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Transit contracts worry Kobayashi

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City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi is calling for greater public scrutiny of subcontracts issued for the $5.5 billion rail transit project.

A preliminary review of about $48 million in contracts to 113 vendors, some dating back to 2005, raises questions about duplication of services and whether some of the contracts are really necessary, Kobayashi said in a news conference yesterday.

She called some of the contracts "exorbitant," but stopped short of saying there was any wrongdoing.

A city spokesman issued a written statement noting that the largest public works project in Hawaii history "requires an unprecedented level of resources" that are "necessary" to keep the project on time and on budget.

Kobayashi questioned the $6.3 million being spent for public and government relations and singled out a $1.7 million contract to Lychee Productions to provide media and public relations that includes a stipulation to prepare what the contract describes as an "idiot" version of the 3,222-page Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

The contract for Lychee Productions, which is paid $33,022 a month for community and media relations efforts, is one of 13 firms hired for media, government and community relations efforts, Kobayashi said.

"As for our public outreach efforts, we are confident that Councilmember Kobayashi would agree that funding is needed to keep the public informed about the project and maintain its transparency of the complex project," said the e-mailed statement by Toru Hamayasu, city Department of Transportation Services deputy director.

Eleven architectural firms are designing train stations and eight engineering firms are subcontracted for design and engineering functions, Kobayashi noted.

She also questioned why the city needs to spend $1.7 million to hire mainland lobbyists to advocate for rail when Hawaii’s congressional delegation is solidly behind the project.

Kobayashi, a critic of the city’s spending on the rail project, said she received copies of many of the contracts last month after filing a request to see them last year.

She wrote a letter to Wayne Yoshioka, the director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services — to be sent out today — asking him to hold public meetings on the rail spending.

"If we’re going to do rail, let’s do it right and let’s keep the public informed," Kobayashi said.

Yoshioka said that he will take a look at Kobayashi’s findings, but pointed out the city’s spending on transit has been reviewed and audited.

"We’ve been scrutinized many, many times," Yoshioka said yesterday. "Every single time we’ve been reviewed or audited, it’s always come up that we’ve done things by the book."


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