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Wednesday, September 17, 2014         

UNDER THE SUN


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Nature’s fury concentrates the mind on life’s basics

By Cynthia Oi

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Sandy brought widespread destruction to the country at a time when political campaigns had grown as tumultuous as the rain, flooding, snow and wind the superstorm hurled across the Eastern Seaboard and points west.

Devastation from the violent tempest is conspicuous, damage from the electioneering not so evident, but harmful just the same here and nationally.

By Tuesday, a fraction of the people in Hawaii eligible to vote will have darkened the little rectangles on their ballots and chosen new leaders.

For the city, the choice could mean that construction of an ill-conceived rail system will continue to march 20 miles across the curve of Oahu’s southern coast, or that a new plan for a flexible bus transit network better suited for the island could be put in place.

Although there are other differences in the mayoral candidacies of Kirk Caldwell and Ben Cayetano, rail transit is central, and though some voters have told pollsters that the $5.26 billion project isn’t the only issue on which they will decide, rail engulfs the race.

Straight-shooting rail proponents have largely abandoned the talking point that the system will improve traffic flow, acknowledging that congestion will continue to get worse as population growth and housing development in West and Central Oahu goes unchecked. Rail, they say, will at least take the edge off, and that eventually so-called “transit-oriented development” will further lessen loads on the roads.

Rail opponents don’t want to see Oahu further marred by steel-on-steel lines rumbling on overhead concrete stanchions and doubt current city and state leaders have stiff enough backbones to restrain developers whose florid goal to build affordable homes for the keiki o ka aina are masks for returns on investments.

Hawaii’s weekend episode with a tsunami should have been a warning for coastal residents, shoreline resorts and developments and for all who live on these islands.

Unlike Sandy, the tsunami’s small waves were mostly an inconvenience, but the videos and photos of people scampering to get gasoline, food and water captured on a small scale the insecurity of isolation.

Had the tsunami been as devastating as Japan’s in 2011, imports of everything from toilet paper to medical supplies would be in interrupted. The familiar doomsday scenarios have been discussed, debated, task forced and batted around, but nothing of any consequence has resulted.

So, yes, rail will have considerable influences on the shape and contours of Oahu, and for some it is representative of the future of Hawaii. Because the project amplifies how narrow vision and lack of broader insight can confine our fortunes and how choosing leaders on this one issue is limiting.

The tsunami, at least for a few hours, had residents refocused on the basics of life, just as Sandy has semi-silenced the roar of the presidential campaign. In the lull, voters who have been spared the storm’s wreckage can set aside the recriminations, charges and counter-charges, accusations and gotchas and base their choices not on hostility, but on hope.

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Cynthia Oi can be reached at coi@staradvertiser.com.






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