Honolulu railís PR effort costs $5.6M
By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer
The city has spent more than $5.6 million on a public information campaign for Honolulu's planned rail project since August 2005.
The bulk of that money ó $3 million ó was spent since June 30, 2008, and includes a ramped-up rail campaign ahead of last November's vote on the project.
The spending was disclosed late last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Advertiser on Aug. 27.
The city has said its informational campaign is part of a federally required public involvement effort. However, critics have said the effort, which includes an "I Love Rail" logo, goes beyond public information by attempting to advocate and lobby for the project.
From June 30, 2008, to July 31, 2009, the city spent nearly $1.97 million on community outreach efforts, which include a speakers bureau, rail station workshops, a public television show and other community events.
The city also spent $738,500 on printed material, which was the second-largest expenditure category. That amount includes community event materials, a monthly newsletter and postage.
About $176,000 was spent on a glossy brochure that was inserted into Honolulu newspapers heading into the November general election.
Voters last November approved the East Kapolei to Ala Moana rail project by a 51 percent to 46 percent margin.
Other major expenses include $192,375 spent on online outreach efforts, including a Web site and DVDs.
Separately, city officials also reported spending $46,896 on a June 23 transit symposium, which included $12,389 spent on airfares and hotel rooms for speakers that appeared at the symposium.
City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka was not available to comment on the spending yesterday.
In a letter to The Advertiser, Yoshioka wrote that the city initially budgeted $85,000 for the rail symposium event, which had 509 attendees. The agency was able to cut costs by reducing advertising, he said.
Some of the city's public outreach efforts are required by the federal government, which is expected to pay for $1.4 billion to $1.7 billion of the mass transit system's $5.3 billion cost.
The disclosure of spending on public education comes at a time when tax collections needed to build the train are failing to meet projections.
During fiscal year 2009, which ended June 30, transit tax collections fell short by $27.1 million. During the current fiscal year, the city projected tax collections to average $16.5 million a month. However, the average collection in July and August was $14.9 million a month.
Yesterday, four City Council members introduced a resolution calling on the city administration to disclose details concerning how much has been spent on the public information campaign including which firms were paid, how much they received and what they were paid to do. The resolution was signed by members Ann Kobayashi, Romy Cachola, Donovan Dela Cruz and Charles Djou.
The city should have cut spending after the November election settled the question of whether the public wanted rail, Kobayashi said. Instead, spending seems to have accelerated, she said.
"This isn't the time to be spending money on this kind of stuff when the vote has already been taken," Kobayashi said. "I think the public, rather than hearing more of the same, would rather know how their money is being spent."