BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – The City & County of Honolulu, which is working to construct a $5.3 billion steel on steel elevated rail system from Kapolei to Honolulu, has leased premium office space in the midst of Honolulu’s pricey downtown civic center.
The Honolulu Rail Transit Project (HART) offices occupy the entire 17 and 23 floors of Alii Place located on Alakea Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Hawaii’s primary business district.
The office space for the 17th floor is 18,698 square feet and costs about $722,000 a year, including lease rent, maintenance fees, utilities and GET tax, said Louise Kim McCoy, the press secretary for the City administration.
The 23rd floor is 16,182 square feet and costs about $633,000 a year, including lease rent, maintenance fees, utilities and GET tax, McCoy said.
That totals $1,355,000 a year for rent alone.
The money comes from the project’s operating budget, which consists of the state’s General Excise Tax rail surcharge revenue and federal funds, McCoy said. She added no other City funds or City taxes are utilized.
The HART operating budget for fiscal year 2012 also includes salaries and benefits for 136 new city employees, she said.
“As outlined in the budget, salaries are $9.3 million (an average salary of about $68,000 per year). Benefits (including ERS, FICA, EUTF, unemployment and workers comp) are at $3.9 million,” McCoy said.
The funds are derived from the project’s operating budget, which consists of the GET surcharge revenue and federal funds, McCoy said, adding “no other city funds or city taxes are used.”
Honolulu City Council Member Ann Kobayashi, who is a critic of the current plans for the rail project, has been working with two other council members of 9 to get a list of HART’s new employees, their titles and their compensation.
She said she is astounded at the costs for the HART office space and staff.
“It is unbelievable how much they are spending on rent,” Kobayashi said.
She also said even though the city cannot fill other positions in the police, fire and road maintenance departments, the city filled all of its HART staff positions quickly because the salaries are so high.
The newly formed HART board and the city council members have been in a battle in recent days over who will control the funds for the rail project.
Rail Critic Cliff Slater, a transportation expert who heads up HonoluluTraffic.com, said “This is just a small taste of what is to come. Add this to the $3 million a month we are paying to Parsons Brinckerhoff and the half million a month to
InfraConsult and all the phony polling and lavish ground breaking ceremonies and its starting to look like real money that is being spent.”
Slater recruited a number of high profile community and government leaders to file a lawsuit against the city and Federal Transit Administration over the city’s Environmental Impact Statement.
Former Democrat Governor Benjamin Cayetano, Retired Judge Walter Heen, Law Professor Randall Roth and several non-profits including Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, have become the focal point for conservatives, liberals, conservationists, environmentalists, Democrats, Libertarians, Republicans, property owners, farmers and small businesses, who are concerned not only about the ballooning cost of the multibillion dollar project, but how the 20-mile steel on steel elevated rail system through downtown Honolulu will impact the environment, view planes, ancient Hawaiian burial sites, historic buildings, property rights, traffic and noise levels.
The alliance, organized and funded through HonoluluTraffic.com, teamed up with nationally renowned environmental attorney Nicolas Yost, partner in San Francisco based SNRDenton firm. Yost is considered one of the top – if not the top – environmental lawyer in the country.
The federal lawsuit filed in Hawaii’s U.S. District Court challenges the Federal Transit Administration’s acceptance of the city’s rail Environmental Impact Statement. The plaintiffs maintain that all alternatives such as an expanded bus operation, a bus rapid transit system, managed lanes and a light rail, were not properly vetted before the heavy steel wheel on steel rail option was selected as the best option.