Friday, April 20, 2012

Honolulu Weekly Commentary Bends Facts, Fits Rail Opposition’s Pattern of ‘Viewing with Alarm’

Editorial judgment and fact-checking aren’t what they used to be at Honolulu Weekly, which printed a personality profile on the anti-rail mayoral candidate some weeks ago that even outdid in its enthusiasm for the former governor.

The current edition has an anti-rail commentary by Tom Coffman, a former reporter and documentary producer/director, that has Cliff Slater’s fingerprints all over it.

Here’s the Slater/Coffman pattern in a nutshell: Paint Honolulu rail as just the worst possible project ever while ignoring its purpose and benefits, and include “facts” that really aren’t facts and serve principally to confuse the issues.

From the Top 
Mr. Coffman and those who share his views on rail are immune to any responses we might offer on any of his points, such as the farmlands in Hoopili he wants to protect and over which the rail line will be built. Defending these particular acres from housing development to meet the needs of a growing population serves the purpose of fighting the rail project, and that’s what’s important.

And never mind accuracy when discussing the project’s cost. "The 2008 price of the rail was under $3 billion,” Mr. Coffman writes. “Without explanation, that number today has multiplied to $5.3 billion.”

Had Mr. Coffman searched for the explanation rather than simply repeat Mr. Slater’s spin, he’d have known the explanation has been public knowledge for years. The 2008 price was in 2008 dollars; the higher number is in “year of expenditure” dollars. There’s been no unexplained cost multiplication.

His next piece of reporting also is inaccurate: “Cost cascaded so rapidly that the connector to Kapolei was cut on one end, and the connector to the University of Hawaii at Manoa was cut on the other end – similarly without significant public discussion.”

There was an abundance of public discussion on the tie between the funding and the line’s length. The GET rail surcharge that’s being collected from 2007 to 2022 can support the construction of a line between Kapolei and Ala Moana. Mr. Coffman’s “connectors” are defined in rail’s planning documents as Phase 2. The decision to build or not build that phase will be made at some future date.

No Commo?

The rest of the commentary touches the usual issues rail opponents like to target, including the project’s communications budget. Is it really a surprise that the agency building the largest project in state history would feel it necessary to communicate with the public about it? Does Mr. Coffman want HART to not issue traffic advisories during rail’s construction or set the facts straight when the opposition does its work?

The author suggests Honolulu residents can “just say no” to rail, but he doesn’t provide any "what’s" – just the "no’s." It follows Mr. Slater’s pattern of saying what’s wrong with rail without proposing something that would do a better job.

Rail’s opposition dislikes rail’s elevated configuration, but it’s the only configuration that will provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation through the city. That’s what the city needs to confront ever-increasing traffic congestion. That’s the goal, and rail’s the means – two subjects this commentary doesn’t come close to mentioning.

No comments: