Important back stories are huddled behind last week’s Star-Advertiser headline, “Federal Judge Narrows Lawsuit on Rail.”

Foremost is that the lawsuit will go forward unimpeded. The same substantive points of contention including the most important historic and cultural sites are still at issue. This central fact raises the question of what HART was talking about when it greeted Judge Tashima’s ruling as “significant.” Significant in what way?

The not-so-obvious significance is the City’s ability to commit virtually limitless sums of taxpayer money to bleed citizen plaintiffs financially as it seeks to prevent the lawsuit from being heard on its merits. Earlier the City asked the court to eliminate Ben Cayetano and others as plaintiffs. The judge said no. The motion for eliminating sites was a comparable tactic; only a few peripherally important sites were actually eliminated, while the rest remain.

In both instances the City was stalling the suit’s progress while forcing the plaintiffs to spend money on maintaining standing with the court. When the City can appropriate millions from taxpayers, as it has done, to oppose a lawsuit based on donations from citizens here and there, the playing field is obviously out of balance.

Second comes the reason the sites were eliminated: The judge agreed with the City that plaintiffs had not adequately stated their attachment to, or the significance of, the Queen Street Park, the Pacific War Memorial, etc. That such spaces were eliminated was a reminder that citizens must struggle (at the stage of responding to a draft EIS) to maintain standing over broad environmental concerns such as the impact of a rail. It is a reminder that “environmentalists,” far from hanging up due process, are instead hanging on to a definition of the public commons by the skin of our teeth. The process is badly tilted in favor of the City’s preemptive and manipulative moves.

All that notwithstanding, the suit goes forward, with the real issues to be taken up on August 21 in Federal Court.

The writer is a board member of Hawaii’s 1,000 Friends, a plaintiff in the lawsuit