Friday, September 9, 2011

Civil Beat Defends City against Anti-Railers’ Allegation that It Has Misled the Public, Says Opponents Are the Ones Who Have Deceived

It was bound to happen once an independent, non-partisan media outlet examined what four leading rail opponents are saying about the Honolulu rail project.

Civil Beat, which prides itself on being “the largest news organization dedicated exclusively to civic affairs journalism in Hawaii,” has concluded that Cliff Slater, Ben Cayetano, Walter Heen and Randall Roth themselves were guilty of deceiving the public in their August 21st Star-Advertiser commentary (linked from Yes2Rail).

Civil Beat’s focus was the quartet’s allegation – we’ve called them the Gang of Four for the way they’ve bullied the truth – that the city for years has deceived the public by suggesting the Honolulu rail project would reduce traffic congestion from current levels.

After examining the city’s statements on rail’s anticipated impact going back years, Civil Beat says the opponents’ charge is untrue:

“In this analysis, Civil Beat finds itself in the unusual position of defending the city against its detractors. We are accustomed to asking tough questions of government officials and holding them to account. Private citizens with concerns about government policies, like this group of opponents, add important voices to the public discourse. We value their engagement, and know it can come with a price. In this case that includes that by following the facts where they led, as the opponents requested, Civil Beat has found the opponents' rhetoric wanting.”

What Goes Around….
Civil Beat might have cut to the quick a lot sooner. The mother lode of anti-rail deception was right there in the interview Civil Beat conducted with Mr. Slater, the quartet’s leader, in July 2010.

We’ve been directing Yes2Rail visitors to that interview since the day Civil Beat posted it as the prime example of why Mr. Slater’s anti-rail campaign is built on sand, not rock. Messrs. Cayetano, Heen and Roth are learning that fact in an embarrassingly transparent way.

Our July 12, 2010 post was headlined “Cliff Slater’s ‘Ace Card’ Turns Out To Be a Joker” and summarized the deception he proudly if unknowingly articulated. In his own words, Mr. Slater said he tells his audiences two things when he starts his anti-rail presentations – first the project’s cost and then that traffic will be worse after rail is built than it is today.

As City Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka famously said later the same month at a City Council meeting:

“No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today….(and) without 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….“

We decided to quote the first 30 seconds of Mr. Slater’s interview in a different post under the headline “A Close Look at Cliff Slater’s ‘Whole Argument’”:

“In talking to groups about rail, I tell them that there’s really two things you need to know about it. Number one, it’s gonna cost five and one-half billion dollars before cost overruns, and the second thing is that traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today. And then I ask them if they have any questions, and that kinda sums up the whole argument."

A Weak ‘Whole Argument’
Civil Beat now concludes, as it might have in July of last year, that Mr. Slater’s rhetoric and that of his anti-rail compatriots is itself misleading. CB’s editorial board writes today:

“…the opponents’ longstanding focus on alleged congestion makes them seen unreasonable. They appear to be grasping for any fragment they can find to bolster their effort to stop the project, not to encourage a thoughtful, measured debate of the real issues before the public today.”

Civil Beat examined statements by former Mayor Mufi Hannemann, current Mayor Peter Carlisle, various pieces of literature and other public statements by the city and found truthful representations of rail’s impact on future traffic congestion – that congestion will be less with rail than without it.

The city has always been truthful about congestion’s growth in the years ahead. Population growth is bound to increase traffic congestion on the existing road network, but with rail in place, there will be less of it than if we did nothing at all, as Mr. Slater himself was forced to admit at that same City Council meeting. With rail, commuters and others will have an alternative to sitting in that congestion, which is the same alternative enjoyed by residents in rail-equipped cities around the world.

When the city states the truth about traffic growth, Mr. Slater treats it as some kind of embarrassing admission, as he did before the City Council, prompting Mr. Yoshioka’s “no kidding” response.

By “grasping” for this particular fragment of an argument, Mr. Slater and his three friends have been shown to be hanging out on a limb – a weak one that simply can’t support their assertions. Mr. Slater’s entire campaign might be compared to an unsuccessful evolutionary line that eventually withers and dies on the tree of life. Civil Beat’s exposĂ© of their tactics shows where that leads.

The city’s rail project is the solid trunk of that tree, rooted in facts and a core adherence to telling the truth and avoiding deception. It’s good to see that rewarded by an independent news organization.

No comments: