Friday, March 5, 2010

GLAD WE DIDN’T STEP IN IT

GLAD WE DIDN’T STEP IN IT: Abso-freakin’-lutely bizarre.

What else can you possibly say about the county’s decision that, after all these years of putting everyone through convoluted conniptions so they could run the “coastal” bike path across the busiest highway intersection on the island and through the Safeway and Foodland parking lots, they’ve decided to start from scratch and do what they said was impossible- run the path along a makai route where it belonged in the first place.

Or, maybe not so bizarre.

The brief announcement from the county was pretty vague- and buried to boot. After a comparatively long and final “screw you” to those who want the path entirely off Wailua Beach, way at the end it says:

The mayor also noted that due to the cost and safety reasons, phase three of the multi-use path, from Lydgate to Lihi Park, will be aligned makai to avoid crossing Kūhi`ō Hwy. and the mauka leg will be postponed until a later date.

This change will require several additional steps including: land acquisition; a supplemental Environmental Assessment, a special management permit; and design work.

Even reporter Mike Levine of the local newspaper- who presumably hasn’t been around long enough to know a tenth of the background of the various scams that caused the mauka route to be chosen- wasn’t buying county’s obfuscation and wrote his own lede stressing the “new alignment”.

After apparently obtaining a county map he writes:

The new leg would head makai from Papaloa Road where it meets Coconut Marketplace, between the Kaua`i Sands Hotel and the Aston Islander on the Beach, before turning north and staying behind the Kaua`i Coast Resort at the Beachboy and the Aston Kaua`i Beach at Makaiwa, a county map shows.

Those who have followed the long and winding corridor’s saga will remember that it became obvious through testimony before the county council by Department of Public Works Building Division Chief Doug Haigh- going back to the Maryanne Kusaka administration and continuing through Bryan Baptiste’s reign- that the mauka alignment was chosen after a convoluted deal was struck with Safeway and Foodland to give the county land for the path in exchange for concessions from the county over the infamous “Safeway Bridge”.

For those that don’t remember, in 1979 when the Foodland and Safeway shopping centers were granted their commercial zoning one of the requirements in the ordinance was that they build a pedestrian bridge connecting the two stores so as to divert at least some traffic from the highway.

Citizens demanded a vehicular bridge but those were the days when corruption was even more rampant than today and public input meant diddly-squat when countered by developer’s demands.

But even the “compromise” condition was never satisfied and in the late 90’s the two owners tried to get the council to throw out the conditions because it was holding up a lot consolidation the Safeway owners needed to sell the shopping center.

It was supposed to be a done deal until a member of the public, Tracy Murakami, came forward at the public hearing on the bill and objected saying she wanted the bridge so she didn’t have to drive every time she wanted to shop at both stores.

That started a groundswell of support for the bridge especially from council regulars and set off the Battle of the Safeway Bridge.

People were outraged that the condition was ignored for 20 years and both sides started coming before the council over a period of months, the public with evidence of cover-ups and lies by the two corporate owners and the owners, with the backing of the state DOT, trying first to say the narrow, four-foot walkway on the highway bridge- with no guard rail and traffic whizzing by inches away- was good enough (even for a stroller with her newborn baby in it when Murakami brought it up), then saying there was nowhere to put the bridge- which Murakami and others pictorially showed just wasn’t true.

But after Kaipo Asing- then still a champion of the people- went out, tape measure in hand, and did his own investigative work and one of his famous “Kaipo Explains It All” presentations, the council refused to remove the requirement and even passed an ordinance saying “build it now... or else”.

But the “or else” wasn’t really specified. So cut to almost a decade later when Councilpersons Mel Rapozo and Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho got wind of the lack of enforcement.

The council then went through the whole thing again- and again said build it “or else... and we mean it this time”.

Then cometh the bike path and Haigh, the county’s chief cook and bottlewasher on the project, came up with a plan that would both fund his bike path and settle the bridge controversy.

The main appropriation for the bike path- the original $40 million in “transportation, not recreation” federal funds needed matching funds from the county. The Kusaka administration had worked a deal to use the “gift” of the Kealia Kai mauka region land to offset a good chunk of it.

But they still needed more.

The deal was that in exchange for rights to a strip of land for the bike path to run through their valuable commercially-zoned land, Safeway and Foodland would only have to pay a nominal amount for the actual bridge itself and the county would maintain it as part of the “coastal” bike path which would now cross the highway and wend its way through the busy parking lots.

Haigh told the council that it would be impossible to get all the land for the path to go through the Coconut Marketplace and all the hotels in the makai area and detailed other physical barriers. There was no choice but to go west.

But as everyone knew the county couldn’t just decide not to build that portion because “the path must go on” to make sure that it would be “continuous” from Kealia to Lihu`e- a requirement since a “transportation” path couldn’t very well have breaks in it.

So why the change? Or more to the point why the change now after buckets of money and time have been invested in the mauka alignment and other plans are already in place along the canal- having been piggy-backed onto the bike path- for things like the Pouli Road connectors to ease vehicular traffic?

For one possible explanation you might look at the agenda for the February 17 council meeting under “Legal Documents”. There you’ll find this:

C 2010-46 Communication (01/15/2010) from the Director of Parks & Recreation, requesting Council approval to secure a shared-use path easement at the Kaua`i Shopping Village (TMK 4-4-3-08:14) in exchange for a parking and pedestrian access easement at Waipouli Drainage Canal.

This is apparently the land deal that finalizes all the previous contortions and now that all is in place the county has it’s “value” to be able to reap more of the matching funds required for the federal grant.

Of course the actual time and money the county has put into this now apparently defunct portion of the bike path is probably quite staggering although the real accounting is still in limbo.

The actual figure for cost to date was one of those “29 questions” that the council asked and which the administration has yet to answer regarding the bike path. The questions were left unanswered when Rapozo and Iseri left the council and no one else - especially original bike path zealot Tim Bynum who now chairs the Parks/Public Works Committee and has no interest in the questions, having said they were “all answered” as far as he was concerned- seems concerned about where the money went and where it’s going in the future.

Of course the county says the mauka portion is being “postponed” but when in the heck do we need an unconnected-to-anything bike path through a parking lot for now. In Kaua`i government parlance postponed usually means when hell freezes over. And of course they have to say that or it would make all efforts to secure the mauka route the farce it really was... apparently all along.

If that isn’t the answer what exactly changed so dramatically in the couple of weeks since the council approved the land deal? Either way they go some ‘splainin’ to do although no one is holding their breath.

Egad- we feel like Paul Harvey.

Correction: Tim Bynum is the Chair of Public Works and Elderly Affairs Committee, not Public Works and Parks. Lani Kawahara is the Chair of Parks and Transportation.

2 comments:

brett said...

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ChokeChain said...

The main appropriation for the bike path- the original $40 million in “transportation, not recreation” federal funds needed matching funds from the county.

no matter how many times you repeat this it remains false. TA funds are mostly used for recreational purposes. Just read the rules.