January 10, 2009

Poinography October 2005 archive

Filed under: — Doug @ 1:29 pm



Queen of the middle

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:47 am
Check out this Advertiser piece that questions if Governor Lingle is simply too popular to lose in 2006. The article does a nice job of summarizing what are seen as “the issues” at this point and briefly discusses how Lingle has positioned herself with respect to each one.

Lingle has triangulated herself into a safe re-election position. She has kept the right flank of her party in the cold and quiet, she has not taken a stand or ordered anything that made the public universally upset, she chose her vetoes wisely, and her biggest legislative ideas were killed by the legislature. She has provided relatively little for the Democrats to point to as evidence that she has failed, much less done anything to make it easy for Democrats to argue they would have handled things markedly better. On top of all that, the economy is buzzing, so the business community is content. Her record is the equivalent of boring vanilla, but maybe that’s good enough for most folks.

The Democrats may (as DePledge and Rep. Schatz argue) be dealing with a generational gap and a failure to groom a candidate for governor, but I think an equally strong explanation is that we are seeing the inevitable result of too-expensive campaigns and Bush-style image management. The high costs of campaigning, and the corresponding huge re-election fund Lingle is amassing, have driven centrism to its apotheosis. Her studiously wishy-washy policy and strict message discipline minimizes (but does not eliminate, e.g. Rep. Harbin) the chance of any embarrassments. Voters (and, to be frank, donors) that really are centrists don’t see any compelling reason to abandon Lingle, and anyone attacking her from the left (or the right) would run into a money-raising problem very quickly if they try to mine the skinny ends of the political bell curve.

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Developers follow market instead of leading it

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 9:40 am
Sierra Club Director Jeff Mikulina has an op-ed in the SB today that criticizes the recent Water Commission approval to permit granting approval to use drinking water to irrigate a new golf course in Waiawa. I just posted about this yesterday, and Mikulina elaborates on themes similar to those of my post.

Gentry’s golf course-oriented development will include 12,000 housing units, two golf courses, a commercial center and miles of roadway. It will pave thousands of acres of farmland, tap much of the island’s remaining groundwater supply, and disgorge thousands of cars on the already clogged H-1 and H-2 freeways. It is roughly the same scale and scope as Mililani.

Of course, Mililani was planned in the 1960s, based on designs from the 1940s –when the population was small, open space was abundant, roads weren’t crowded, and water and energy were cheap and plentiful. But 1950s planning doesn’t work in 2005.

Development doesn’t have to be this way. Across the world, new towns and cities are being built using today’s best technology and planning. These designs allow homeowners to walk to work, develop with mass transit in mind, and cluster development to limit the impact on agricultural lands. They are also built to be hyper-efficient in their use of water and materials and to generate their own electricity. What’s more, higher density new design is more affordable and reduces the tax burden on all residents because of reduced infrastructure needs. As is all too typical in our islands, we deserve much more and receive much less.

This piece also brings to mind again the topic of another post from yesterday wherein I mentioned my frustration with so-called “New Urbanism” in its current and upcoming Oahu incarnations. Mikulina’s developments sound like something even beyond that. Whatever you call it, the detached single-family home in an increasingly distant suburb is still driving the Oahu new home market, which guarantees sprawl. What “New Urbanism” there is to be found on Oahu is not enough and is unaffordable.

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Sunshine is only one part of the solution

Filed under:
HI State Politics
HI Media
— Doug @ 9:26 am
The SB weighs in editorially against the HSAC effort to exempt the four County Councils from the Sunshine Law. They also take the opportunity to speak out against the Legislature being exempt from the law.

Moreover, the Legislature’s exemption should be removed. Few issues, if any, are decided in the public forum. Most votes taken in House and Senate chambers are only for show, having already been resolved behind closed doors.

Politicians say the law makes their job difficult. Governing isn’t a walk in the park and shouldn’t be. Nor should it be done in the shadows, but in the hard glare of the public’s eyes. Those who can’t stand the brightness ought to keep their names off the ballots.

Removing the exemption has even less support among legislators than publicly-funded campaigns, although complying with the Sunshine Law would arguably be just as salutary for the Hawaii polity as getting the money-raising monkey off of the candidates’ backs. To force compliance with the Sunshine Law onto legislators isn’t going to happen—legislators would have to want it, and they don’t want it. The editors know that, of course, so basically all they may do is scold the legislators in an editorial.

That said, I don’t think the editors fully comprehend how much more cumbersome the legislative process would be without the exemption. It is not necessarily that the “brightness” would be a threat to the legislators as much as it would exacerbate the already too-slow pace of progress. At the very least, it would require a lengthening of the 60-day legislative session if there were to be any way to account for the glacial pace of announcing every meeting between two or more legislators in advance, setting an agenda, accepting public testimony, etc.

The allegation in the editorial that most votes in the House and Senate chamber are “for show” is a bit much. On the divisive issues (because “most” votes are, in fact, unanimous) the legislators are eager (some might argue too eager, heh) to verbalize in public their opposition or support of a measure. The “behind closed doors” discussions that happen during recesses of the floor sessions are the equivalent of debate time outs; allowing both parties a chance to convene in the caucus rooms to marshal their arguments and/or parilamentary tactics and then to return and deliver them on the floor.

There’s an elephant in the room. The fact that the Hawaii media cover the various legislative hearings, procedures, and personalities so thinly has more to bear on the lack of public understanding of the Legislature than do any backroom conversations, in my opinion. Hence this blog.

So, to turn the tables, then: Editors might say that better local government coverage makes their jobs difficult or requires them to hire more staff than it does to have thin coverage, run wire service stories, keep the sponsors and corporate masters happy, and wait for press releases. Journalism isn’t a walk in the park and shouldn’t be.

But hey, I’m only a bottom feeder in this process. What the heck do I know?

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Expensive condos sprouting again in Kakaako

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 9:50 am
Andrew Gomes has an article in the Advertiser business section today that describes the extent of the new condominium tower building boom—targeting those readers who have yet to notice all the tower cranes in the Kakaako region, apparently. Heh. Kidding aside, there really is a small explosion of buyer and developer enthusiasm for these properties.

My only comment on this article is that I would sure like to know what these projects will do (if anything) to provide new affordable housing units. If affordable units are part of these plans, then just how “affordable” are they? If there are few or zero affordable units forthcoming, did these developers choose to make cash payments in lieu of constructing affordable units? I suppose I could slog through the archives for the approvals of each project and glean this info, but I wish Gomes had done that for me.

I like the “New Urbanism” concept, but if I can’t afford to be a part of it… what’s the point? I really hope the concept has not completely morphed into something only for yuppie hipsters, speculative investors, and empty-nesters.

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Kona hopes new development plan will have teeth

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 9:28 am
The West Hawaii Today has a piece about the effort to assemble a Community Development Plan.

The development plans, mandated by the 2005 Hawaii County General Plan, will translate the broad policies and goals of the general plan into specific actions in each district of the Big Island.

This plan will be a blueprint that will guide what land we develop, where we will put our parks and other recreational areas, as well as who will supply them, where we will house the people who will continue to move here, the kinds of businesses they’ll work at, the new roads they will commute upon and what we plan to preserve from the past.


There have been about a half-dozen planning efforts in the past, but unlike those, that did not have the force of law behind them and were either ignored or freely changed according to the policies of the various county administrations, the new regional plans will be law and require action by the Hawaii County Council if they are to be changed.

Creating a plan is admirable yet it will be difficult, tedious work. Who participates in this planning process is going to be key. As ever, the trick is to get broad participation, but still maintain some ability to reach a consensus on the final plan.

Next, what will happen when the plan is presented to the County Council? The topics to be tackled in theplan are hugely significant policy decisions, and, while the Council may find some short-term political advantage in shuffling these tough choices off to another group, once the plan is in hand and (if?) certain development avenues are foreclosed the pressures that will come to bear on the Council to amend the plan are too predictable to ignore.

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Thirsty golf courses okayed, while homes await water permit

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 9:00 am
The SB editorial today is critical of the decision by the State Water Commission to approve a request to allocate 1 million gallon of drinking water per day for use as irrigation at a proposed Waiawa golf course. Previously the SB had ran an article on the topic, too. The development is going to require more water for the actual homes, but approval of that (much larger) request is going to be addressed by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.

Waiawa Development, a Gentry affiliate, is “thrilled to get the water,” President Dave McCoy said yesterday. A “no” from the Water Commission “would have been the end of the golf courses,” he said, although the company would have proceeded with phases of single- and multi-family housing and a retail center on land owned by Kamehameha Schools and Gentry.

I’m not real familiar with how these State and County jurisdictions intersect and why the golf course and housing are sent to different agencies for water approvals. It could be because water permits for the housing is considered a “municipal purpose” for which approval authority the law says shall be delegated to the County. I am curious if the same decision would have been reached by the State if the request for a water use permit had incorporated both the housing and the golf course. Which agency actually permits the water use is not the real issue, of course, because the water comes from the same aquifer no matter who makes the decision.

I’m also not very familiar with what guides the Water Commission decisions to grant or deny permits, so I did a little bit of reading on that, too. So far as I can tell, the Commission does not have much leeway to deny a permit so long as the seven conditions of the applicable law are fulfilled. We could certainly debate if another golf course is “in the public interest,” but beyond that I think the bulk of the blame for why this permit was granted is better assigned to the land use, plans, and designations established by the State and the County.

Decisions about the control of sprawl, which is the larger issue here, should be made at higher levels than the water permitting bureaucracy. The water permitting folks should be (and are) administrators of the larger policy, they should not be legislators.

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Affordable housing committee created by memorandum

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 8:57 pm
A doubly-interesting article from the SB today. First, for the action taken by Honolulu City Council Chair Dela Cruz to form a new affordable housing committee. Second, for the means used to establish this new committee.

The latest committee was created through the memo, which Dela Cruz said this summer’s rule change allows.

The change came after the state Office of Information Practices complained that the Council’s July 13 approval of a reorganization resolution had resulted from a series of secret one-on-one conversations between Council members. The OIP said the serial communications violated the state’s open-meetings law, or “Sunshine Law,” which OIP monitors.

Earlier this month, eight journalism and open-government groups sued the City Council, calling for the July 13 resolution to be voided because of the one-on-one conversations. The groups ask that the use of such private conversations to reach a consensus among Council members be declared a violation of the open-meetings law.

After the OIP complained, the Council changed its internal rules to allow the chairman “to appoint all committees” as part of his or her administrative duties, instead of approving a committee set up in a resolution voted upon during a public meeting. The rule change made committee assignments not subject to the Sunshine Law.

Does this new process really exempt committee assignments from the Sunshine Law? Has a formal protest challenging this methodology been made to the OIP? For that matter, what is the OIP opinion of Hawaii County’s unique strategy for reorganization by “task force?”

Leaving those questions of procedure aside, I’m very curious what, if anything, the Chair of the new committe, Councilmember Apo, has in mind for affordable housing solutions on Oahu. The status quo is certainly not providing enough affordable housing. The committee is only established for one year, and I’m doubtful that would be enough time to see (m)any substantive ideas through to completion. Apo had better hit the ground running.

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More time to get to know your favorite pothole

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 8:15 pm
Another article today that mentions the Hawaii Hawaii Users Alliance, this time it is a Mike Leidemann piece in the Advertiser. Last time it was a post at Hawaii Reporter. They make a rather contrarian argument that it is more important to do preventative roadway maintenance than to patch potholed roads. The State and City seem to agree:

State and city officials admit that their attention ? and most of their money ? has been focused in recent years on repaving the busiest, most pothole-filled streets and highways. However, new initiatives under way in Honolulu and at the state Transportation Department are beginning to address the even more crucial need for preventive maintenance of roads that haven’t started to crumble yet.

Okay, pardon my cynicism, but this doesn’t sit too well with me. Given the membership of the HHUA, this has the appearance of a self-serving payday for the resurfacing industry. The hit-or-miss pothole repair work probably produces less revenue and that type of work may even be done by civil servants (instead of by the contractor/members of the Alliance). The public, and especially those who live and travel regularly on heavily cratered roadways, will be incredulous as decrepit roads are given lower repair priority and more attention is paid to keeping nice roads nice. To those folks it won’t matter how much sense the concept may make—it will be like an otherwise great hospital and health center with no emergency room.

The city is awaiting the governor’s release of $4 million authorized by the state Legislature this year to help establish a pavement management system in Honolulu, [Road Maintenance Chief] Leopardi said. That would help officials quantify the cost of doing or delaying repairs, which in turn could help persuade City Council members to spend more money on preventive maintenance projects, he said.

Meanwhile, DOT has begun its own efforts to better inventory existing roads and recommend strategies for an improved maintenance schedule, [DOT spokesperson] Morioka said. The amount of money spent, number of asphalt tons and concrete cubic yards used each year and changes in the roughness ratings all will be used to measure how much success the department is having in improving maintenance, he said.

If a rational, data-driven system actually comes to pass, it will be a significant seachange for highway users who are accustomed to being able to complain about a pothole and see it fixed (sooner or later, anyway). Many people won’t care about the overall “roughness rating” from year to year if it means their street remains in poor repair. Legislators are not typically known for exceptional foresight in districts outside of their own, especially when it costs money and is for relatively unglamorous infrastructure maintenance.

The smooth streets stay smooth, and the rough get rougher? We shall see.

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The tax is coming on schedule, but will the plan?

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 1:07 pm
The Honolulu City Council is starting to be nervous about the timetable proposed for the “locally preferred alternative” study, according to this story in the SB.

The ordinance to impose the GET increase takes effect on January 1, 2007, but the consultants recently told the Council that the study will probably not be done by that date. Oooops. Unfortunately, the enabling legislation specifies that any County choosing to apply a GET surcharge must adopt an ordinance by December 31, 2005. The law further stipulates that any GET surcharge must begin no sooner than January 1, 2007 and no later than the beginning of the next taxable year from the date the ordinance is adopted [which seems a bit contradictory to me, but whatever]. The Legislature (based mostly on repeated exhortations from Congressman Abercrombie) obviously did not want the Council to put the surcharge implementation date off for too long for fears of the feds losing faith in Honolulu’s resolve, but the result is that it now looks as if Honolulu will be begin collecting the GET surcharge before the Council even knows if/how they will be spending it. The law does not allow the County to spend the revenue for any other purpose, but that will be small consolation to the public.

“The whole intention was to give the public the assurance we have an alternative that we want to fund, so that’s why I say that’s a very important date for us,” [Councilmember] Okino said. “If we can by any means achieve that date, it would be much appreciated because you guys [i.e. the consultants producing the study] are not seated over here. We’re going to be taking the heat for this.”

The other reason why January 2007 is an important date is that there is the potential for a new City Council roster to take office that month. Four Council members are up for re-election in fall 2006.

“That could affect approval of the plan,” Councilman Charles Djou said.

No kidding!

Another unknown is if the federal matching funds could be committed before January 1, 2007. The consultants suggest that federal review of Honolulu’s proposal may also take a while, but the consultants can’t even estimate how long a delay that could add.

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Advertiser wins national honor for diversity

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 12:34 pm
Congratulations to the Advertiser for being chosen by the Freedom Forum and the Associated Press Managing Editors association to win the 2005 Robert G. McGruder Awards for Diversity Leadership. Not surprising that the Advertiser would have to publish their own story to bring it to our attention, I suppose…

I had commented on diversity in Hawaii newsrooms earlier, if you’re interested in how the other Hawaii newspapers measure up.

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“New” traffic-related group

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 12:09 pm
Another “first” for the State, according to this Hawaii Reporter posting.

There are a number of traffic-related groups in Hawaii that advocate for everything from the proposed multi-billion dollar rail system on Oahu, to “smart growth” to bus drivers, to private transportation companies, to better traffic management. But there has been no group in Hawaii advocating for the most important element of traffic in Hawaii – the motorists.

That changed recently when several of Hawaii’s citizens involved in the transportation, construction and safety-related industries formed the Hawaii Highway Users Alliance, a group affiliated with the American Highway Users Alliance. The mission: to influence public policy and opinion, promoting safety and congestion relief on highways and freedom of mobility.


