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Hawaii NewsVolcanic Ash

With newfound clout, Council veterans again make their presence felt

David Shapiro

The Honolulu City Council could be in for a bumpy ride back to the future after the reorganization that replaced Nestor Garcia as chairman.

Of most interest are not necessarily the changes at the top, with relative Council newcomers Ernest Martin and Ikaika Anderson taking over as chairman and vice chairman, but the return from political Siberia of veterans Ann Kobayashi and Romy Cachola.

Kobayashi is back as chairwoman of the powerful Budget Committee, and Cachola has regained enough clout to create an escalating sewage crisis at Sand Island.

Kobayashi always preferred to exercise power from behind the scenes rather than take on the chairmanship herself — as when she was the leading force in catapulting inexperienced Donovan Dela Cruz into the chair.

In Kobayashi’s last stint as budget chairwoman, former Mayor Jeremy Harris described it as the most chaotic budget process he’d seen in his two decades as mayor and city managing director.

She also clashed with the Hannemann administration, and given the criticism she’s leveled at Mayor Peter Carlisle’s budget on rail and other issues, it’s a good bet we’ll see a more contentious process than when Martin ran the Budget Committee earlier this year.

Kobayashi is well practiced in the back-room deal, and her fingerprints were on the Council’s flip-flop that reinstated controversial tipping fee subsidies for well-heeled recyclers at the Waimanalo Gulch landfill.

Cachola has been adept at gaining political leverage by placing himself as a swing vote in slim Council majorities.

He used the strategy to force the Hannemann administration to run the $5.3 billion rail line through his Salt Lake district instead of past the airport, a routing choice that was reversed as soon as the Council’s majority shifted.

Now he appears to have done it again by leading the Council to abruptly pull $26 million in funding for construction of a second digester at the Sand Island sewage plant and force a rushed study of other technologies.

It seems to trace to a beef with Synagro Technologies Inc., which operates the digesters.

With the Sand Island plant nearing capacity, the administration says the delay will force the city to either truck sewage sludge to Kailua, Ewa Beach and Waianae or impose a moratorium on new construction from Aina Haina to Halawa.

Both options are politically untenable, and it happened so fast that Council members in the affected districts were caught asleep at the wheel and are now pointing fingers at the administration. The blame game isn’t playing with the public.

Council members need to fix this before the sludge trucks get seriously rolling, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can do it without upsetting the balance of the new Council majority.

Reach David Shapiro at volcanicash@gmail.com or blog.volcanicash.net.

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