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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 30, 2008

City Council's rail approval rating mixed

 •  Honolulu mayor gets 80% approval rating in poll

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

O'ahu residents give the Honolulu City Council mixed marks for its handling of rail transit plans, according to the Hawai'i Poll.

About 45 percent of respondents disapprove of the job the council is doing managing the issue. That compares with a 42 percent approval rating on rail. The difference was within the poll's margin of error.

The results likely reflect the council's indecisiveness on the $3.7 billion project. That lack of consensus was on full display in April during a dysfunctional debate over train technology marked by confusion, procedural maneuvering, deadlocked votes and repeated reviews of council rules.

The council was never able to reach a consensus on which technology to use. That allowed Mayor Mufi Hannemann to proceed with steel wheel on steel rail technology.

The issue did not delay the project, but illustrated continuing division within the council over the issue.

A separate debate about the train's route in 2007 resulted in the project being diverted away from the Honolulu International Airport in favor of the Salt Lake area.

The council, by nature, is likely to suffer from relatively low approval ratings, said Ira Rohter, a political science professor at the University of Hawai'i.

"It comes across as undecideable, indecisive. They backtrack, so it, by nature, is going to be able to present a less united front," he said. "These characters are waffling around, backing off, making decisions, not making decisions."

Council member Todd Apo agreed that the council's diverse membership does not lend itself to taking decisive actions. That has been particularly evident with the rail project.

"It's a group of people that have different perspectives, different motivations, both from their constituencies and from a political standpoint dealing with an extremely large and an extremely tough proposal," he said. "On something this large and this controversial you're not going to come out with it looking like everyone is on the same page."

However, "I think as a council we can be operating better," Apo said.

According to the Hawai'i Poll, the council garners a higher 60 percent approval rating for the job it's doing running Honolulu. About 32 percent of poll respondents disapprove of the overall job the council is doing.

"It's sad that the council's rating is so low," said City Council Chair Barbara Marshall. "I understand why it's particularly low on transit. We have been split."

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com.