* Chairman of the Board, Dale Evans, Pres/CEO Charley’s Taxi
* Vice Chairman, Lawson Teshima, CFO, Kobayashi Travel dba Polynesian Hospitality
* Gareth Sakakida, Executive Director, Hawaii Transportation Association
* Dave Rolf, Executive Director, Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association
* Steve Choo, VP, AMPCO Parking, a division of ABM Industries
* John Romanowski, Hawaii Asphalt Paving Industry Association
* Bill Wilson, CEO Hawaiian Dredging, Director, General Contractors Assn.
* Al Kanno, President, Safety Systems Hawaii
* Steve Kawano, President, Concrete & Concrete Products Industry Hawaii
* George Stewart, Hawaiian Cement

* HHUA President Bill Paik, VP Grace Pacific
* HHUA VP Panos Prevedouros, Ph.D., Professor of Traffic & Environmental Engineer, UH Manoa
* HHUA Treasurer Bob Creps, President, Sun Industries
* HHUA Secretary, Darcianne Evans, Charley’s Taxi

Hmmm. Doesn’t sound like such a new group to me. Many of the same members are already listed as members of Honolulu Traffic which is best known for lobbying against rail transit and in favor of HOT lanes. Honolulu Traffic used to be called the Alliance for Traffic Improvement. The group has been around for a few years. I suppose if nothing else this re-packaging could be good news for local stationers, heh.

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Hokulia plaintiffs turn down money, wait for SC ruling

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 11:39 am
A few more new articles about the Hokulia legal saga. One from the PBN, another in the West Hawaii Today, and a third from the Advertiser.

Apparently there had been ongoing settlement talks all summer and those talks have failed. The developer is still willing to resume talking, however.

The Hokulia developer was halted by Judge Ibarra of the 3rd Circuit Court and appealed that decision to the Hawaii Supreme Court. The request for an expedited decision at the high court was denied, so they agreed to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. According to these articles, the developers offered the plaintiffs $50M in “monetary concessions” and “significant benefits to the community.” The plaintiffs refused the offer because it did not include any concessions from the County:

“The requirement to preserve the judge’s [i.e. Judge Ibarra’s] thoughtful and well-reasoned decision is a cornerstone to any proposed settlement,” said [Attorney (not Mayor)] Kim on behalf of Charles Flaherty, Patrick Cunningham and Michele Wilkins. “My clients … are unwilling to forego this important ruling as it involves the protection of our agricultural lands.”

The developer, Mr. DeFries, believes that County concessions are unnecessary because:

However, he said government is going through a process to identify important agricultural lands and to establish permitted uses for those lands and others. At the same time, DeFries said Mayor Kim and Planning Director Chris Yuen have made it clear that they will not support rezonings to permit additional large projects in the agricultural district.

“Given these circumstances, we thought it would be beneficial to settle the Hokulia litigation, thereby allowing the bypass highway and other public improvements to be completed and lifting the cloud of potential liability from the county, the state and others,” said DeFries, “while leaving it to the ongoing public process to address land use issues on a county and statewide basis.”

[scratches head]

Help me out here, lawyers in the audience. I can’t wrap my head around this for some reason. Even if the three plaintiffs had accepted the offer, how could the Court have accepted a settlement that did not resolve the failures found by Judge Ibarra in his ruling? At this point, this case seems to involve much more than what the wants and opinions of the plaintiffs might be. Judge Ibarra found that the County and the developer did not follow the right procedure as the land use approvals and agreements were made on the project, but now it was to be left to a few plaintiffs to decide if that noncompliance doesn’t matter? Maybe that is formally how these lawsuits work, but it certainly doesn’t make much sense if “significant benefits” to the plaintiffs and/or the community can waive the need for compliance with development procedure. It seems to me like the matter is more than just a civil dispute between private parties now.

Let me pose a hypothetical analogy to illustrate my confusion: Three individuals sue a company for allegedly violating pollution standards. The plaintiffs prevail as the business is found by the Court to have violated numerous legal obligations regarding pollution. The Court ruling also forces the company to halt operations until the pollution problem is resolved. While the Court’s ruling is on appeal the company offers the plaintiffs a fat monetary settlement and the whole issue goes away. Wha? The pollution still happened. Plaintiffs should not be able to decide the pollution does not matter once the Court rules that it does matter. A higher court should be the arbiter of a case like this.

Also a bit perplexed as to what this might mean:

Even if the three plaintiffs can reach some sort of interim or final settlement with Hokulia, the pact would still be contingent upon the approval of another plaintiffs group – Protect Keopuka Ohana (PKO). That group, led by coffee farmer Jack Kelly and Native Hawaiian activist Jim Medeiros, has said they will not settle until Hokulia apologizes to the Kona community, Hawaiians, Hawaii Island Burial Council and PKO. In addition, PKO is demanding that all further discussions be held in secret.

Why the secrecy demand? Weird.

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DOT integrity is challenged on Maui

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 12:32 pm
DOT is taking a lot of heat from people on Maui about the agreement recently signed with the Superferry operators. The Maui News has a piece today that has many interesting comments from key players.

Transportation Director Rodney Haraga said Tuesday that Superferry officials will make presentations about how they see their operations and answer questions regarding the spread of alien species and other issues that have been raised on the Neighbor Islands.

When he said Tuesday the public meetings will be held, Haraga was being questioned about a Harbors Operating Agreement that he signed with Superferry Chief Executive Officer John Garibaldi. The agreement was signed Sept. 7, but Haraga made no mention of it during a site visit to Kahului Harbor with state legislators and members of the public on Oct. 5.

State Sen. Shan Tsutsui was incensed that Haraga wasn?t more forthcoming at the briefing earlier this month.

Haraga’s response:

?Nobody ever asked me (about the operating agreement),? he said. ?If you don?t ask me, it will slip my mind. The group (at Kahului Harbor) was concentrating on environmental issues.?

Haraga said he was ?disappointed? that he has been accused of holding back information.

?This is my reputation on the line and if I have information, I?m going to share it,? he said. ?If asked, I would have said, ?Yes, I signed it.??

It slipped his mind? If you recall, the October 5 meeting seemed to have the intent of reassuring skeptical Maui residents just how careful the state was being in proceeding slowly and keeping the public informed. Here’s the lede from that earlier report.

In trying to explain how the Hawaii Superferry will fit in at the already crammed Pier 2 at Kahului Harbor, the most common answer from state Department of Transportation Director Rodney Haraga on Tuesday was:

?We haven?t worked things out yet.?

“Things” being everything other than the contents of the nearly 100-page September 7 agreement, apparently. Ooops.

I also took note of this comment from Haraga that goes back to my thoughts about the shoreside improvements needed at Kahului to make the project work:

This much is known for sure: The Superferry is expected to share space at already crowded Pier 2, where Young Brothers conducts its growing cargo-shipping business. A floating barge ? about the size of a football field ? will be built by the state and moored at the end of the pier to load and unload vehicles onto the Superferry.

After that, everything remains up in the air, even though exhibits in the operating agreement, drawn as recently as August, include a draft schematic with a passenger terminal, ticketing tent, vehicle queuing area and short-term parking lot located makai of Kaahumanu Avenue between Wharf Street and Puunene Avenue. According to the same sketch, passengers apparently would be shuttled to the pier along a new roadway that would run inside the boundary of the current space used by Young Brothers for overflow containers, parallel to the Puunene extension that ends at Cary and Eddie?s Hideway Restaurant. The roadway would swing right where Puunene ends, curve along the shoreline and run down the Wailuku side of the pier to the end.

But Haraga said all of that could change.

?What you see is still preliminary,? he said.

If a terminal were to be constructed, Haraga said an environmental assessment might be required.

?If it requires an EA, we will do it,? he said.

Well, of course if an EA is required it will be done. Is an EA required? That’s the question. Will the Superferry fight with Maui over the need for that EA? We shall see.

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UH free speech disparities revealed by sex assault

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 11:59 am
The Ka Leo student newspaper has an article about the various ‘free speech” bulletin boards across campus. The story is in reaction to the recent sexual assault of a student who responded to an ad posted on one such bulletin board. The article provides some insight gives into the free speech environment at the various UH campuses.

“Manoa does have guidelines, but there is no one who approves what goes up,” UHM spokesperson Carolyn Tanaka said. “There are no plans to change the way bulletin boards are handled.”

The University of Hawai’i at Hilo only allows campus-related items to go up on bulletin boards. “We do contact people who post without authorization to tell them that they can’t do it,” said Nadine Austin of UHH Auxiliary services. “Our boards are not free speech.”

Honolulu Community College bulletin boards are designated free speech areas but are closely monitored by the Student Life and Development Office.

“Our policy does not prohibit anything unless it is overtly inappropriate,” Emily Kukulies, director of student life and development at HCC, said. “Postings must be stamped and posted by our staff. We remove unauthorized postings almost daily.”


Kapi’olani Community College Student Life Department handles posting for the college. They use a stamp to keep track of authorized postings and remove any that have not been approved.

It would seem that Manoa is the only campus that has any idea of what “free speech” really means. Well, I suppose UH-Hilo has some familiarity with the concept, too, since they bluntly admit that their boards are not free speech areas. Honolulu Community College is certainly not upholding their claim to “free speech” bulletin boards. Requiring “approval” before publishing is quite clearly prior restraint. Isn’t a University supposed to be a “marketplace of ideas?” [Cue the Grant Jones comments]

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HCDA starts to take fire over Kakaako project

Filed under:
— Doug @ 11:08 am
The SB had a reporter at the recent Kakaako and Ala Moana Neighborhood Board meetings and published this account of the public comments made (and some comments that were not made public) at the meeting. I don’t know the exact procedure the Hawaii Community Development Association follows, but I think this is part of a process that is pretty much unstoppable.

[HCDA Executive Director] Dinell said it would be hard to do anything but give [developer] A&B a fair chance to do the job.

“You can’t just start a process and change your mind halfway down it,” he said.

If the HCDA and A&B cannot agree on terms of the letter of intent, Dinell said the state could either give A&B more time, reject the company in favor of another developer or drop the request for proposals altogether.

I’d put my money on “more time,” if they don’t have agreeable terms by January. If they started working with another developer it would mean another long wait while plans are made, meetings are held, public input is taken, etc. Dropping the RFP altogether is simply not going to happen.

The angle in the story concerning the Hawaii Life Sciences Council is worth noting, too.

“Clearly from the vocal community response at the neighborhood board meeting, there is a need for further discussion about land use in makai Kakaako,” said Lisa Gibson, president of the Hawaii Life Sciences Council, a nonprofit organization established to promote development of the state’s biomedical sector.

Another issue is whether the state is adequately promoting Kakaako as a center for innovation, said Gibson, who attended the neighborhood board meeting but made no public comments. “The Hawaii Life Sciences Council believes that science and technology should be part of a sustainable ‘live, work, play, learn’ vision for Kakaako. We would be happy to play a role in facilitating that discussion.”


Dinell also said the state is working with the Hawaii Life Sciences Council and other entities to help develop facilities for the biomedical sector. The HCDA is working to make 5.5 acres available for a proposed University of Hawaii cancer research center in Kakaako and is working with the medical school to create l90,000 square feet of research space at its facility. The state also is working with Kamehameha Schools to help develop more lab space in the area, Dinell said.

A&B spokeswoman Meredith Ching said, “We believe our proposed project is completely compatible with and, in fact, essential to the successful establishment of a life-science or high-tech base in the area.”

HLSC is a biotech industry group, so it’s exciting that they are interested in being part of the Kakaako project, but their decision to attend the meeting and not participate is strange. If the group is “working with” the State, surely they should be willing to engage with the Neighborhood Boards instead of just dropping by to hear the concerns of their potential new neighbors and (privately) offering to “facilitate discussion” of the project. It implies that they think they are above having a discussion in the NB fora, which, even if that inference is false, is a bad PR move.

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Bonding with the ferry riders

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:21 am
Several interesting letters to the editor in the Advertiser today. But this one in particular sparked my interest:


Through my taxes, I am being compelled to pay my share of $40 million for “harbor improvement” to assist a private (government-subsidized) undertaking known as the Superferry with the promise of repayment over the next 20 years ($2.3 million per year).

I don’t remember voting for this next greatest Hawai’i boondoggle. Did I? Did you? Did any of us even get asked about it? I don’t remember. On whose campaign platform did any of us see it? Why are any of us being made to pay for something we may never use?

What is the true investment of the private parties involved and who makes out when the thing goes belly-up? Just a wild guess here, but I don’t think it will be the public.

Will it ever really make any money? I think not. In that case, we’ll be subsidizing it for years.

What will be the unintended outcomes? Infrastructure stress, imported crime, economic imbalance and irreversible ecological harm? We pay the lion’s share.

There are so many problems ? budgeting, fuel, the other forced rapid-transit programs for which we are being compelled to pay (light rail) ? we need this other expense like a hole in the head. If people want something, they should do it, they should pay for it and, if it works out, then they should reap the reward. I should pay for some of it only if I decide to be part of it or use it, not told by our Republican guard that I must.
Keith Karasic

Karasic’s first paragraph in particular is what caught my eye. When I posted about the agreement reached with the State I didn’t give enuogh thought to the financial arrangement. From that earlier article:

Under the financial terms of the agreement, Hawaii Superferry promises to pay the state $2 for every passenger, $4 for every private vehicle and $20 for every commercial vehicle it transports between the islands, or a minimum of $2.3 million per year in its first three years of operation. The company also will pay regular dockage fees charged to other commercial vessels.

“Based on our passenger projections, we expect to pay much more than the minimum every year,” Hawaii Superferry executive John Garibaldi said last week.

The per-passenger fees will be included in the published fare the company will charge for passengers and vehicles, Garibaldi said.

Thus, at least as I understand it, the $40M bond for harbor improvements will be repaid in full by the Superferry project—with the per-passenger fees. In other words, if Karasic doesn’t ride the Superferry there will be no out-of-pocket cost to him. That assumes that the project doesn’t fail and is able to repay the bond financing before going bankrupt, of course.

I am also assuming that the per-passenger fee the State has imposed will in fact be tied directly to the bond repayment and isn’t just a new (dare we say it?) tax. Whatever. Lingle already stands accused of breaking a pledge to Norquist’s group and can’t unring that bell, so maybe it doesn’t matter. Heh.

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Teachers rewarded by a crook philanthropist

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:44 am
A real heartwarming story in the Advertiser about the two Hawaii teachers selected as annual winners of $25,000 awards for their excellence. The two honorees are, as usual, quite inspirational and deserving of the recognition.

However, it is really too bad that the only group that publicly (and richly) rewards teachers in this way is connected to a person as slimy as Michael Milken. To their credit, in a sidebar the Advertiser piece at least mentions Milken’s past:

Popularly known as the “Oscars of Teaching,” the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Awards this year honor two teachers from each of 48 participating states and the District of Columbia.
The foundation has given more than $54 million to teachers since the award program began in 1987. The foundation was founded by Mike Milken, a financier and philanthropist. He also was convicted in 1989 of breaking securities laws, fined $200 million and eventually served 22 months in prison.
Interesting that only 48 states participate. Maybe the two non-participating states (New York and Delaware) find a less-compromised means to reward excellent teachers?

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Rhymes with “witch”

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— Doug @ 9:13 am
Nothing policital about this one, but I had a laugh reading this feature piece in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald about a local author and her book about complaining, Bitch Incorporated: How to Bitch Without Being Bitchy.

“You can be assertive and stand up for yourself but not be bitchy,” the Hawaiian Paradise Park woman said. “That’s really what this is all about.”

In her self-published book, [Samantha] Payne, 61, combines her own personal complaining experiences with self-help advice about how to stand up for yourself.


Payne is adamant that complaining can make things better. People would be less angry and businesses would be forced to be more honest, she maintains.

“It seems like life would be so much simpler if we all stood up for ourselves.”

The marketing push for the 150-page paperback is in its infancy. She said the book is available at a hot dog stand in Maine and a book store in Massachusetts. Online retailers Barnes & Noble and Amazon will carry the book in a few weeks.

Hmmmm. Maybe I’ll pick up a copy ….from the hot dog stand in Maine. HA HA.

Good luck, Ms. Payne. Don’t take “no” for an answer!

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Council seeks looser OIP leash

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 11:06 am
The Advertiser covered the Honolulu City Council hearing yesterday where the resolution in suport of a plan to lobby for an exemption from the Sunshine Law at the Legislature was debated.

But council members argued that the [Sunshine] law is being interpreted so strictly by Kondo’s office that it prevents appropriate discussion and makes government less efficient.

The full City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal Nov. 9 after the Planning and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee yesterday approved a resolution that would change the rules for open meetings, meeting notices and other requirements for government boards and commissions.

Committee Chairman Romy Cachola emphasized that the proposal has a long way to go before the law could change. It would require the approval of all four county councils ? Honolulu, Maui, Kaua’i and Hawai’i ? then go to the Legislature, where lawmakers would have to approve the idea as well.

