great place to live and dine and recreate but you also need space to enjoy in quiet reflection. If we expand to become a city like Hong Kong or Manhattan, these spaces would be lost. Our situation is set apart from those dense metropolises: ordinary people like you and me would have no place to go because our Island archipelago is 2,500 miles from the nearest continental land mass.

So, how many people is enough? How many people are too many? What about visitors? As it stands, we don't have more freeways because we frankly don't have any space other than the sky or the ocean front to put them. For years, residents have made it clear that developments are exactly what we do not want in our skyline or along our shoreline.

If we build a mass transit system for 600,000 people, will the next set of politicians attempt to increase our urban density to accommodate a population of 4 to 6 million so that the mass transit system will pay for itself? Does a mass transit system make sense for our community of 600,000 when the cities that have such systems currently have metropolitan and hinterland populations that exceed 6 million?

These present-day questions of how much the project costs and who the riders will be are certainly important. It is the questions about tomorrow that are scary: Down what road is such a system taking us? How many people, how many tourists, how much concrete, how much noise is too much?

Be proud that you cast ballots instead of bullets, but do not sit at the sidelines expecting that committees of politicians are making decisions in your best interest. The decisions that politicians make will determine what happens to your quality of life.

The places you need to be heard most are the public hearing rooms at City Hall and the state Capitol. Prudent economic development is not about seeing how high one can build a house of cards, but rather how we can use our existing resources more efficiently and fully to broaden the number of choices you have for today and tomorrow.

State Sen. Gordon Trimble represents District 12 (Waikiki, Kaka'ako, Downtown, Iwilei).