Friday, September 16, 2011

Anti-Rail Manager Brings In a Rookie Closer, but His Best Pitch Was Still the Same Old Screwball

It was natural that baseball would still be top of mind as we listened to Hawaii Public Radio’s “Town Square” program late yesterday afternoon.
San Francisco third baseman Pablo Sandoval had hit a triple an hour earlier (that's the Panda bellyflopping into third at right) in his fourth at-bat at Colorado to complete the “cycle” – a single, double, triple and home run in the same game. It’s a fairly rare feat and was the first for Sandoval, only the 25th Giant ever to accomplish it since the club was founded in the 19th century.

Listening to Cliff Slater and Randall Roth make yet another pitch against the Honolulu rail project tracked nicely with the idea that the decades-old anti-rail effort resembles a drawn-out, endless baseball game.

Unlike the three other major sports, baseball has no clock, and play continues until the game’s over. As we now know about both rail and baseball, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Honolulu rail has gone into so many extra innings we’ve all but lost count. Some say regulation play was close to ending in the early ‘90s but has dragged on thanks to the slow-down tactics of Mr. Slater and his team.

Since the tough Oahu crowd listening on the radio in the stands already is poised for victory (rail’s winning), you might have thought Mr. Slater and Professor Roth would try something new to reverse their fortunes – maybe mix up their routines, move to the edge of the pitching rubber or drop down to launch a few sidearm pitches. Expectations were high with Professor Roth now on board; the highly touted rookie just up from the Manoa Valley League might have brought something novel to the game, or so we thought.

It was not to be. From their first utterances, the two anti-railers were throwing the same junk – even Professor Roth. Over and over again he rubbed “overhead heavy rail” dirt onto his pitches, apparently believing it might give him the edge enjoyed by only the game's best hurlers – a so-called “heavy ball” that’s hard to drive.

Nobody Stood In
Yesterday’s half inning wasn’t really a contest as baseball games go, since there were no opposing players in the studio to swat away the duo’s pitches. Had they been there, almost any member of the pro-rail team could have knocked the cover off the anti-railers' softballs.

As he has for years, Mr. Slater relied on one pitch repeatedly, and so did the team’s rookie:

“Traffic will be worse in the future after rail is built than it is today.”
As nearly all of us can easily appreciate, traffic grows on Oahu as the population grows – i.e., as families have babies and newcomers move to the island. Old-timers will confirm that there’s more traffic on Oahu’s roads today than, say, in September 1945 at the end of World War II. And we’re pretty sure that when the bicentennial of the founding of the nation's’s first baseball club rolls around on September 23, 2045, there will be more traffic on Oahu than today.

Curiously, Mr. Slater especially treats this fairly obvious fact of urban life as if it were some kind of horrible secret that city officials admit only under torture in order to not reveal how much a failure Honolulu rail would be if traffic were to grow even after rail is built. Yes, it is a strange conclusion, but that’s what he believes.

Mr. Slater even told the City Council in July 2010 that he nearly had to water-board Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka to wring this fact out of him. You had to have been there or maybe watching on Olelo Community Television to appreciate how this pitcher-batter contest of words played out.

Mr. Slater stepped to the lectern, twirled the well-worn argument around in his head as he looked in and then delivered his favorite pitch – a slow curve:
“I would like to draw your attention to page 24 of the City’s letter to me in the comments on our DEIS comments. Mr. Yoshioka says, ‘You are correct in pointing out that traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than it is today without rail.’ And the rumors that Mr. Yoshioka was water-boarded to get that out of him may not be true, but nevertheless, it’s a fact that most people in the ewa plain do not understand that traffic congestion with rail will be worse than it is today.”
By the time Mr. Yoshioka had stepped into the box, the pitch was still hanging out there, high in the zone and, because he’d seen it so many times before, headed straight to where he thought it would be – his sweet spot. Without displaying any exertion whatsoever, Mr. Yoshioka took aim and dead-panned:

“Just to add to that. No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news. I think what the difference is, is that without the rail in the future, traffic congestion will be much worse than with the rail, and I think that’s the whole point of the discussion would be. It’s not appropriate to compare what the future is with rail with what it is now, but it is to compare what the future would be with or without rail. That’s the comparison that should be asked, and that’s not what Cliff Slater was just talking about.”
It’s the kind of high drama that only happens when players from both sides are on the same field. Unfortunately, only Mr. Slater’s team had been invited to play yesterday, and despite a few impassioned phone calls from the audience, some complaining about “obstructionist” tactics that have delayed rail, Messrs. Slater and Roth were only slightly touched up, and when they were, they changed the subject.

Time and again the two fixated on the “more congestion than now” argument. “There is no possibility once rail is built of traffic getting better,” Mr. Slater said. “Traffic will be worse with rail than it is today. We say so, the city says so, the federal government says so…..” And our fourth-grade granddaughter probably would say so, too, since this is all about common sense.

Mostly about Cars
In addition to the two opponents’ strange reliance on that argument, something else came through: Despite their assurances that they do support transit (Professor Roth met his wife 38 years ago on a bus, after all), they both want transportation improvements that principally favor the car-driving public, not the transit-riding public. Mr. Slater made that explicitly clear in his Civil Beat interview in July 2010: "We need to address the traffic congestion problem, not the public transportation problem," he said then and implied now.

Millions of commuters in the USA and around the world use transit every day as an alternative to driving, but it’s a concept that seems lost on yesterday's pitchers. When Mr. Slater insisted repeatedly that building rail will not reduce congestion one bit, no one on the phone or in the studio pointed out the obvious: People who ride the train will reduce their congestion problem to zero!

Mr. Slater finally was asked about High-Occupancy Toll roads, his favorite mode of transportation, and he had to duck a couple hard come-backers off the bats of listeners who strenuously objected to having to pay a toll “of up to five dollars,” he said, to travel quickly through the urban core.

You wouldn’t have to use the toll road for all your trips, he told one caller – just when you really needed to be somewhere urgently. The rest of the time you could use the regular highways and streets, where everyone who couldn't afford to pay the toll would be stuck in congestion. The distasteful implication of his suggestion also seemed lost on him.

The “bottom line” to this radio broadcast is fairly simple: Mr. Slater and his anti-rail colleagues realize they have lost the battle they’ve been waging for decades and are now working their public relations campaign hard before the game finally ends.

One wonders if Mr. Slater and Professor Roth had set a condition on their radio show participation yesterday – that they appear alone, with no possibility of having their softballs knocked out of the park by knowledgeable, well-prepared rail advocates with them right there in the studio.

Had that happened, surely everyone would know today their game's over – and it’s about time.

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