State lawmakers enacted the open-government law decades ago but exempted themselves from its requirements.

Councilman and former television journalist Nestor Garcia opposed making the councils exempt from the law. As a former state lawmaker, he said, he has dealt with decision-making openly and behind closed doors. And he prefers to keep the council abiding by the Sunshine Law and “proceed with the people’s business with the law at our side.”

Rather strange how the article does not mention the looming lawsuit facing the City alleging Sunshine Law violations having to do with reorganization procedures. Did none of the Councilmembers raise that latent issue, or was it mentioned but not reported? Council support of this resolution is probably not rooted in concerns over potentially misplaced swimming pools…

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Baptiste will run again for Kauai Mayor

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Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 10:37 am
The headline pretty much says it all, but the Garden Island News article is a pretty huge PR victory for Baptiste. Baptiste’s opponent in the Mayor’s race, Jesse Fukushima, is briefly mentioned after what may as well be coverage of Baptiste’s announcement speech in its entirety.

There are a few clarifications and elaborations on his speech offered by the reporter, but for the most part the article is, “Baptiste said, … he continued, … he said, … he went on, etc.” The people on the advertising side of the paper probably want to send Baptiste an invoice, haha.

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PUC to stir the gasoline price cap pot?

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:14 am
Finally, we are getting some acknowledgment from the PUC that they need not be content with the way the gasoline price cap is currently calculated. The SB has a story today that mentions movement on that front.

New price caps take effect on Monday, a day before the PUC’s deadline for oil companies and the state Division of Consumer Advocacy to submit proposals for adjusting the formula that is used each week to set the price ceilings.

Specifically, the PUC is seeking proposals for creating different profit margins at various steps in the gasoline supply chain, a concern that has been raised by legislative Democrats who have criticized the PUC’s implementation of the price cap law. The commission also is seeking proposals on how the price-cap law should address upcoming ethanol blending requirements for gasoline.

Meanwhile, the commission continues to analyze pricing data already submitted by oil companies, jobbers and others involved in Hawaii’s gasoline industry.

The reports were required by the PUC to help it determine whether the companies were in compliance and to gather data to help the agency’s continuing administration of the price cap law.

Lisa Kikuta, chief researcher at the PUC, said the information is being reviewed.

“We don’t have an end date for when we expect to complete that review yet,” she said. “Once we look at the data and are able to draw some conclusions from the data we are going to assess our next steps at that point.”

It turns out that my repeated queries might have been misguided; the oil companies have already submitted the requested pricing data reports to the PUC. This information sure sounds like what Governor Lingle suggested as an alternative to price caps, by the way. Are the PUC and these oil company reports subject to the Sunshine Law? I’d sure be curious to learn what the reports show, without waiting for the who-knows-when conclusions from Ms. Kikuta of the PUC.

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Governor acknowledges HYCF faults

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:21 am
Today the SB has a piece by Borreca where he questions Governor Lingle about the new ACLU lawsuit alleging civil rights violations at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility. Also today, Ian Lind has a cover story in the Honolulu Weekly highlighting the labor-management issues that thwart many attempts at reforming the facility (Lind’s article is not on the web site until next week, though. UPDATE: here is his story).

“I think we still have a long way to go,” Lingle said yesterday when asked about the prison and the ACLU suit.

“I don’t mind having our feet held to the fire because it is such an important issue and there is such a need for change,” Lingle said.


A Justice Department report issued in August said, “It is no exaggeration to describe HYCF as existing in a state of chaos.”

The report praised the “state’s remarkable candor in recognizing its deficiencies,” but added that until reforms are in place, “youth continue to suffer unduly harsh and punitive conditions on a daily basis.”

Lingle yesterday said, in reaction to the federal report, that while it was released in August, it was based on a visit in 2004, and the state has made progress since then.

“We feel we are capable of getting the situation turned around, but we are realistic and we know you don’t change an organizational behavior overnight. It takes time,” she said.

Hmmm. The Lingle administraation’s “remarkable candor” and willingness to be held to the fire are unusual. Typically when governments are sued they refuse to comment on the matter while the case is still pending. It is even more rare for them to admit problems before the suit is resolved.

Lind’s HW piece assigns much of the blame to the Youth Correctional Officers and their union, the UPW. If the discovery phase of the lawsuit reveals and exposes that the UPW is in fact exacerbating and/or perpetuating the problems, then perhaps Lingle is hoping that the lawsuit will be a weapon she can use against the UPW or even as ammunition for an effort to privatize the facility (with non-union staff, naturally). In that “Brer Rabbit” scenario, the possibility that conditions are improved for the children incarcerated at HYCF would be a happy coincidence.

That’s the cynical view. It’s also possible that Lingle sincerely wants to do the right thing but is unable to clean her own house without federal assistance, or at least without the threat of it.

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The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend

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HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 9:09 am
Thanks to a tip from a reader, here is another bit of information about the federal lawsuit by Hokulia lot owners against the State and the County of Hawaii in a post from The Green Flash News. I was wondering earlier why the lawsuit did not name Oceanside Partners, the developers, since they are the ones who actually have the lot owners’ money. This GFN piece offers this explanation:

The complaint specifically asks the U.S. District Court to vacate Ibarra?s ruling. It asks that ?The Court declare that the Final Judgment entered by the state court judge with respect to Count IV is unconstitutional, void and invalid.?

?The real aim of this suit is to invalidate the ruling,? said Protect Keokuk [sic] Ohana CEO Jim Medeiros Sr.. ?All this smoke about a 265 million dollar claim against the County is just cover for their real intent. I believe this lot owners group is being supported by the developer in this effort to dump the ruling, that they are working together as they always have, and that?s why Oceanside Partners they have not been named as a defendant.?

True, the lot owners and OP have a common interest in wanting the 3rd Circuit Court ruling overturned, but, to put it mildly, these Hokulia lots were not cheap. It might make some sense if Oceanside Partners is paying for the landowners’ legal fees, but otherwise I still don’t understand why the lot owners chose to not go after the people with their money. Is there any way of knowing who is bankrolling the lot owners’ lawsuit? I have no idea.

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Democrat in name only?

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 1:33 pm
An enlightening article from the Haleakala Times based upon a meeting of Maui Democrats and Congressman Ed Case. The article pretty much speaks for itself (with author Don Gronning quickly retracting the DINO label after using it to pull me in, haha), but the meeting provided yet another example of the “party label” ambiguity recently discussed. It sounds like the 20 “party activists” at the meeting were having what is known in the business as “a frank exchange of views” with Representative Case.

Case said he wasn?t trying to do anything except represent his constituency, which he described as diverse.

?I have a different point of view than many of you,? he said. ?I don?t vote with the party at all times.?

That was met with a cry of ?that?s insulting.?

Case didn?t back down in the face of opposition from members of his own Party.

?Don?t take this personally, but who are you to tell me what a Democrat is,? Case told another questioner. ?I think the Democratic Party is broader than you think it is.?

He said the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has become intolerant. He said such intolerance was counterproductive and wasn?t that different from intolerance in the Republican Party.

Later in the article Case respectfully defended his support of the bankruptcy bill and his opposition to withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. Mostly centrist postions all around. I would have liked to see the reporter get some reaction from the audience at the conclusion of the meeting. I’m wondering if they were at all persuaded or if they instead feel betrayed.

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Oh, I don’t know. Maybe?

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 1:12 pm
Congressman Abercrombie dangles his name about again as a potential Democratic candidate for Hawaii governor, and Borreca was there to bring us the still-no-news in the SB today. This is beginning to get tedious. Poop or get off the pot!

Still, the article is not entirely frustrating.

Asked why he would run for governor, Abercrombie said he would want to change Hawaii’s direction.

“This is going to be an election not based on personalities or ways of presenting oneself. This is going to be an election about where Hawaii is going. … I am interested in saving Hawaii from a direction that is going now, where we lose our soul,” Abercrombie said.

The former state legislator and city councilman, however, did criticize Lingle, saying she has acted “like a prime minister, not a governor.”

“She (Lingle) has had her chance and she didn’t take it. She continues to say she wants followers elected rather than representatives or senators who represent their districts.

“The basic values of the people of Hawaii are at stake, whether or not we are going to continue to be in charge of our own destiny, or whether people are going to come in and take charge of us,” he said.

Oh, if only there could be a substantive debate on high-minded concepts such as “basic values” and newcomers taking over… If it doesn’t fit on a campaign bumper sticker or you can’t say it in 60 seconds, then forget it.

The “prime minister” observation is good, except for the fact that a PM is chosen by the Majority party…

Abercrombie’s coquettish behavior is having at least one (desired) effect. Abercrombie’s doing a fine job of grabbing attention. I’m talking about him, Borreca is talking about him, and so are many others. On that note, perhaps sometime within the next decade the editors at MidWeek will decide to join the 21st Century and post all of their weekly columnists’ work online. Bob Jones essentially wrote off any hope for Abercrombie beating Lingle in his colum this week, saying it’s Ed Case or Walter Dods or lose. Meanwhile, Dan Boylan had a column that portrayed Abercrombie as a haggard traveller slogging through his split responsibilities in D.C. and Hawaii, praising his intelligence and work ethic.

The Congressman is getting attention, which is more than any other candidate can say—this month, anyway.

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Youth prison is sued for civil rights violations

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 12:45 pm
Both dailies carry similar stories about this suit filed by the ACLU on behalf of the youth inmates at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility. The SB piece is here and the Advertiser article is here.

The State is aware of the conditions described in the lawsuit. Indeed, the State is working with the US Department of Justice to resolve similar concerns described in an August, 2005, DOJ report. The ACLU cites the ongoing chronic nature of the problems in their lawsuit, eseentially saying “the kids are through waiting.”

If the State were to lose this lawsuit it could result in a consent decree like the one that was imposed on Oahu Community Correctional Center for many years. One way or another, these problems and/or the lawsuits won’t go away without some money being spent to remedy the situation. Given the unpopularity of spending on anything that could even remotely be considered beneficial to prisoners, lawsuits may be the only way to force the hand of the legislature (some of whom would acknowledge the deficiencies, but that would certainly not be a majority of legislators) to take the complaints seriously.

One of these days perhaps the ACLU will finally lose patience with the stonewalling concerning parity for female offenders and will file a lawsuit on that long-festering topic. The topic is continually raised, opposed by the Executive Branch, and left to wither in the Lege. But that hypothetical is another story altogether… for now.

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Hey, that’s not on the agenda!

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 12:19 pm
The Advertiser has a story about a meeting in Waianae that probably did not go quite the way that the organizers had planned.

What was supposed to have been a public hearing on how best to fend off legal challenges to programs aimed at helping Native Hawaiians instead turned into a session where two of the largest of those institutions ? the Kamehameha Schools and the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs ? were bashed for failing to address the needs of the Wai’anae Coast communities.

Kimo Kelii, a seventh-grade math teacher at Nanakuli High and Middle School, said he thought long and hard about whether he should join other Native Hawaiians in supporting Kamehameha when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling during the summer that said the school’s Hawaiians-first admissions policy violates civil rights laws.

But then Kelii decided: “They go fight their own battle.”

Oooof! Not the expected response, I reckon.

Somewhat paradoxically, many of those critical of Kamehameha Schools were urging the takeover of some Waianae Coast schools by KS.

The Kamehameha critics got empathy from state Rep. Michael Kahikina, D-44th (Honokai Hale, Nanakuli) who asked, “When is Kamehameha going to take over Nanakuli (High School)?”


Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, said that after a recent conversation with Kamehameha chief executive officer Dee Jay Mailer that the school intends to boost its presence in public schools with large numbers of Native Hawaiians such as Nanakuli.

Given the recent court decisions and the stalled Akaka Bill, I would think that any such Kamehemeha Schools “presence” in, much less take over of, the public schools would also attract further legal challenges.

However, a less-risky response is already underway, according to the article:

Kamehameha has set up a community learning center in Nanakuli which serves Hawaiians of all ages living in the area, [KS Spokeswoman] Botticelli said.

The plan is “to reach out into the communities and provide educational opportunities outside of the campus programs,” Botticelli said, noting that more concrete plans were approved by the trustees in June. “It is philosophically a plan that seeks to strengthen children from the very young stages, pre-natal to eighth (grade) and carry it all the way through to college through scholarships and so forth.”

Still, there was a scheduled meeting and an article sidebar on the scheduled topic. The article did not mention if any information was provided or received at the meeting regarding the two court cases Arakaki v. Lingle and Doe v. Kamehameha. Was nothing said on that topic due to all the noted discord? Odd. The meeting travels to other locations and it will be interesting to see if the tenor of the events remains the same.

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Big Isle legislators comment on gasoline price cap

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HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 12:02 pm
Both of the Big Island papers carry the same article that polls the legislators who supported the gasoline price cap law in 2004. The West Hawaii Today piece is here, and an identical Hawaii Tribune-Herald article is here. The Honolulu dailies have been covering this story mostly by quoting House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro and Senator Ron Menor, so it’s instructive to find out what a few more legislators are saying (or not saying) about the law.

Some excerpts:

“I don’t support keeping it in its current form,” said Rep. Bob Herkes, D-Puna, Ka’u, Kona.

Still, Herkes said he doesn’t regret voting for the bill and feels it’s “ludicrous” for people to suggest the high prices would go away if the cap were repealed.


Herkes said he would support suspending the law for a year to provide time to review it. He also favors increasing competition in the fuel marketplace, temporarily repealing the state’s fuel tax and examining oil company profit levels.

Herkes said he planned to meet with the House leadership to express his concerns and seek a consensus to implement reforms.

As the incoming chair of the House Consumer Protection Committee, Herkes will have a significant voice on this topic.

Also favoring some tweaking is Sen. Paul Whalen, R-Kona, Kohala, who claims to have written the original cap proposal in 2002, but didn’t get a chance to support the 2004 version because he was absent when the final vote occurred.

Whalen prefers tying Hawaii’s cap to the international cost of crude oil, not mainland gas prices. Adjusting the formula to reduce profit margins also is needed, he said.

“I still support it,” Whalen said, adding the law will eventually drive down Hawaii’s high gas prices.

“I think sooner rather than later, too,” he said.

Whalen said he’ll work with Senate leaders to amend the law.

In 2002 Whalen was still a Representative, not a Senator, and I could find no evidence that he wrote the original gas cap proposal at that time. I suppose it’s possible that Whalen drafted a bill and somebody else introduced it, but I don’t see it. In any case, Republican-introduced bills go nowhere, so it’s mostly academic.

The law has achieved its stated purpose of creating price fluctuations that mirror mainland markets, said Sen. Russell Kokubun, D-Hilo, Puna, Ka’u.

“For those reasons, I do think it’s working, quote, unquote,” Kokubun said.

Hawaii may continue to have the highest gas prices because of more expensive transportation, labor and refining costs, he said.

Kokubun said time is needed to establish a track record and to analyze the law’s impacts on price volatility and Hawaii’s drivers.

“I’m not frozen on keeping it at status quo,” Kokubun said.

Speaking of analyzing the laws impacts, how much longer before the PUC receives the overdue reports from the oil companies which Senator Menor had mentioned earlier? Those reports are (or should be) the kind of information that would be of great help if this law is to be tinkered with.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-Hilo, Hamakua, S. Kohala, voted against the original bill in 2002 because she felt it would hurt gas station owners by capping both wholesale and retail prices.

Inouye also opposed a revised version in 2004, but voted for the bill with reservations after lawmakers changed it to base prices to those in Los Angeles, New York and the Gulf Coast.

Because Hawaii gets its oil from Asia and Alaska, local gasoline prices should have been unaffected by the recent Gulf Coast storms, she said.

“I’m still not sure if the cap is going to work,” Inouye said. “In most cases, I’m not comfortable with what transpired.”

Inouye said she’s unsure if she regrets having voted for the cap.

Noting she has “serious concerns” about supporting any effort to keep the law, Inouye said she awaits the Public Utilities Commission’s assessment of it, along with more public input.

“I’m really apprehensive about how I’m going to look at this,” she said. “It seems like it put us in a predicament, which is where we are today.”

Inouye’s comment about Hawaii getting oil from Asia and Alaska is true, but, excuse me for noticing, coming after the previous sentence her comment is a non-sequitur. She supported the law with reservations when the LA, NY, and Gulf Coast markets were made the basis of the price cap, then says the price should not have been affected when prices surged in those markets because we don’t get our oil from those markets. If her statement is premised on a “oil companies should not set the price equal to the cap” argument, then Inouye needs to be more clear. Instead, this quote makes her seem ridiculous.

