City Council Works in ‘Dangerous’ Conditions in Sharp Contrast to Rail Authority’s Spacious Offices

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Photo: Emily Metcalf

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – City Hall, known fondly as Honolulu Hale, was built in 1928 in a “California-Spanish style design.” According to the city web, “Its interior courtyard, stairs, speaker’s balcony and open ceiling were modeled after the Bargello, a 13th Century Palace in Florence, Italy.” While the building may have been grand in its day, many sections are dilapidated and badly in need of repair.

Honolulu City Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi said the council authorized $14 million several years ago to remove dangerous Asbestos and mold.


While the various mayors, who have often clashed with the council, have refurbished their own office and administrative sections, the council has been left to work in offices with moldy, faded rugs, crumbling wall paper, cramped quarters and potentially dangerous levels of Asbestos and mold.

“That is one way to get rid of us slowly,” joked Kobayashi about the various mayoral administrations that she’s clashed with over budgetary issues.

“We cannot change our carpeting, because underneath there is Asbestos, so we have to keep it that way. We cannot take our wall paper off for the same reason. Do you know how long that stuff has been there?” Kobayashi asked. “We want this safe for the public, not just ourselves and the staff.”

Throughout the years, the council has also reported a rat infestation problem at city hall, which naturally garnered jokes from the public about politicians.

The council quarters are tight. There are just five chairs in the council’s modest waiting room, which is used by guests of all 9 council members and their staff. In addition, some staff members are located on different floors from their assigned council member because there is a space shortage.

Alii Place, Downtown Honolulu

Up until this year, Kobayashi said some of her staff members were located on the fourth floor, which was not compliant with the Americans for Disabilities Act, so she could not hire people with certain disabilities or have people with disabilities meet with her staff in their office.

The city council working conditions contrast sharply to the plush private offices leased by the semi autonomous agency, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

HART’s operations have expanded to three floors at Alii Place, located on Alakea Street, one of Downtown Honolulu’s main business thoroughfares.

Up until now, HART took up two floors costing taxpayers $1.7 million a year.

However, with the ever-expanding staff and space requirements, the agency plans to take up three floors in the prime center at a cost of $2 million a year. That includes corner offices with a view of the capitol and city hall.

Kobayashi has asked on several occasions why the agency, which was not supposed to cost the taxpayers any money, must rent such spacious and luxurious private offices instead of fitting into an existing government building.

But HART officials told the City Council Budget committee members city facilities are not big enough to hold all of their staff members and Alii Place management offered the agency a “good deal.”