Friday, November 10, 2006

Neighborhood Board Number 5

I hereby submit my minutes for the November 9, 2006 meeting of the Honolulu Neighborhood Board Number 5. With commentary.

And everything in quote marks is verbatim - I took notes. Copious notes. These are the minutes that might not make it into the official record.

I knew I was in trouble early on when the nice woman approached me with the schedule for community meetings on light rail. "I hope you can attend," she said. Of course, I told her. I love rail. I'd love to part of the design team for a Honolulu system. But before I could get that last part out she was patting me on the shoulder and saying "Good, good. We need to stop this thing."

I thought about telling her that my whole point in coming to the meeting was to help push rail through. I figured I'd wait until that agenda item came up before I made waves.

Unfortunately it was the last item, and I had to sit through the entire frakkin' meeting first. Our board leans to the elderly side, and by leans to I mean you'd be forgiven if you thought that you'd stumbled upon bingo night at the Happy Happy Rest Home. It moved slow

If I really were taking notes I'd be in trouble, as the speakers were pointed away from the audience, and the few that I could hear spoke in a somnambulant mumble. I missed 80% of what was said. Half of what I did catch consisted of "can you speak up" and "speak into the microphone! Tell her to speak into the microphone!"

The ten percent I did catch consisted of "Graffiti will take over if we don't stop it now!" [The cops promised to apprehend the singular teenager they believe is tagging stop signs]; "The homeless are still sleeping in their cars on Monserrat!" [the cops promised to talk to the two homeless individuals]; and "Civil defense failed completely during the last emergency." It took me awhile to remember what the emergency was. Apparently the Board Secretary, Burt Narita [yeah, I'll be naming names] was upset that Civil Defense doesn't have a coordinated plan to do elevator rescues after earthquakes [the fireman rep pointed out that we don't have many highrises in our neighborhood].

George Waialaealae jumped on Civil Defense too. He doesn't like the state's tsunami warning system. It didn't go off after the earthquake [perhaps, I thought, because there was no tsunami]. He'd like the City to consider notifying people by telephone of any impending tsunami.
And I'm dying. I don't want to be on this Board anymore. There's no vision. It's just old farts nagging city officials about parking and elevators and bad teenagers. How can I start a revolution with this? I don't even know how I'd shake this bunch up. And the little devil inside me wakes up and sees an opening, and I've got the sudden urge to get up and stir it up, to replace their whining with some solid oration, to replace we need unlimited parking with some The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing this minute.

But wait! Burt Narita is speaking clearly all of a sudden! And he's talking about the 9-11 commission, and needing a new vision, and I'm thinking: this is good! It's not high rhetoric, but it's better than anything I've heard yet.

But it turns out he's talking about elevators again.

He also seems to have woken up the Chair, Wayne Gau, and Board member Linda Wong. I don't know who interrupted who, but suddenly he's telling her "you're out of line" and she's telling him right back "no, you're out of line!" She throws her shoulders back and he furrows his brow and they have a stare down. The old lady next to me starts giggling, and Wayne blinks and looks away.

Now Linda Wong has her hand raised and she's pumping it high, all Tracy Flick for Class President, but Wayne won't even look at her side of the room. He calls on Rick instead. Jay Harden starts to interrupt, but Wayne announces "Jay did not raise his hand." Jay ignores Wayne and passes his turn onto Linda.

Linda Wong finally gives her speech. Wayne continues to pointedly stare in the opposite direction, and I step outside for a slash. Sometimes democracy sucks.

When I get back the children have started behaving. A representative from Charles Djou's office gets up to speak, and all I can think is: good lord he has a fat ass. That thing was wider than the podium, and yet strangely flat - as if it used to stick out like a normal butt, but had been somehow pushed in and then ironed out. And since he was facing away from the audience all we could really see was this giant butt in brown corduroy, with a little head on top and two little legs sticking out the bottom.

His purpose tonight is to enlist our help in stopping rail. The Board starts peppering him with staged questions, and it's as false and badly acted as a late-night infomercial. Burt Narita and Lard Ass toss some statistics back and forth and try to make it sound casual. "Why, did you know that the City of Seattle had a 35% cost overrun!" "Why, I'd say that's a conservative estimate." Roxie Berlin jumps in to let us know that everyone she talks to thinks that rail is just mad, and asks Lard Ass "what can we as private citizens do to stop this madness?" The chair acknowledges Linda Wong, and suddenly the Board members are getting downright competitive in their desire to show Lard Ass just how indignant they all are.

Lard Ass is trying to get them to mobilize, because the final vote from the City Council must happen before Dec 31 and only Charles Djou stands against these forces of madness.

And I know I have to speak, to say something, even if I'm the only one. I need to stop this charade, and I need to at least get something down on record in favor of rail. I am so not going to be loved after this. I raise my hand, the Chair acknowledges that someone in the back of the room wants to speak, and I stand up.

I don't want to join Lard Ass at the microphone, but that's ok. I don't need a microphone - I know how to project. My high school Latin teacher loved to tell us the story of Demosthenes, who overcame a speech impediment to become the greatest orator in Classical Greece by going to the shore, filling his mouth with pebbles, and reciting classical speeches over the roar of the waves. I took the story to heart.

I believe that you can all hear me without a microphone. A few of the ladies are startled and almost jump out of their seats. Check. They can hear me. This is my first neighborhood board meeting - I get some indulgent smiles - and before I get to the issue, first, we need to talk about the acoustics in here. Where the hell did that come from? That wasn't part of my speech, but I realize that I've got the crowd on my side, so I go with it. They start rearranging things as I speak to provide better acoustics. Wow. Moving on ...

I'm a strong proponent of light rail - and there are gasps from the board. Two pale, hairy men on my left both lift their glasses to their eyes to get a better look at me. A lady in from turns around to let me know that I am a very naive man. "Very, very naive." I am an army of one. And I have a question for the City Council member. Lard Ass stops giggling and starts looking nervous. I am going to assume that light rail passes. Let's just assume for now that it passes. Poor Lard Ass looks like he wants to hide behind the podium. Bitch knows full well that rail has the votes to pass - the legislature, the city council, the mayor, the governor, our congressional reps and our senators are all behind it. This is just a charade, and he's just pandering to the lowest common denominator in order to get a few extra votes for his master.

But I don't say that. I ask a very polite question about public involvement in the design process, and he reluctantly admits that the public will be involved at all stages.

I pretty much ended the discussion with that. Next up: one of the pale hairy men turns out to be Cliff Slater, he of the American Dream Coalition [protecting freedom and mobility], and he is here with a power-point on how we can build double-decker freeways instead of rail. The council members all vote to extend the meeting time in order to watch the powerpoint, and I am outta there. I'm not an elected official and I don't have to sit and smile when the lunatic fringe gets up to speak.

I don't think I'm going back, but on my way to the parking lot Representative Calvin Say pats me on the back and thanks me for showing interest and I try to fight it off but I can't, and I end up beaming like a little boy. So I guess I'll be back. A pat on the back. I can't believe I'm that easy.

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