Also changing his view of the bill was Rep. Jerry Chang, D-Hilo, who opposed the 2002 version because he favors a free-market approach, then supported the 2004 version to “give it a chance.”

Although he still wants to see how the law plays out over the next couple of months, Chang said he will submit legislation to tie the price to Asian markets that supply most of Hawaii’s oil.

Chang said that not capping retail prices was a problem, but added he is undecided whether to pursue that change because of his belief in the free-enterprise system.

The amendment to tie the price to the Asia market is worth talking about. In fact, I’ve posted previously that the PUC could arguably make that change under the existing law. Chang’s indecision about a retail price cap is well-founded. That is a terrible idea, as any review of the legislative history of the law would clearly demonstrate.

Rep. Dwight Takamine, D-Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, said time is needed to examine the law’s impact and consider changes once the Legislature starts its new session in January.

“I believe it’s a mixed bag at this point,” Takamine said. “I think we probably need more time to determine how effective it has been or will be.”

Takamine said while he’s disappointed that oil companies have used the recent Gulf Coast hurricanes to boost gas prices and wants an investigation of alleged gouging, he doesn’t regret voting for the gas cap because it was an effort to protect consumers.

Speaking of that alleged gouging, I received a copy of the report by Don Nichols of the University of Wisconsin economics department. The report is one of the motivating factors behind the push to have the Federal Trade Commission take a look at the issue. Nichol’s short memorandum makes a pretty good case that the whole nation, not just Hawaii, is being cheated by oil companies. I urge each of you to read it for yourself.

In the end, taking into account the responses from these legislators, it’s starting to look likely that there will be some effort to amend this law. In addition to a few attempts to repeal it outright.

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Counties trying to find some shade from the Sunshine Law

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 10:27 am
I received an email yesterday alerting me that the City Council will be hearing a resolution this afternoon that would lend Honolulu’s support to the effort by the Hawaii State Association of Counties to submit legislation to the State Legislature to remove the County Councils from the purview of the Sunshine Law. It seems iLind.net is also/already on the case. Lind writes:

This is an idea that has returned year after year for the last 20 years. So far, the legislature has not been receptive. Voting to maintain the openness at the county level doesn’t cost legislators anything and it allows them to say they voted for openness without undermining their own exemption from the statute. Hopefully this year’s county effort will similarly be defeated when it gets to the legislature.

I don’t see this going anywhere at the Lege. I think the only hope of this ever happening would be if each County were to first pass their own open-government ordinances. Then the Lege might be more receptive to cutting them free from the Sunshine Law. However, that strategy would also put more pressure on the Lege to confront and/or defend their own exemption from key parts of the statute. By not having any alternative protections in place the Counties make it too easy for the Lege to swat the County exemption idea aside. The Counties are saying, “trust us, we’ll do openness right.”

The Maui County Council is spearheading this effort, although recent news from Hawaii County would suggest that they might be supportive of the idea, too.

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Ferry clears another hurdle

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 1:21 pm
There is a story in the Advertsier today that describes a new 22-year contract between the State and the Superferry operators. The headline is that the State will be guaranteed at least $2.3 million per year to be raised via a surcharge on each passenger and vehicle that is transported. Assuming the Superferry actually begins service and then doesn’t quickly fail like every other ferry to date, it would take over a decade to recoup the $40M investment the State is making for piers barges at the various harbors.

The real Superferry story, in my opinion, is the lawsuit still on appeal and the threat of more. The article mentions it briefly, but I think the facts that conclude the article will enter into that subject, too.

In Honolulu, the new ferry operations will be based at Pier 19, where the state built a $5 million terminal in 2003. According to draft plans included in the agreement, the terminal will be used for ticket sales, customer processing, passenger and vehicle waiting, baggage and claim and other services.

Vehicles will enter the Pier 19 area from Nimitz Highway, undergo processing and be steered to a 24-lane auto staging area next to the docked ferry. There will be a separate entry area for passengers being picked up or dropped off at the terminal.

In other harbors, the state will allow Superferry to install and use its own equipment for passenger accommodations and security. The company could later be required to share its facilities with other ferry operators, according to the memorandum of agreement.

In Kahului, Maui, where the ferry operations have met stronger opposition from people concerned about congestion in the harbor and surrounding areas, the operations will be more complex than in other areas. Passengers and vehicles will wait to board the ferry in a terminal area near Wharf Street, almost a mile from the ferry docking area. A newly built curving road will be contraflowed to allow vehicles to exit and load on the ferry at the dock.

As I mentioned earlier, the clever decision to employ barges in an attempt to skirt the need for environmental review may be obscuring the fact that there are still a lot of improvements planned for the harbors that will be on land. According to the law covering environmental reviews, if the passenger accomodations, security, roads, and whatnot described in the article are to be built on state land or using state funds then they should be subject to review, so far as I can tell. Honolulu has the passenger facilities already (minus the loading barge), and the arguments are usually put forth that the ferry is not a new use of the harbor so it would be okay. Maybe so. Still, until the legal appeals are exhausted there is some risk to the State and the Superferry operators in penning these agreements—can you say “Hokulia?”

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Kinda busy

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— Doug @ 8:12 am
I need to focus my efforts on a semi-complicated task for a few hours. Luckily there is not a lot of news that I consider to be calling out for postings today.

Maybe I’ll post something this afternoon or evening. No promises.

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Your median income and $200,000 will (almost) buy you a home

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 3:35 pm
An excellent piece by Andrew Gomes about the huge (and increasing) gap between median home prices and what a median salary family can afford. Check it out. If you can’t stand to read another piece on the subject, and sometimes I almost feel that way, then look at this graphic from the article:

Fascinating. I wish that one of those economists contacted for this article would have offered an explanation for the way those plots approach convergence during the 1990s, then more-or-less parallel each other until 2003, and then diverge wildly for the past 3 years. What changed? (other than the Governor-ship, just kidding, heh)

Instead, we get annoying comments from UH economists such as this:

Despite record prices, the number of sales continue to rise over previous years, leading some to believe that the affordability gap can’t be that bad since more people are still buying.

Bonham said money being spent on homes ? $4.5 billion this year through September ? is generally good for the local economy, as spending benefits real-estate related businesses, government tax coffers and home sellers.

But he said there is a definite downside for those who don’t earn enough to buy. From their viewpoint, Bonham said, “It looks like you may never get into the market.”

Really? Is it “generally good for the local economy” if real-estate busineeses and home sellers benefit from a phenomenon that causes all sorts of grief for well over half the population? Economists need to learn how to subtract. This is not “generally good” for the local economy. It has to stop.

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22 dams in sketchy condition

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 3:09 pm
“Structures?” Aw, come on, you timid headline editor…

After the flooding disasters caused by the failed levees in New Orleans, the Advertiser has this article about the many dams scattered throughout the State. Most are old. 22 have deficiencies that “raise safety concerns.” The State has a feeble program that tries to monitor dam safety, but they day-to-day operation of the dams remains the kuleana of the various owners.

Browsing through the accompanying charts, it would seem that the jargon”high hazard” is perhaps too alarmist for this context. It implies (or casual readers would likely infer) that all those dams are about to fail, when what it really means is that IF those dams failed there would be “loss of life and significant property damage.” Do the Nuuanu reservoir’s noted “deficiencies” put it among the 22 dams that the experts say “raise safety concerns,” or not? The article is not as clear as it could be.

The [Nuuanu Reservoir] was designed to hold between 80 million and 1.2 billion gallons of water in the reservoir, but the Board of Water Supply makes up for the dam’s deficiencies by keeping its gates open and the water level low.

“Right now the water is at 28 feet and that is very, very low,” [BWS spokesperson] Shin said. “The upper flood gate is 47 feet. This helps to reduce the stress on the dam, but it is a balance; we have to keep from killing the fish.”

Wha? Let’s assume for a moment (all the alarmist talk suggests it is true) that the reservoir is one of the dams with “safety concerns.” Shin is saying that Nuuanu valley is exposed to a flood risk … to preserve a stock of catfish. Whatever. Lucky I live Kaneohe-side, ha ha.

Interestingly, the article mentions that the Nuuanu Reservoir was originally intended for hydroelectric power and drinking water. Why did the mission change to a fishpond? That reservoir, and any others that are kept at lowered depths because of poor condition, might be able to provide some drought relief, no? If that’s true, then having the dams refurbed and kept closer to full could make a signifcant difference.

Let’s think beyond the disaster scenario for a moment. How much fresh water are we letting run off into the ocean that we could be using for power, drinking, or irrigation? What might that mean for our renewable energy goals? How is it skewing development decisions and/or sprawl? What about agricultural lands that could be more productive with better irrigation?

Maybe these are questions the dam owners would rather we ignore. Seems to me that there’s more at stake here than simply stopping floods.

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Court shaping our society – like a co-equal branch of government

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 2:16 pm
Another provocative op-ed from Jerry Burris in the Advertiser today. He spends most of the column discussing the manslaughter case that was before the Hawaii Supreme Court recently, but he draws this conclusion;

No matter which way the court rules, it will be setting basic social policy for our state. And it won’t be the first time.

Going back to the days when William S. Richardson was chief justice, the state Supreme Court has often taken on the role of policymaker for the state, in some eyes the classic definition of an “activist” court.

The Richardson court set basic principles about public access to shorelines, and sought to redefine ownership of water rights in the context of Hawaiian tradition. This recognition of aboriginal rights and practices predated the embedding of such rights in the Constitution of 1978. Later courts expanded on this public-access doctrine and offered landmark rulings on issues ranging from pornography to the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Conservatives argue that the court has too often been out of step with public sentiment on these fundamental matters. But what is interesting is that the Hawai’i court has over the years clearly thought less about public sentiment than what it sees is the correct interpretation of the Constitution in light of social justice.

I happen to concur with the majority of the rulings Burris mentions in his piece, but it does not follow that the rulings are “the correct interpretation of the Constitution” simply because the Court upheld (and I share) some notion of social justice that is congruent with the rulings. The Court is going to be a political lightning rod no matter what version of “social justice” they choose to uphold (or not). What I consider to be social justice others might (and often do) consider to be balderdash.

The Court deals with controversial cases because our Constitution provides that they are a (not THE) legitimate venue to enter when citizens feel they have been harmed by the other two branches of government. It is certainly not the fault of the Court that the Legislature creates ambiguous or conflicting laws. Nor is it the fault of the Court that some laws are poorly executed. I don’t think it Burris’ point to blame the Court in his piece, but many of the Conservative “activist Court” complaints seem to rest on a false premise that the Court runs roughshod over the other two branches of government simply because it can and because it is “unaccountable.” The Court does rule on matters that are often the key controversies of the times, but only to the extent that the Legislature has not spoken explicitly on the matter (and/or amended the Constitution) or the Executive has not been carrying out the law. The Lege and the Governor may set aside thorny issues that are sure to create a political maelstrom, the Court has less latitude to dodge the tough questions. Someone’s gotta do it.

Okay, I’ll end my pedantic civics lesson.

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Unemployment figures produce only perfunctory coverage

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:54 pm
A few stories today about the very low unemployment numbers again for September. The Advertiser has this piece that uses the figures as a springboard to launch into discussions with job fair employers and job-seekers who still find the market unfavorable. The SB has another article that focuses more on economic analysis in the abstract.

Interestingly, neither piece mentions the possibility that Hawaii may be at full employment. Not in the “nobody is unemployed” sense, of course, but as far as I can tell an unemployment rate of only 2.7% is full employmnet. So, if that is true, then what is the effect (if any) on the Hawaii rate of inflation?

“It’s great news to have so many new jobs created over the past couple of years,” Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday. “It’s exciting. Not just the number of jobs are up, but personal income is up, as well, and that’s an important measurement because we don’t want to just create any kind of a job, we want higher paying jobs.”

That’s great. How much higher are personal incomes? Is that widespread, or only in certain sectors of the market? Businesses are said to need higher-skilled workers, meanwhile government functions are often stymied because so many civil servant positions are hard to fill. Still, there are loud howls when unionized workers (public or private) win a pay raise. Insert that saying about simultaneously eating and having ones cake here.

META language nerd comment: In the SB piece I found this strange sentence : “Strong as the numbers were, they were fairly ho-hum in a state that has been in the throes of an economic upswing driven by strong real estate and tourism sectors.” That is an awfully weird (mis)use of “throes.” Did they intend to say it is painful to have economic upswings with strong real estate and tourism sectors?

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Builders backpedal on Maui affordable housing issue

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:15 pm
Today we see the follow up article in the Maui News about the agressive new affordable housing proposal before the Maui County Council. I previously discussed the introduction of the proposal here and again here. This article describes the reactions of a few developers.

Developers indicated they were more likely to favor 30 percent designated for those in the 80 to 160 percent income levels for projects seeking a zoning change, but only with a condition of their own.

?As part of that, the permit process must be revamped,? said Henry Spencer, who recently got zoning approval for a small project at Spreckelsville and has plans for more.

Spencer was part of a panel that included Charlie Jencks of the Maui Contractors Association, Warren Suzuki of Maui Land & Pineapple Co. and Leiane Paci of Maui Lani. All four talked of delays in obtaining approvals that they say have played a large part in home prices climbing to nosebleed heights.

Okay, minimizing permit delays would increase the supply of housing and eventually lead to lower prices. However, from all accounts the construction business is booming right now and can hardly take on any more work because there is a shortage of skilled labor (more on that in another post). The need for affordable housing is more urgent than the need for market-rate housing, in my opinion.

In response to a question by Michelle Anderson, Planning Director Mike Foley acknowledged that he?s trying to fill seven vacancies. After the meeting, Ralph Nagamine of the county?s Development Services Administration (formerly Land Use and Codes Division), said his staff was finally up to speed, but he wasn?t sure how long that would last.

?We?re OK now, but that?s not to say that next month we?ll still be in good shape,? said Nagamine. ?With the economy being the way it is and the construction industry booming, they?re offering more (money) for our guys. Civil service just can?t compete.?

Nagamine said while he had no complaints at the moment, he was well aware that the Planning Department and Department of Water Supply were ?having a hard time? because of their depleted staffs. Calls to the water department were not returned.

Anderson said the council increased funding to the Planning Department for more hires, but she pointed out that even new applicants who want to take the jobs often change their minds when they hear about the high cost of housing here.

Talk about a self-perpetuating problem… sheesh. Perhaps the developers should arrange for affordable housing for the permitting staff—now that wouldn’t create a conflict of interest or anything, oh no, haha.

Jencks said ?philosophically,? members of his association want to build affordable housing for Maui?s working families, not push it off on someone else. Like other developers, he took issue with the committee?s recommendation that would have raised the requirement of affordable units to 40 percent if they were built off-site, and defended cash contributions in lieu of construction as a necessary piece in the affordable housing puzzle.

I wish there were an explanation of how anyone may “philosophically” find an affordable home if cash contributions from developers are substituted for housing units. What was Jenck’s defense of that concept?

But Jencks also urged lawmakers to look at past projects that were approved, given entitlements ? and have yet to provide their affordable component. Including such developments as the long-stalled Villages of Lealii to the half-completed Wailuku Project District, the list of affordable units owed as a result of zoning approvals granted by the county stands at 2,840. But, as pointed out by Housing Director Alice Lee, only 78 are due because the zoned projects were built.


Lee has said, on many previous occasions, that developers previously were only required to meet their affordable requirement on completion of the overall project ? and most of those projects listed have never been fully completed.

By all means, crack the whip on those 78 affordable units that are past due! But with a batting average of .027 I think it’s long past time to discard that “affordable units upon completion” clause in any future development agreements.

Committee members also had questions about the level of profits developers were making on new subdivisions, but nearly all those in the industry claimed an average of about 15 percent.

Let’s be clear, the lowest-priced affordable homes are probably not going to be profitable. Nothing stops developers from recuping the profits on the higher-priced affordables and the market-rate units, though. If it means that some would-be market rate buyers have to wait for a used house, well join the club. The working families at 50% of median income have been waiting much longer.

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State harbor users irked by meeting to discuss fee increases

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 4:34 pm
The SB has a story today about slip fees at state harbors and a series of meetings to discuss a proposed increase in the fees. The story interests me for two reasons.

First, the Ala Wai yacht harbor is a disgrace. I do the bulk of my sailing out of Kaneohe (from a private launch site), but occasionally I find myself sailing in town. At the end of Transpac, for example, all the boats finish off of the Diamond Head buoy, are welcomed by the Hawaii Yacht Club, and tie up in the Ala Wai harbor. This year, however, so many of the Ala Wai piers were condemned that the usual “TransPac Row” arrangement was scrapped and race organizers struggled to improvise berthing for all the finishing boats on temporary floating piers. They did the best they could, but it was a big step down from the usual spectacle. The Ala Wai restrooms have always been pretty scuzzy, too.

Second, the complaints of harbor users in the article that there was not enough publicity given for the public meeting are legitimate. Some of the harbor users actually live on their boat in the harbor, so this is the equivalent of raising their rent. The “announcement” that there would be hearings at some time is almost a year old. I suspect that the DOBOR has followed the letter of the law regarding publishing notices of the meetings in the newspaper legal section, but they should take a cue from the Legislature and compile a list in order to send an email or letter to those interested to learn exactly when the meeting will be held. It’s not fair to expect harbor users to scan the legal notices for 11 months watiing to get the date.

The fees do need to go up, though. They have been a scandalous bargain for a long time.

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BOE approves new funding formula despite its shortcomings

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 12:35 pm
Both Honolulu dailies report on the Board of Education vote to phase in the weighted student formula for spending in school year 2006-2007, albeit limiting the gains and losses of any single school during the first year to 10% of the final change. The full amount of change will take 4 school years (five according to the SB?) to take full effect. The Advertiser story is here (with a link to a PDF detailing the funding changes), and the SB piece is here.

The formula is designed to calculate the costs of a student’s education, allocating more money to those who are in poverty, who speak English as a second language or who are transient, like the children of military members. Students who go to smaller schools will have a higher “weight” because their education costs more.

Critics of the current budget system say it allocates funds under a hodgepodge of formulas, most of which are outdated. But opponents of the weighted student formula contend schools that face cuts will be forced to get rid of arts programs and noninstructional staff, including librarians.

Where does one find the current budget system formulae (i.e. the formulae soon to be replaced)? The Advertiser piece has the best attempt I’ve seen yet to describe the new weighted student formula. It turns out that it does incorporate a factor to account for small schools (which I spoke of earlier), but looking at the PDF file showing the school-by-school breakdown it would seem that those factors are insufficient.

If it is truly necessary for small schools to have services comparable to larger schools (librarians, counselors, art programs, science labs, etc.), and I think it is, then the weighted student formula needs to include a factor for each student to account for his or her “share” of that expense. A better alternative method to accomplish the same result would be to limit the “pot” of money to which the weighted student formula is applied (Section 3 of the law already allows the Committee on Weights to “determine which moneys shall be included in the amount of funds to be allocated through the weighted student formula.”) The BOE should set aside for each school an amount equal to what is necessary to provide some (arbitrary but fair) minimum amount of those services. Apply the weighted student formula to the remaining funds. Principals that want to provide more (or different) services would still be free to spend the money allocated to his or her school however they pleased, but they would be held accountable for those decisions and the kids at smaller schools would not be categorically priced out of the “noninstructional staff” market.

The intent of all this is to improve education, not to demonstrate a quixotic zeal to “equalize” student funding at some dollar amount that is not an accurate measure of what is needed to improve (or even maintain) the school the student will attend. This new weighted student formula seems to be based on a faulty assumption that economies of scale should rule the day, even if the education infrastructure that exists won’t allow for it.

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No-tow freeway aid patrol to start by summer

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 11:00 am
Another update in the Advertiser today about the State’s plan to provide free assistance for motorists stranded on the freeway. As previously predicted, the services will not include towing when they begin next summer. That service will be added later, once an existing sole-source contract between the City and a private tow company expires. At that time, “Operation Clunker Enabler” (not its official name) could be implemented in full force.

“DOT has decided to delay the start date of the physical towing services portion of the project until Aug. 1, 2007,” the state told the company, Stoneridge Recoveries, on Monday. That satisfies the company’s concerns, attorney Mark Kawata said.

Stoneridge has a contract to provide Honolulu police with exclusive towing service from ‘Aiea to Waipahu. The company then charges motorists for towing. Allowing the state to provide free service would have taken away about 80 percent of its business, Kawata said.

One immediate solution would be for that tow company to submit all its tow invoices from that segment of the freeway to the State, instead of the motorist, for payment. Whatever. Again, I’ll never use the service on my moped, but it seems like a wimpy decision to simply wait Stoneridge out.

Initially, the patrols running along the freeway at about 15-minute intervals will operate only on the H-1 Freeway from the H-2 merge to Middle Street. They’ll provide just enough gas or other services to get a stranded car off the freeway, Haraga said.

If successful, the service will expand to cover all state freeways, he said.

The intent of the program, of course, is to keep traffic moving at peak traffic hours when any breakdowns will cause huge problems. The same logic should apply to major surface streets [think Kamehameha Highway, Fort Weaver Road, Kalanianaole Highway, Pali Highway, Likelike Highway, Nimitz Highway, etc], but it seems the State is not that interested in keeping traffic flowing smoothly. Eh, it’s a start—in a year or so.

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Census data quantify urban sprawl and transit issues

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— Doug @ 9:52 am
Both Honolulu dailies have stories today based on U.S Census Bureau data describing commuter traffic flows nationwide. The Advertiser piece is here, and the SB piece is here.

The daytime population data reveal a (predictably) significant amount of daily variations in population as commuters travel from where they live to where they work. In Honolulu they estimate that the population during a workday increases by 93,305, or about 25.1%

Most head to urban Honolulu, which attracts 93,300 commuters, increasing the inner city’s population by 25 percent. The Census Bureau estimated the city’s total population at 371,657, with 173,069 of those people also working in town. The report did not outline the boundaries of what it considers urban Honolulu.

The area between Red Hill and Hawaii Kai, what the bureau considers metropolitan Honolulu, is about 12th in the nation in daytime population growth among cities with population more than 250,000, just below Denver, which grows by 28 percent each day, and about even with Raleigh, N.C.; Minneapolis; and Sacramento, Calif.

Point for the SB. Though you’d have to dig around the Census Bureau a bit to find that metropolitan Honolulu definition.

Speaking of which, the link above (provided by the Advertiser story) contains some fairly large text files (and Excel spreadsheets) and isn’t particularly user-friendly to parse. However, that server contains a great deal of other interesting data. For example:

The parent directory offers subdirectories with names such as: age, ancestry, child, computer, daytime, education, fertility, foreign, gender, grandparents, hh-fam, hispanic, journey, language, marital-hist, marr-div, migration, ms-la, race, school, statbriefs, voting, and well-being. Gotta be some interesting stuff in there for those willing to browse around…
An easier-to-read page of links to information about how Americans journey to work. In particular, this PDF report on pages 9-12 addresses the same themes as the newspaper articles, with the addition of, what else?, more Census data.
Anyway, coming back to the articles, I was expecting (or maybe hoping) that the focus of the discussion would go beyond what the data suggest for mass transit. All these data indicate that many people don’t live where they work. There is another name for this phenomenon: urban sprawl. Mass transit is a reactive response, at best. Mayor Hannemann mentions “promoting” more jobs in Kapolei and West Oahu, but it is telling that the person quoted in the Advertiser article as a representative of the (rare) folks who live AND work in Ewa is an employee of … the Ewa by Gentry Community Association. Her job is the fruit of urban sprawl, not the seed of a solution. Heh.

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HI Supreme Court hears arguments in case about manslaughter and pregnant women

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 11:00 am
Yesterday the Advertiser had this preview of an argument before the Hawaii Supreme Court and today the SB reports on the actual court proceedings. It is not known when the Court will rule on the case.

Usual disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.

It involves a case where a pregnant woman was using methamphetamine very near to the time she delivered the baby, two days later the baby died. The woman agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years probation. She subsequently appealed the conviction, arguing that the case should not have gone forward to trial.

If the ruling is upheld, there may be some controversial legislation to amend the manslaughter law. If the ruling is overturned (and maybe even if it is not), abortion opponents will draw parallels to abortion (these will go nowhere). However, trying to clarify how the manslaughter law should be applied to the actions of pregnant women would be non-trivial for the Legislature and very likely would become a “wedge issue” in 2006.

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Sun shines on Hawaii County Council spat — look away

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 10:15 am
Be careful what you ask for, you may just get it.

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald has an account of a contentious meeting of the Hawaii County Council where a reorganization proposal was discussed and ultimately tabled. There is a pending lawsuit from various media and watchdog groups filed against the Honolulu City Council regarding the manner they reassign responsibilities and committee membership. The Honolulu procedure spares us from moments like this Hilo incident.

The council reorganized following last year’s elections and shuffled leadership again in April, resulting in hard feelings by ousted members.

Then on Oct. 5, councilors approved creating a task force to examine the “leadership, scope, responsibilities and efficiency” of the council’s six committees.

The four-member task force – a larger panel would violate Hawaii’s open-meetings law – presented its recommendations at Tuesday’s meeting.

Those recommendations included removing Hoffmann and North Kona Councilman Angel Pilago as co-chairmen of the council’s Planning Committee. Puna Councilman Gary Safarik, the former council chairman, would no longer run the Public Safety and Parks and Recreation Committee, while Ka’u Councilman Bob Jacobson would be stripped of his position as chairman of the Environmental Management Committee.

The committee chairs would go to the four task force members: Isbell, Hamakua Councilman Fred Holschuh, Hilo Councilman James Arakaki and Hilo Councilman Donald Ikeda.

“How ironic that these four people are now the (recommended) chairs of these four committees,” Safarik said.

Indeed, heh.

Why is it okay if four members of the Hawaii County Council meet privately but not okay for members of the Honolulu County Council to meet in sequential one-on-one meetings? The Honolulu meetings allegedly result in a “rolling quorum,” but the October 5, 2005, Hawaii County Council “communication from the Chair” (no vote required) establishing the “task force” gave Hawaii County a process only marginally different (it provides for a subsequent vote on the task force recommendations) than the new process in Honolulu of reorganization by means of a simple memorandum from the Council Chair. Who’s kidding who here?

Council Chairman Stacy Higa of Hilo said the public critique was necessary to comply with the Sunshine Law, noting the Honolulu County Council is being sued for an alleged violation caused by forwarding one member’s comments to another member.

“I don’t like airing dirty laundry. I really don’t, but sometimes our hands are tied,” Higa said.

Hmmm. Nothing happened and the Council agreed to work out their differences, so should we consider that a victory for “open government?” I still have my doubts about applying the Sunshine Law agressively on the topic of reorganizing legislative bodies (see also my previous posts here and here). The Sunshine Law butts up against the ability of a legislative body to efficiently govern their internal affairs.

Imagine the stress (and the retaliation against dissent) that would be caused if citizens could not discuss their voting decisions in private when choosing legislators. Reorganization makes for some gossipy news reports, and I’m as guilty of being interested in it as anybody, but I’m not convinced that knowing more of the details makes me a better informed citizen. Is Hawaii County better off now because the Sunshine Law seems to have postponed this particular reorganization? I have my doubts. To come this far and keep the current organization doesn’t resolve the simmering discontent, despite the talk of “working things out.”

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Pssst, Bainum is preparing for a return to politics

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 10:24 am
Another notable story that finds the PBN scooping the major Honolulu dailies. Prabha Natarajan strikes again. This time it is a piece about the (anticipated) return of Duke Bainum to politics.

UPDATE: Not a scoop, Borreca at the SB had the story in January. Gotta search my own archives…

“It would wonderful to be part of the political government,” Bainum told PBN. “I enjoy service, be it medical volunteering, community organizations or running for political office. I enjoy making my community a better place to live.”

A Democrat who has served in the state Legislature and on the Honolulu City Council, Bainum said he is interested in running for Congress, maybe for mayor again, but definitely not for governor. Both of Hawaii’s two U.S. House seats, now occupied by Ed Case and Neil Abercrombie, and the Senate seat held by Daniel Akaka will be up for election in 2006.

The next third of the article deals with, what else, the blog accounts of the legal cloud around his wife.

But before he turns in his nomination papers, he will have to address the allegations about his wife, Jennifer, that many political observers believe cost him the election.

“We are still exploring what those options are and have been advised to take our time,” Bainum said. “By no means am I done or is all this over. We will take measures of some sort to present the true facts.”

Jennifer Bainum was a key figure in a messy family dispute involving her care of an elderly man and her control of his estate. Though the dispute was settled in court nearly a decade ago with no suggestion that Jennifer Bainum did anything wrong, a politically oriented [blog] unearthed the case and essentially cast her as a thief.

The reports never hit the mainstream media, but enough blogs and talk shows and homemade handouts pulled the issue out of the shadows to undermine the foundation of Bainum’s campaign against Mufi Hannemann.

Hmmm. If Bainum runs for the U.S. House then he needs to choose his new residence (and opponent in that race) on Oahu carefully. However, if Abercrombie were to run for Governor, then Bainum would be a strong candidate to fill that vacancy; with or without any whisper/blog campaign.

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Big Isle pols face impeachment effort

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 10:02 am
The Mayor and all but one member of the Hawaii County Council have been hit with an impeachment petition, according to this Hawaii Tribune-Herald article. The petitioner alleges that there was no review of the marijuana eradication program before funding was reauthorized for the program.

According to the County Charter (Section 3-16),

At least once every four years, the council shall critically review every program supported wholly or paritally by county funds, and unless the council shall favorably authorize its continuation at current or modified levels, the program shall be terminated. The council shall adopt procedures and details to implement this section.

Okay, that is pretty clear. What are the procedures and details to implement it? It is hard to say if there is any legitimate problem with what was done until it’s known what was actually required.

The impeachment procedure is surprisingly easy in Hawaii County. From Section 12-2.1 of the charter:

Any elected officer or officer appointed to a vacancy in any elected office may be impeached for malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance, or maladministration in office. The circuit court shall be a court of impeachment for the trial of any such officer who may be charged on any of the foregoing grounds. The charges shall be set forth in detail in writing in a verified petition for impeachment signed [sic] not less than one hundred (100) qualified electors of the county.

The court shall sit without a jury and shall proceed by the form required for the trial of all civil cases.

If the court sustains the charge, the officer shall be deemed removed from office and the office declared vacant under this charter.

Mayor Harry Kim is quoted in the article as saying the charge “has no merit.”

Here again, it should be a pretty straightforward matter of nonfeasance; the elected officers can either show that a program review was completed, or they can’t. I’m not familiar enough with Hawaii County government to check for myself if a review was done. I don’t even know where to look for that information, actually. However, I would have hoped that a reporter on the scene might want to check on these things when filing this story…

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Don’t cry for the moped riders

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 9:26 am
I got a good chuckle from Bob Krauss’ column about mopeds in the Advertiser today. He is riffing off of the earlier article about mopeds illegally parking on sidewalks or bicycle racks. Krauss means well, but he goes a bit overboard in this column.

Economists have a name for it: conspicuous consumption. It’s the reason Hawaiian chiefs were big and fat and commoners were small and skinny. The chiefs ate up all the good food. So it’s no wonder that a major number of SUV drivers seem to be overweight.

Of course, SUV drivers hate mopeds. Mopeds get in the way. Worse still, they are a reminder that a lot of people can’t afford big cars. They are the downtrodden poor. They are the segment of society that always gets it in the neck.

It’s true that a few people who ride mopeds do it to protect the environment or as a statement against capitalism. My good friend, a tenured university professor, rides a moped. In his helmet, he drives like a dervish and looks like a garden-variety astronaut. But then he’s always been a rebel.

However, most moped riders do it because they are poor. Motorcycles have a certain panache, a Hell’s Angels mystique. Automobile drivers have prestige. They’ve made it. They are the success story of the previous century. Moped riders are the Third World, the unwashed, the economically deprived, the soup-kitchen society of transportation.

It’s heartening to see mo-peds popping up all over the place. It means the downtrodden are rising again. Poor people always find a way to climb the ladder. It’s the American way.

Ooof! “Third World, unwashed, deprived, and soup-kitchen society? ” ha ha.

I used to ride a bicycle to work, before I got lazy. Sigh.

Mopeds just make sense for quick trips. I’d rather ride a motorcycle, sure, but those parking and insurance costs add up quickly and mopeds are the next best thing. Krauss is ignoring (or ignorant of) the main reason to ride a moped (or motorcycle), namely: it’s fun. How many commuters in automobiles actually look forward to the daily trip? Explaining this to motorists is a waste of time, however. You either understand it, or you don’t.

Plus, commuting on two wheels you get to field questions like: “What happens if it rains?” Answer: “You get wet.” [blank stare]

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School funding formula is blind to its own shortcomings

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 1:40 pm
Both Honolulu dailies have stories about a compromise proposal regarding the implementation of the weighted student formula for DOE funding. The Advertiser piece is here and the SB article is here. The formula will result in significant changes in the amount of funding sent to some schools, and the compromise aims to make it less painful, at least for the first year, for schools that face large cuts. I’ve also posted about this dispute here and here.

The weighted student formula is an important piece of the Reinventing Education Act of 2004, and will give schools more discretion over how to spend their funds by giving them “lump sum” budgets based on student enrollment, rather than staff positions.

Through assigned “weights,” extra money will be directed to students who need more help, such as those who are poor, just learning English, have special needs or change schools frequently.

However, the formula as proposed would have the largest effect on rural, remote, small and combination schools.

Sections 3, 4, and 6 of Act 51 allow for a good deal of discretion when it comes to establishing the weighted student formula. I don’t understand why the Committee on Weights can’t be sent back to the drawing board to incorporate new factors into the weighting formula to address the needs of students at rural, remote, small and combination schools. Obviously, some schools would still see their funding increase or decrease, but the dramatic impact on any one school could be minimized. To know of these factors and yet exclude them seems pretty silly. This can be fixed.

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How the mass transit decisions will proceed

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 11:23 am
Still more about Honolulu’s mass transit planning process from Mike Leidemann in his Advertiser column today. The Advertiser also has an editorial on the topic, stressing the importance of public participation in the process.

Leidemann gives a brief history of the failures of the past, and then describes how the public will be able to participate this time around. I was particularly intrigued by this final point:

The city’s contract with the planning firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, Quade and Douglas lays out very specific steps the company must take to seek and record public input. Public meetings, design charettes (intensive discussions), Web sites and newspapers all are included in the process. Specific attention should be paid to groups that are most likely to be users of the new transit system and those who are traditionally underserved or under-represented in the public involvement process, including low-income and minority populations.

There will even be a database of all public comments received organized by topic area (alignment, ridership, environmental, etc.), and company officials are required to respond to all comments within five business days.

What exactly does that mean?

“Respond” as in, “hey, I got your email flame you sent yesterday.” Or “respond,” as in, “your comment about XYZ has been studied and the available data show … blah blah, etc.” If it is the latter, then I suggest they assign a staffer or two just to deal with the inevitable deluge of comments from Cliff Slater, ha ha.

If this database of comments and responses is to be part of the forthcoming website, then I’m excited to see how the effort works out. Doing much of the website in a blog format would be a great idea, too.

I am curious just how expansive the definition of “all public comments received” might be. Some powerful players may not be comfortable commenting on the project if it means they will have no confidentiality. [Heck, some of the non-powerful might be reluctant, too.] The typical workaround for the powerful is that they present their comments in a private forum and then speak in generalities in public. If that is to be the case, we won’t see their real opinions listed on any database…

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No Surplus Left Behind

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:21 am
Borreca was at the recent Faith-Based and Community Initiatives conference and provided this report to SB readers about a new idea from Governor Lingle.

Last week, Lingle said she would consider using a portion of the state’s $632.6 million projected surplus to fund some of the additional $453 million requested by the Department of Education.

Lingle, who was attending a Faith-Based and Community Initiatives conference yesterday, said money for education should have some strings attached.

“There is going to be a call for more funding for education, but we are going to propose it in a way that does two things: It ties any additional funding to specific results that are going to have to be achieved … and No. 2, that any extra money goes directly to the classroom,” Lingle said.

The governor had no details. What portion of this projected surplus is she talking about? How is money sent “directly to the classroom?” There is great variation of achievement between grades in the same school, and even between classrooms in the same grade and school. The students, of course, move on to the next grade and new classrooms, so does the money follow the high-achieving students or stay with the faculty? Or perhaps the Governor is talking about CIP funds. Do higher-achieving students deserve a permanent classroom, cafeteria, library, or gymnasium more than struggling students?

House Education Committee Chair Roy Takumi had this comment:

“I think it is realistic in the long term. In the short term, I don’t know how you could say give a school an additional $500,000 and expect reading scores to improve by 10 points the next year,” Takumi said.

“Education improvement doesn’t happen like that. If the school doesn’t make the goal, do they give the money back?” Takumi asked.

That last question is not just Takumi being his usual witty self, it illustrates another conceptual flaw in the Governor’s plan. On a superficial level, the idea is politically golden for as long as it remains in the abstract. Implementation may not actually be realistic, but that’s almost beside the point. To “reward” the achievers is another way to “punish” the students that really need to improve.

Finally, is this proposal to be considered in addition to, or in lieu of, a tax relief plan? Heh.

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Pollution could be swept under the foundation

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 9:37 am
Nice work by Prabha Natarajan of PBN for this article calling attention to the pollution at the site of the big new Kakaako redevelopment project. Studies are underway to gauge the extent of the pollution and to remediate the problem, but it’s an open question who will be stuck with the bill.

In the $300 million proposal A&B Properties submitted to redevelop the site, the company made it clear that it wasn’t going to pay for the cleanup .

W. Allen Doane, president and CEO of Alexander & Baldwin (Nasdaq: ALEX), said he expected to get the land in a ready-to-build condition and the company wouldn’t be willing to wait long for the state to fix it.

“The proposal we submitted to the state said the cost of the remediation would not be at our expense,” said Stanley Kuriyama, CEO of A&B Properties. “Now, the details of what has to be done, who’s going to do what, and who pays for it are all part of the negotiations. It’s a very important part because we don’t want to end up with a five-year remediation process.”

According to the article the new medical school building had a similar pollution problem. “The building’s footprint was designed so its foundation would cap the existing contamination. And contaminated soil in noncapped areas was removed and shoveled under the foundation. ” Kakaako Waterfront Park? Also built on top of a polluted site. Nice.

Daniel Dinell, HCDA’s executive director, said the agency didn’t have the money to undertake any cleanup on its own but would offer A&B credits such as lowering the price of the land for doing the work.

Also, the state plans to go after former tenants that may have polluted.

“When you look at an industrial operation like that you realize that it doesn’t all look right and a portion of the damage is caused by them,” Dinell said. “We’ve shared that information with them and need to work it out with them.”

Somehow I doubt the former tenants are going to pay for the cleanup without a fight. The State is in a big rush (they want to be ready before January 18!?) to get going with this redevelopment, so something has to give. Offering “credits” to A&B for them to handle the cleanup seems more likely, in my opinion. Whoever does it, however, I’m suspicious that they are not going to be as thorough as they should—the State appears to have a potential conflict of interest in this situation. i.e. The State determines what is clean and safe, if the state offers credits to A&B that is in effect paying for the cleanup, and the State really wants the development to proceed.

HCDA is working with the state Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to hasten the evaluation and work toward a similar, cost-effective way to remove the contamination.

“It’s not going to be the heavy hand of regulators going against developers,” said Davis Bernstein, manager of the state Department of Health’s brownfields and voluntary response programs.

“We want to make sure it’s done properly but we realize it’s a challenge. We hope to integrate into the development the remediation and hope the cost won’t be too much more than the cost to develop the site.”

This is an interesting reversal to the usual storyline. Here we have developers rushing to build luxury condos over formerly-polluted land, where usually we could expect proposals to place, for example, a public housing project on “decontaminated” real estate. The developer and the state might be willing to do a “good enough” job, but will the buyers of the condos be satisfied with that assessment?

“Our timeline is to have a full analysis done ASAP,” Kuriyama said. “The initial documents show there’s a lot of contamination all over. People won’t buy [the residential condominiums] if we don’t do it and say it’s safe and healthy. That’s why it is important for us to do this.”

A&B Properties plans to build and sell 947 condos. This residential component is the economic driver of the entire project, making money for both the state and A&B.

This is worth keeping an eye on as the project proceeds. Kudos to PBN.

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Moped parking anarchy

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 10:19 am
I ride a moped, so I took note of this Advertiser article about the largely ignored city ordinances concerning parking of mopeds. My favorite part of the article is the photo with this caption:

Hawai’i Pacific University student Tony Brancato, 19, parks his moped near Fort Street Mall and says he hasn’t received a ticket yet. The law says that mopeds are to be parked only in marked stalls, which moped riders say makes their vehicles easier to steal.

A closer look at the photo shows that there is a police officer walking right past Brancato and an entire line of what appear to be, according to the strict interpretation of the law, illegally parked mopeds. HPD explains the situation like this:

“The bottom line is the only legal place to put a moped is in a marked parking stall,” said Honolulu Police Department Sgt. William Axt. “It comes down to the definition of a motor vehicle and the (law) contradicts itself.”

Axt said one section of the law says a moped is not a motor vehicle, but the motor vehicle section includes mopeds. At the discretion of officers, tickets can be issued for mopeds parked on the sidewalk or if attached to a bicycle rack, Axt said.

Lucky thing for me, that discretion. I suppose if the fines for moped parking violations went to the City (instead of the State) we would expect to see more agressive enforcement of this law.

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DLNR (modestly) toots own horn

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:53 am
The SB has a story today based on a letter sent from DLNR Director Peter Young to legislators.

“There’s a lot of good news to share about DLNR, the partnerships that it’s forming and the good work of what the people of DLNR and the partnerships are doing,” Young said. “It’s a message we want to share with others, not in a bragging sense, but in a sense that the protection of our natural and cultural resources are the responsibilities of each of us.”

The three key achievements by the land department that Young noted were:

? The Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ acquisition of 25,856 acres of Big Island rain forest, known as the Wao Kele o Puna forest, for conservation.

? Partnerships with private landowners to protect nine forested watersheds across the state, comprising nearly 1 million acres of land.

? A new program with the Community Conservation Network, the Nature Conservancy and the Hawaii Wildlife Fund to create “Mauka-Makai Watch,” a program similar to a neighborhood crime watch to protect natural and cultural resources.

“…not in a bragging sense.” Right.

As the article notes, earlier this year Young was taking fire from OHA and conservation groups for a string of resignations of high-ranking DLNR management. The House passed a draft of HCR 200 that sought a comprehensive audit. In the findal Senate draft of that Concurrent Resolution (that ultimately passed) the audit was greatly scaled back in scope, but DLNR seems to have taken the complaints at least somewhat seriously. In an earlier post about the resolution, I concluded with this prescient (not in a bragging sense, ha ha) wisecrack:

As for the Chairman?s desire for the audit to also discuss ?what?s going well,? don?t hold your breath. The Auditor only has a limited amount of time to complete all the audits assigned each year, and accounting for what is ?going well? is not a particularly efficient use of that time if there is any question that more problems are yet to be discovered and discussed.

Anyway, we can certainly count on Governor Lingle, Mr. Klompus, Director Young, et al to let us know what is going well. Heh.

Even earlier, in this post, I had speculated that much of the criticism of Young emerges from his active “public/private partnership” modus operandi. If that’s true, then the 3 public/private “achievements” Young cites in his letter would do little to assuage those critics. So, in that sense, maybe Young truly is not bragging, but rather thumbing his nose.

It’s too bad that the article solicited comments from OHA Administrator Clyde Namuo instead of one of the three trustees who had previously sought the resignation of Young…

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Rail route proposals coming, or “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 9:09 am
With the GET increase now in place for implementation in 2007, the planning for how to spend those revenues for transit on Oahu has begun. Mike Leidemann has a useful article with a synopsis and timeline of what comes next. Moving from the abstract “we need a transit system” to the specifics makes the issue much more complex and likely to cause disputes.

The first thing I notced was that the planners appear to be willing to throw Cliff Slater a bone. Recently he had an op-ed in the Advertiser (with a footnoted version at his own website) that made the following point:

Value of time is a significant determinant of how commuters choose between the various commuting methods open to them. It is the second most important determinant next to commuters? out of pocket costs for parking.

However, neither value of reliability nor value of time have been included in past computer models attempting to correctly forecast transit ridership. It may be the reason that every Honolulu bus ridership forecast for the past 20 years has greatly overstated the actual ridership.[6]

It will be interesting to see whether these values will be factored into the supposedly highly sophisticated computer model that will influence whether we get HOT lanes or rail transit.

In Leidemann’s article I noticed this:

Many conditions have changed, though. Population growth has shifted from Central O’ahu to West O’ahu. The new plan is the first to consider starting a rail line in Kapolei. Construction costs have soared. With gas prices likely to remain around $3 for the foreseeable future, projected ridership figures are sure to change. Information-gathering will include an extensive on-board survey of bus riders to see why and where they are riding and whether they would use a rail line.

Ridership projections have been particularly troublesome in the past, company officials admit. Until about 10 years ago, most computer models tended to seriously overestimate new ridership on mass transit, giving fuel to critics who said transit planners were trying to feather their own nest.

“Since then, the Federal Transit Administration has come up with strict new standards for ridership. Since the late 1990s, most of the projects have come within 20 percent of the original projections,” [assistant project manager] Scheibe said.

However, I think Slater, Councilmember Djou, et al, will not be pleased with the way the “alternatives” are being described in Leidemann’s article. In a sidebar we find this:

When it is finished late next year, the alternatives analysis study and draft environmental impact statement for a “highcapacity corridor project” will look at three main alternatives for O’ahu’s transportation future:

No-build option. This alternative will forecast what would happen to the island’s traffic if no major new transit initiatives were completed in the coming years.
Transportation system management option. This alternative presents the best that can be done by improving existing service, including buses and other systems already in place.
Rail option. This alternative will discuss options for building a rail transit system, including recommendations of three or four best routes.
It seems that from the start HOT lanes are not being seriously considered as an alternative. However, at the “scoping” meetings planned for December 2005 the public will be able to “discuss project’s purpose, need and alternatives.” Perhaps at that time other alternatives will be added for study. I dunno. Leidemann has no elaboration on a sentence/paragraph that says, “Rail is one of several transit options planners are studying.” The whole article speaks entirely about rail, but it’s hard to say if that’s because the other options will be considered (and reported) later, or if the company doing the study has nothing to tell because the other options are not seriously being considered. I suspect the latter.

Although the Parsons company and its employees have contributed more than $31,000 to various local election campaigns in the past four years, officials say there will be nothing political about the report it produces.

“Our job is to gather all the technical data and make some recommendation based upon our best professional judgment,” Page said. “Ultimately, it’s up to the city officials to reach agreement on what they want to do.”

Heh! Time will tell. I think it’s totally safe to say this is going to be a hugely political topic from start to finish. Parsons may be able to maintain some semblance of neutrality in the planning process, but with so much at stake there are going to be plenty of political and financial heavy hitters taking interest in these planning stages. Residents, riders, and opponents had better be well-organized if they expect to be heard and to prevail.

Oh, while I’m feeling cynical, I’ll predict a few lawsuits along the way and some intervention by the state government, too…

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Hokulia property owners sue state and Hawaii County

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 7:57 pm
I was distracted with other things yesterday and today, but I spent a few hours today reading some of the background to the Hokulia saga. This week many media reports were published about a new lawsuit filed by the property owners of the stalled development. The West Hawaii Today story is typical of the coverage, with the added benefit of comments from attorneys for the landowners and for the parties that stopped the development.

Nutshell analysis: I stand by my earlier post, i.e. I do not think this lawsuit has a chance to proceed, much less for the property owners to prevail. The underlying issues, and specifically the development on ag lands, are crying out for resolution. That much is agreed to by both sides. The Supreme Court [a new addition to my blog links, by the way], however, has denied numerous requests to expedite the appeal of the Circuit Court decision that stopped all work on the development. The Legislature, despite a concerted push by some legislators, did not intervene this year to clarify the issue. By most accounts the Supreme Court appeal could take several years, so perhaps in the interim the lege will weigh in. Or not.

Both the Hokulia developers and the Protect Keopuka Ohana hui have websites that present a great deal of information and source documents on the long-running litigation. The volume of information is actually somewhat overwhelming, but with some patience it is possible to get a fair understanding of just what has happened [with each side spinning the story to their own advantage, of course].

Strangely, neither website seems to have posted the 2003 decision underlying this beef. I can understand why the developers would not want to include that damaging decision, but why PKO omitted it I can’t understand. UPDATE: here is the September 2003 decision, courtesy of Hawaii Island Journal.

From the WHT piece:

A September 2003 ruling by Third Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra bars development of homes at Hokulia – Arizona developer Lyle Anderson’s $1 billion luxury community makai of Kealakekua – until the developer reclassifies the agricultural land or receives a clarification from the state Land Use Commission regarding its proper use.

Lot owners claim average losses of about $1.2 million per lot, not including lost appreciation. They claim, collectively, the minimum damages are $224.6 million and, with interest accrued, $265.8 million.

“Under settled and cherished principles of law recognized in Hawaii and throughout the country, the Third Circuit Court should not have taken away our clients’ right to use their land and build their homes, especially in a lawsuit to which our clients were not even parties,” Baker said.

Since the lot owners are considered third parties to the development agreement entered into between the county and the developer, they claim a breach of contract against the county. They are also claiming negligent misrepresentation, negligence, breach of warranty and inverse condemnation. The Hokulia developer’s agreement was the first developer’s agreement entered into by the county.

Usual disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.

I am really confused by lot owners’ claims. The County approved the development agreement. It was the 3rd Circuit Court that stopped the Hokulia project, not the County. Indeed, the County is joining the developer in their efforts to have the Circuit Court decision overturned. By laying the claim against the County it is as if the lot owners are saying that the County should have known that the State would not approve of resort-style luxury homes masquerading as farmhouses. If that is the case, then it would seem the lot owners should sue the developer, not the County, because the County had no discretion to deny the approval even though they did see through the rather transparent “agriculture” ploy foisted upon them by the developer.

However, perhaps the developer adequately warned the lot owners of the risks and therefore this is the lot owners’ only (weak) remaining option to recover their money. That may be what is meant by this:

Jack Kelly, a plaintiff and vice president of Protect Keopuka Ohana, said if the case is heard in court, there should be interesting information revealed.

“There will be much more discovery as to, when the lots were sold, how the disclosure that this was an agricultural subdivision was handled,” Kelly said. “This will become a really big issue in the case.”

As far as I understand it, there would be no discovery if the case is dismissed outright. So, we’ll see now if the developer asks for a dismissal of this latest suit. Heh.

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Schatz urges Revitalization for Dems

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 8:16 pm
Representative Brian Schatz submitted this curious op-ed to the Advertiser. He argues that the lack of a gubernatorial candidate is not the main problem facing the Hawaii Democrats and lays out five suggestions to “revitalize” the party.

I’m not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, it’s good that somebody is talking openly about these themes. On the other hand, other than the sincere “call to action” the piece falls back on boilerplate political rhetoric to incite his party to change. Odd. It’s the kind of message you’d expect at a members-only party caucus, not in a newspaper op-ed piece.

I think most people of Hawaii, of any (or no) party affiliation, would agree with the five suggestions Schatz makes. The major parties routinely pledge to do each of those things, the differences and debates are in the HOW. I used to think it was funny when I received campaign literature in the mail that said (and I’m not paraphrasing very much):

“Candidate XYZ: Education. Healthcare. Economy.” Along with a glossy family portrait and a phone number.

I’m not laughing anymore. Recently I posted about what it means to belong to a political party in Hawaii. That post was symptomatic of the same problem—the major parties stand for whatever each person wants them to stand for in his or her mind. Not much will be done about that (they want to be “inclusive,” thas why), but it goes further. It’s easy to understand why, then, each person is very likely to categorize the members of a party according to his or her understanding of “Democrat” or “Republican.”

It’s a mess. Who or what is the source of Hawaii’s problems? “Why, it’s them, of course.” Who? “You know, them!” Oh, right. [wink]

Schatz prefaced his five suggestions with this:

Both parties have become so singularly focused on elections and re-elections that the public sometimes feel politics is like watching a sporting event ? interesting, but ultimately inconsequential. But the average citizen loses in this proposition, because what’s good for short-term election victories is usually not what’s good for our society in the long run.

Noble sentiments, but unilaterally counting on voters to think long-term all but concedes the victory to the opponent. Schatz seems to be okay with that risk in 2006, so long as it ultimately results in “revitalization.” I am skeptical, but applaud him for at least starting the conversation.

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Busy busy science nerd

Filed under:
— Doug @ 12:25 pm
I’m busy today showing the wonders of science to school children. Maybe post later, maybe not.

If you have kids please come on by, there’s some fun and interesting stuff! We are the exhibit in POST 801.

Click HERE for event info.

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AG Bennett offers to assist FTC in gas price probe

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 1:08 pm
Attorney Genreal Mark Bennett, in his capacity as Chair of the Antitrust Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General, has co-signed on a letter to the Federal Trade Commission offering assistance with the FTC investigation into the recent spike in gasoline prices after the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. News of this development is in the PBN, the Advertiser, and the SB. Strangely, there is no sign of this letter or the FTC/states’ collaboration on the Governor’s page of press releases, nor on the NAAG website. Given the media-savvy professionalism found throughout the rest of the Governor’s site, it’s hard to believe the ommission is accidental.

The SB piece also has a scoop with this interesting revelation about the gasoline price cap law:

[Senator] Menor said the PUC should get a better handle on how retailers, wholesalers and others are adapting to the price caps once it receives the compliance reports.

Oil companies have pledged compliance, and there is no indication that any are breaking the law. The legislation allows the PUC to request information to help in its continuing administration of the price cap law.

“That information will provide the PUC with the means by which they can determine whether or not the oil companies are fully complying with the law,” Menor said. “The PUC will also have the ability to determine the extent to which the retailers are passing on the wholesale price savings to consumers in the form of lower pump prices.”

The PUC is requesting reports with information such as prices charged for each grade of gasoline, volumes of gas sold, any and all charges included in transactions, the pre-tax price per gallon and total transaction amounts.

Reports originally were due Sept. 19, but oil companies asked for and received an extension, saying they needed more time to gather data and to take steps to ensure that proprietary information would remain confidential.

Uh, they received an extension until when? The reports could obviously reveal a lot about the performance of the gasoline price cap law. We won’t know until we see the reports, but I would speculate that if the data demonstrate fundamental problems with the law (supply shortages, for example) then the oil companies would not have asked for the extension. It’s also possible that the PUC will not even release the reports once they are finally submitted…

Back to the FTC angle, in researching the FTC investigation I was reminded of this SB editorial.

In a letter to the FTC, the governors cited a study by Don Nichols, a University of Wisconsin economist, concluding that for gas prices to reach $3 a gallon, crude oil prices would have to reach $95 a barrel, about $30 more than they have remained in recent weeks.

I’ve emailed Nichols and asked him for a link to, or a copy of, that study. It may be interesting, or it may be too academic for me to understand. We shall see.

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CO Warden cops plea related to sex assaults on Hawaii inmates

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 11:57 am
The former warden at the CO prison where Hawaii women inmates were allegedly sexually assaulted by staff has plead guilty to a reduced charge of false reporting. The Advertiser article confirms my earlier post. According to the Advertiser,

Soares was later charged as an accessory in one of the two cases for allegedly rendering assistance to Corrections Officer Fredrick Woller “with intent to hinder, delay or prevent” the prosecution of Woller, according to the charge filed against Soares in Colorado’s Morgan County District Court.

Robert Watson, district attorney for Colorado’s 13th Judicial District, said Soares was allowed to enter a guilty plea to a reduced charge of false reporting, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to six months in jail.

Under the terms of the one-year “deferred judgment” granted to Soares, if he complies with the requirements of the court for a year, his plea will be withdrawn and the charges will be dismissed, clearing his record.

It’s bad enough that these women were housed on the mainland at a prison where the management is so unprofessional as to allow sexual contact between staff and inmates. It’s inexcusable when the management was actively involved in papering over what happened. Unfortunately, I don’t have much confidence that the Corrections Corporation of America (the operator of the Otter Creek prison where Hawaii officials have transferred the women inmates that remained in CO after the investigation) would have reacted any better than GRW Corporation.

Now that it looks like the warden may walk away from this without a criminal record, I am curious if the women inmates involved were subject to any discipline or retaliation. It’s still several months before the accused guards face trial, and I would not be surprised if they copped plea deals, too. Prison is a dangerous place for former guards, so they are probably very nervous about now.

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FEC and the regulation of internet politics

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:50 am
Today there is an editorial in the Advertiser where the editors argue in favor of the Federal Elections Commission passing rules to regulate political activity on the internet.

Contribution limits now applicable to “analog” campaigns also should apply to digital campaigns.

This means the Elections Commission should then have the responsibility to come up with rules that protect free speech yet subject Internet political sites, bloggers and others in cyberspace to the same set of controls governing other forms of political speech.

I wish that the Advertiser editors would have said more about just what kind of regulation they think is justified and acceptable.

There is, not surprisingly, much discussion of this on the web and in blogs. Without plowing through the entire lot, I found this to be useful summary of how the issue may pan out with respect to the FEC and bloggers. I posted on this earlier, and I am (still) not particularly worried that this situation will result in the FEC knocking on my door.

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Finnegan’s gas cap fumble

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:25 am
File under: “bad timing.”

House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan submits this post ot Hawaii Reporter claiming that:

If we got rid of the gas cap and its imposition of East and Gulf Coast prices on our gasoline, today’s Hawaii gas price could drop by 47 cents a gallon.

I’ll get to her dubious assumption that without a gasoline price cap law Hawaii gasoline prices would (or did) ever mirror the rising and falling prices in Washington and Oregon, but the timing of this posting at HR could not have been worse for Finnegan.

The PBN, the Advertiser and the SB all run articles today predicting that next week the gasoline price cap issued by the PUC will reduce prices to under $3/gallon. Heh.

Now, back to Finnegan’s piece. She repeatedly bangs this drum:

Washington and Oregon, like Hawaii, buy most of their oil from Asia and Alaska. All three states import practically no oil from Gulf ports or anywhere else on the mainland.

This means consumers in Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii would be looking at nearly identical price increases since Sept. 1, if there were no gas cap.

Again, the law has the PUC set a cap on the prices. The Hawaii petroleum companies set the floor on gasoline prices. If, as Finnegan argues, it were true that Hawaii gasoline price increases should track the changes in Washington and Oregon, then Finnegan (or the Hawaii refiners) should explain why it is that the petroleum companies in Hawaii have sold gasoline at the maximum (capped) price instead adjusting prices at a “nearly identical” speed.

Stock response: “We have to, just in case next week the PUC lowers the cap.” Sounds good to an economist, but tell that to a disgruntled consumer that is buying gasoline this week.

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Abercrombie for Governor buzz

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:45 am
Borreca’s latest column reports that Congressman Neil Abercrombie may give up his seat in the U.S. House to run for Hawaii governor. Or not.

“I understand that there is some discussion out there about a lot of people. I can think of several who are thinking about it. If mine is among them, I am very pleased that people think I am doing a good job, but there are a lot of good candidates,” Abercrombie said.

“It is very kind of someone to think that my hard work over these years might induce them to think that, but I will just keep doing the best I can and see what results from Brickwood’s work,” Abercrombie said, referring to Galuteria’s efforts to nail down a candidate to run against Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

Galuteria said he thought Abercrombie, a former state legislator and city councilman, “would be a great governor.”

“I am not quite sure what his plans are, but we would welcome him as one of our candidates if he thought it was necessary or he was able to connect all his dots,” Galuteria said.

While Lingle and Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona are already raising funds for next year’s campaign, no major Democratic candidate for governor has yet to emerge.

The upside: Abercrombie would probably be able to raise campaign money quickly, or at least more quickly than the other names mentioned (Kim, Donahue, Hanabusa). If he were able to spend his existing campaign funds that would give him a huge head start—but I don’t think spending his congressional campaign funds for a governor race is allowed. Or is it?

The downside: Abercrombie is a lightning rod for conservatives—even after he lost the pony tail hairstyle. He’s not as hated as, say, Hillary Clinton, but his opponents attack him with nearly the same vitriol. It would be easy for Lingle to attack Abercrombie from the Right, even though some staunch conservatives consider tepidly-centrist Lingle to be a traitor to the “real” GOP.

I think it was Midweek from last week (when will they put all their content online?!) where I read a columnist that said maybe it’s better the Dems run only a token candidate for governor. That argument went something like this: the lopsidedly Democratic Legislature can run roughshod over a Republican governor without any embarrassing intra-party Executive-Legislative spats, and, with Lingle vacuuming up so much campaign money, it makes more sense for the Dems to focus on preserving and expanding control of the Legislature.

If that is to be the case, then don’t throw Abercrombie to the wolves. Send Donahue. Kim, Hanabusa and Abercrombie are too valuable in their current seats.

Meta comment The quotes from Abercrombie and Galuteria are ridiculously twisted, perfectly ambiguous, and awkwardly phrased. Is that required of candidates exploring a run? ha ha.

“It is very kind of someone to think that my hard work over these years might induce them to think that, but I will just keep doing the best I can and see what results from Brickwood’s work.” All those anonymous pronouns and so much circular “thinking”… sheesh.

Comments (0)

The argument for higher gasoline taxes

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:59 am
Mike Leidemann tries on his columnits hat again in this piece where he notes a growing meme within influential newspapers and magazines about the salutory effects of expensive gasoline.

So, the argument goes, the latest price increases, which seem here to stay, are probably the best thing that could happen to America, forcing us to take off the blinders and get serious about alternative fuels.

Maybe and maybe not. While all of us may be making little driving and lifestyle changes ? taking the bus occasionally, trying to consolidate trips, inflating our tires correctly ? there’s been comparatively little real commitment to the bigger changes yet from politicians and business.

One indication of this, New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki pointed out recently, are the proposals floating around to give Americans a break at the pump. In Hawai’i we have the gas cap, which may or may not yet turn out to be a winner. And here and elsewhere throughout the country, there’s a lot of talk about repealing gas taxes.

Nothing could be worse from a big-picture point of view, Surowiecki argues.

Environmentalists have been making a similar argument for a long time, of course. Sustainable energy is the best solution, and the increasing costs (and declining long-term profit potential) of petroleum are only going to acclerate the transition away from petroleum.

For this reaason, I don’t entirely agree with Leidemann when he lumps Hawaii’s gasoline price cap into the same category as the repeal of gasoline taxes. Although it was (and is) not a stated justification for the gasoline price cap law, capping the profits made by petroleum companies nevertheless functions (albeit as a crude, blunt tool) to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. i.e. When there is a way to make (un- or less-regulated) profits in the sustainable energy business then at some point the investors will choose that path to maximize their return. Energy is just another product to them, most investors are agnostic about the “big picture.”

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Development Econ 101

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 9:03 am
More on the unaffordable housing theme today. This time an article from the Kauai Garden Isle News announcing yet another flabbergasting real estate statistic:

After dipping a bit in August, the median price of a single-family home on Kaua’i leaped to an all-time high of $750,000.

This surpassed the record $700,000 in July, and was more than $100,000 more than August’s median price of $649,000, according to statistics provided by leaders with the Hawaii Information Service MLS (multiple listing service).

Some of the data may not be exact, said Toni Souza-Ishimoto, staff specialist for the Kauai Board of Realtors. She did not specify what data might be incorrect, or how it might impact final sales and volume reports.

For the first nine months this year, Kaua’i’s median single-family home price was $639,000, up 33.4 percent from the same time a year ago. Total sales are down 1.5 percent, but sales volume is up 34 percent for the year-to-date.

The reason? High demand and limited inventory.

Buyers today have to wait on projects that are already online, although new housing that isn’t restricted by affordable-pricing commitments still could see prices moving higher because costs are increasing, too, local real-estate professionals said.

Wow. I like Kauai as much as the next fella, but that is crazy. The market has apparently bifurcated, leaving us with price controls on the “affordable” end and no-limit-in-sight prices on the upper end.

Dr. Leroy Laney, professor of economics and finance at Hawaii Pacific University and a consultant to officials at First Hawaiian Bank, said he felt a long-range correction was needed for Kaua’i’s overheated real-estate market, that it had to be consumer driven, such as buyers just saying “no” to over-valued properties.

“Economics 101 teaches us that the only way to effectively bring down the now-exorbitant home prices is to increase supply,” Laney said in a recent address to members of the Kaua’i business community.

Laney is speaking about the unregulated “market price” homes, and ignoring the “affordable” housing market. Increased supply would bring the prices down on the upper end of the market to some extent, but without strict affordable housing restrictions the supply of homes for the lower end of the market would disappear altogether. I don’t think Laney meant to ignore affordable housing, but some of the more gung-ho free market believers might prefer that. Which leads me to an interesting comment I received from Bob (a developer?) on Maui about my post from yesterday. Bob writes:

(1) How many developers will actually be able to finance a housing project if 80% of the units must be ?affordable”? Even assuming that one, or even two, developers could afford this, I?m not sure if others would be able or willing to develop enough affordable homes (under an 80% requirement) to resolve the affordable housing crisis.

(2) Assuming that today there are developers that are wiling to build 20% market-priced homes with the 80% affordable-housing price tag, I question whether the developers would fulfill their affordable housing obligations should the U.S. experience a recession. Many assert that our current affordable housing crisis is due – in large part – to previous affordable housing requirements that went unfulfilled when Hawaii?s bubble burst.

Obviously, I’m not a developer. Realistically I’m not even in the real estate market since my income puts even the “affordable” options out of reach. So, in light of my ignorance, I’d like to hear more about this “will they be able to finance a housing project if 80% must be affordable” question. How do developers finance housing projects, anyway? The Maui News article that was the basis of yesterdays post may have alluded to Bob’s concern, but it was not entirely clear.

Housing Director Alice Lee, who had just gotten a copy of Tavares? chart, called the proposal ?interesting.? Among other things, Lee recommended that, because the building costs for a house might average $200,000, a credit system be put in place for developers who construct units on the lower end of the scale. Lee noted that a home for a family earning 50 percent of median income would cost $113,700, according to guidelines by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ? a potential loss of $86,300 for the builder.

Wouldn’t a developer be more than able to spread those losses across the higher-priced units? If the average building costs were indeed $200,000 then, by extrapolating from the figures in the article to call that “affordable” to a family at 88% of the median income, according to Tavares’ proposal only 20% of the development would be sold at a loss, 60% of the development would be allowed to sell at various and increasing amounts of profit, and 20% could be as profitable as the market allows. Am I wrong here? The $200,000 estimated average building cost might be off, but it does not seem as if Tavares’ proposal is unreasonably going to drive developers into the red.

Bob’s second point, about a bubble bursting and killing the affordable housing efforts, is hard to fathom. For the sake of argument let’s stipulate that “many assertions” are correct and that the current crisis is caused in large part by previous affordable housing requirements that went unfulfilled when Hawaii’s bubble burst. So … this means we should have never had the requirements? Wha? Developers would have provided even less affordable housing without those requirements. If the current bubble bursts there will still be an affordable housing crisis, but this proposal would help relieve it until then.

Comments (4)

80 percent affordable housing for Maui projects?

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 9:20 am
It’s a few days stale akready, but I’d like to comment on this Maui News article about an agressive proposal from Council Member Charmaine Tavares for affordable housing requirements. If only someone on every County Council would propose something like this:

[Tavares] said she wanted to reach out to those in the ?gap group? ? households with two wage earners bringing home too much money to qualify for affordable housing, but not enough to have a hope of buying anything in a red-hot Maui real estate market where the average price of single-family homes sold through the first nine months of the year is $945,098 and even the median price is $680,000.

?While we want to focus on the critical needs for housing, one of those critical needs is for work-force housing,? said Tavares. ?We can put out incentives where our residents, the work force, will benefit without putting any developer out of business.?


Tavares suggested that a project include 10 percent of units for those earning between 50 and 80 percent of median income ($31,180 to $49,880), 10 percent for those earning between 90 and 100 percent ($56,120 to $62,350), 10 percent for those earning between 110 and 120 percent ($68,590 to $74,820), 15 percent for those earning 130 percent ($81,060), 15 percent for those earning 140 percent ($87,290), 10 percent for those earning 150 percent ($93,530), 10 percent for those earning 160 percent ($99,760) and the remaining 20 percent allowed to be sold at market rates.

It would seem that Tavares is not the only Councilmember out in front on this issue, either. In an interesting twist, on Maui there seems to be members trying to one-up each other on the affordable housing topic. Councilmembers Johnson and Hokama are quoted in the article:

Johnson wondered if Tavares? percentages per income level would match up with the county?s demographics of those who would like to buy or qualify to buy . She was concerned that if too many units reserved for those in the 50 to 80 percent income levels weren?t purchased for a pre-determined amount of time, they would be allowed to be converted to the market rate.

Hokama wanted it made clear that multifamily units, including rentals, would be part of the plan with programs designed to allow a percentage of the rent or lease to be applied as equity on a future purchase price so interested tenants could eventually own. He also asked for information that considers the income levels of families headed by a single parent instead of just the ?family of four? on which the standards for affordability are based.

In addition, Hokama urged that, with the exception of small family subdivisions, the council should eliminate a developer?s option of contributing cash instead of land in lieu of building affordable homes.

?We want the units, we want the dwellings for our residents,? he said.

Is there anybody on the Honolulu council willing to propose these types of aggressive solutions?

Unfortunately, other than a brief mention of “streamlining” the development process, there is nothing in the article to gauge the reaction of potential developers to this proposal. Comments will be taken at the next meeting. I will be very interested to see if this idea will be advanced, killed in the cradle or diluted.

Comments (1)
Poi primer

Filed under:
— Doug @ 8:51 am
It doesn’t happen often, but I really did not come across anything I’d like to post about today. Luckily, I have an article in my hip pocket that I had passed up earlier. Heh.

Given the domain name for this blog, I would be remiss if I did not also direct your attention to this feature in the West Hawaii Today about the traditional way to make poi – by pounding it. I’d love to find a suitable stone and make my own pohaku kuiai!

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Columnists dabble in political philosophy

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:55 am
I recommend you have a look at these two columns from the Sunday Advertiser. First, there is a piece from Lee Cataluna scolding the trend of people soliciting and expressing uninformed opinions. Second, consider this column from Jerry Burris lamenting the too-easily-satired state of Hawaii politics.

You could be forgiven if you become dizzy thinking about what Cataluna has to say. Her thesis in this column is to argue that we all should, what else, mind our own business. Everyone except herself, evidently, since she (like me) makes a habit of having opinions on almost everything. We can argue whose are the more “informed” opinions, heh. She has this to say about “minding other people’s business.”

It’s the morphine button for the masses, like that little hookup they give you in the hospital. Push the button to administer your own pain meds. You’re in control. Of course, you’re not in control. There’s no way you can take too much and if you take too little, someone comes around and pushes it for you to make you quiet down and rest.

It’s the illusion of control, the impression that we’re active participants.

Hers is a very odd piece. She alternates between disdain for the ubiquity of uninformed opinions and cynicism for the possibility of citizens having any real control over anything that matters. I would have liked her to unpack one particular statement that seemed to offer a glimmer of insight, however. What did she mean by, “if we can opine on stuff that isn’t ours to fix, maybe we don’t have to face the hard work of fixing our own kuleana.” Just what is “my business?” Does it involve the political direction of my community or not?

At a deeper level, the column raises questions more typically discussed when comparing direct democracy with representative democracy. Do the voters have a more informed opinion about policy issues, or do the politicians? Which group is “minding their own business?” Cataluna can’t seem to make up her mind if some mandarin class of leaders should lead us, or if government should step back and leave everyone to their own kuleana.

Burris reveals a very different assessment of political engagement; he very much opposes the fatalistic cynicism that I detect underlying Cataluna’s piece. Burris’ column is inspired by the parody website in support of Bev Harbin as a Democratic candidate for governor.

This is all a lot of fun, of course. But the more serious point is: It is dangerous when people begin treating politics as a joke. It is equally serious when someone can make a gag about Bev Harbin as the Democratic candidate for governor because, in truth, there is no one publicly occupying that spot.

Geller is using satire to underscore an important thought: The voters are cynical, and political leadership is … well, shall we say, less than fully energized.

I don’t see any “danger” in political satire. Show me a place with no political satire and then I’ll be scared.

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DOE is struggling to teach non-English speaking students

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 8:26 am
Of all the “agency x needs more money to provide service y” stories I’ve seen lately, this one from the SB is notable for the resignation demonstrated by those tasked with an almost impossible job. Teachers in the English for Second-Language Learners (ESLL) program are unable to cope with the amount of students needing their help.

In the past, Hawaii schools received millions more in federal money designed to offset the social impact of Micronesian arrivals, but the Lingle administration has since put all of that money – now at $10 million a year – toward meeting the immigrants’ significant health needs.

I would have liked to see more discussion of that. Are the immigrants from Micronesia not eligible for other health care options available to the poor? Some official explanatin of that change in funding priorities is needed. Without an explanation it’s hard to say if it is just a tough choice that had to be made or if it was simply politically expedient.

“We’re reconciled that some are just not going to get high school diplomas,” said Farrington’s [principal] Payne. “The best we can do is teach them the most English we can while we have them.”

At 18,378, ESLL students now make up 10 percent of the state population of 181,355, compared with 5 percent in the early 1990s. The department forecasts a population of more than 20,600 in two years, even as total public school enrollment declines.

Federal law puts the onus on school districts to ensure an equal education to all students regardless of their native tongue. If not, they could face legal action similar to the 1993 Felix case that forced Hawaii to dramatically increase special-education spending.

A number of mainland school districts have been sued on language grounds. Most notably, a court order forced Florida to focus far more resources on its Spanish-speaking students than before.

There have been some complaints in Hawaii, which are typically addressed at the school level, said [Honolulu district ESLL administrator] Kapolulu. She adds that the state might be shielded by the fact that many of the new immigrant families don’t know their rights and are often happy to receive the services they do get, she said.

That is deplorable. How can a DOE official make a statement like that? She is openly acknowledging malfeasance and a continuing pattern of denying the rights of immigrants. Not only is she acknowledging it, she admits exploiting the ignorance of the victims. I can only conclude that her point is to propogate a lawsuit to compel the improvements that the BOE and Legislature have failed to provide.

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Following the well-worn “transit battle” script

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 8:05 am
Today I noticed a particularly blatant connection between this Mike Leidemann piece in the Advertiser and this Crystal Kua aritcle in the SB. Leidemann discusses the path followed by other municipalities during the early stages of establishing rail systems; Kua provides an account of Honolulu may or may not be fitting right into that model.

LEIDEMANN: Start small. Get a high-profile leader, preferably not a politician. Be prepared to stay the course.

Ooops. Mayor Hannemann and Council Chair Dela Cruz seem to be leading the charge.

LEIDEMANN: But key political, economic and environmental problems still could derail the project at certain points in what might be a decade-long process, according to experts surveyed from Seattle to Texas, where transit plans are in various stages of development.

“There are going to be a lot of battles and hurdles ahead. The communities that succeed in getting projects completed are the ones that know how to overcome those problems,” said Art Guzzetti, director of policy and advocacy for the American Public Transportation Association, which represents mass-transit agencies nationwide.

Right on target. Observe:

KUA: But Sen. Sam Slom, an opponent of rail, said there’s more to consider than technology.

“The whole thing really comes back to who’s going to make the money, who’s going to benefit from this,” he said. “Rather than focusing on technology, we should be focusing on what the total cost will be, what the routes will be, what kind of environmental damage will be done, what kind of eminent domain will be necessary.”

He also said there are less expensive and easier alternatives to rail, including lane additions and new roadways.

Leidemann expands on the need for a non-politician to lead the pro-rail effort:

Portland also has had several prominent rail champions, something that can be critical to success. Well-known community leader Dr. Lawrence Griffith led the effort to bring back historic trolleys to Portland, and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., has been a leading advocate of transit financing in Congress.

“But it doesn’t have to be an individual champion,” Guzzetti said. “Sometimes it’s better to have a core of people who won’t be denied. The projects that are most successful all have someone with the will and staying power to keep pushing things along.”

Often it’s better if the champion isn’t a politician, said [Light Rail Now! publisher] Dobbs, who lives in Austin, Texas, where one of the leading proponents of light rail is Lee Walker, the enormously popular former chief executive officer of Dell Computers.

“The next election is always a problem. The best thing is to find someone who has community respect but doesn’t have to worry about being elected,” Dobbs said.

Leidemann concludes by pointing out that the anti-rail effort in Honolulu already has a person (we can argue if he is respected by the community or not) from outside politics that need not be concerned with the election cycle. That person is Cliff Slater, of course.

The stories complement each other well. Kua is essentially “embedded” with the Honolulu delegation and I would expect that she is carefully kept away from any off-message lessons that might have been learned from the development and operation of the Japanese transit systems she visited. Leidemann, even though transportation is his beat, missed the opportunity to see the Japanese trains firsthand, but still has something useful for readers.

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Economic Momentum Commission offers ideas for comment

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:00 pm
Since there is a very broad swath of public policy discussed, it seems a strangely narrow choice of title for this Advertiser story about the recommendations of the ERTF, uh, excuse me, the EMC (Econominc Momentum Commission). Kidding aside, it remains to be seen if this new group has learned something from that earlier fiasco. At the very least, this group is putting out some information for public comment before they produce a final draft for action.

It’s tempting to assign too much influence to this group, but I think it’s a safe bet that at least some of these initiatives will be proposed (if not advanced). The pdf files linked to in the article are notable in that many (but not all) of the ideas actually assign a person or group to the task of putting them in motion. Accountability, what a concept!

Unfortunately, I don’t have the software to cut and paste from the pdf files into the blog, but I did take the time to review each of them and I have compiled (by re-typing by hand) this sample of the issues I think will be most contentious and/or difficult to implement.

In the host culture document there is discussion of the need for a “major Hawaiian cultural center in Waikiki.” The “champions” of this cultural center are to be HTA and “KSBE” (aren’t they just called Kamehameha Schools now?) and the funding part of the form is conspicuously blank. The EMC also supports the Akaka Bill and

urges all public/private sector entities, within one year, to educate constituents and communities on the potential benefits of federal recognition legislation and of the host Native Hawaiian culture, history and traditions, with particular attention to the work and mission of each private and public sector entity.

In the social needs document there is a proposal to reform the purpose of the Land Use Commission.

The Land Use Commission would ensure that Statewide needs are met. This change gives Counties exclusive approval for individual projects within their communities. Hawaii’s four counties are so diverse with individual needs that are independent from the other counties that they should be allowed to make the decisions that are most appropriate to fulfill their own housing needs in their community.

That idea has been floated before and it is not popular with environmentalists, to put it mildly. Not suprisingly, then, there is no “champion” listed for this idea.

The infrastructure document has a proposal for “smart growth” to address the commuting problem:

The state, cities and counties should establish sound visionary plans for expansion which do not exacerbate current transportation problems. Prior to allowing any new development, consideration must be given to the impact on the community and the transportation needs of the community.

Easy to say, hard to do. The champions for this idea, the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Boards of each island, will probably have to be content with “consideration,” since very few developers are interested in live/work/play “smart growth” projects.

It also describes an interesting challenge facing the public school facilities:

Approximately 25% of our schools are over capacity, mainly in new growth areas of the state. Yet a shocking 47% of our schools are operating 16% or more below their enrollment capacity. This disparity between overcrowded schools in some areas and underutilized schools in most other areas is the result of demographic and development trends. These trends have slowed the growth in the youth population overall and concentrated the bulk of younger families in new growth areas such as leeward, central Oahu, and areas on the neighbor islands. This trend has left vast areas of the state with declining youth populations. The result is an inefficient and costly trap, in which new facilities must be built in some areas while a large inventory of aging and obsolete facilities are underutilized and ill-maintained. This situation aggravates an already serious teacher shortage by tying up teaching resources in these underutilized facilities.

The proposed solution for that: a commission to develop a strategic plan for 200 new schools within 10 years. Yawn.

Next the document makes this observation:

…Hawaii’s manmade environment should be defined by its character. But the way we build has too often lost Hawaii’s “sense of place,” in new high-rise condominiums, big box stores and residential construction that could be anyplace in America or the western world. The resort community is by and large doing a better job in addressing “sense of place” than the residential and non-resort commercial development.

The rather heavy-handed solution they propose is:

For development in general, establish elements of a special Hawaiian architectural character and specify urban and resort design principles as well as landscaping guidlines. Pay special attention to view corridors. Revamp the design process and enforce controls. Tighten up oversight by county and state departments for planning and construction.

They believe that that is “likely to win public acceptance.” Well, maybe. At the very least there seems to be a disconnect between this proposal and the other proposals to streamline the development process.

For some reason they are also hot to trot about sprucing up the Honolulu airport. Maybe it is because I’m not one of the “higher spending visitors” that they want to attract, but when I go on a vacation I really couldn’t care less what the airport is like as long as they don’t lose my luggage and they don’t gouge me too badly on the price of refreshments…

In the natural resources document there is a proposal to increase municipal water rates to provide incentives for private landowners to preserve watershed. These rate increases would likely be controversial, especially to the extent that non-municipal agriculture users would enjoy a lower rate even though they use more water.

Renewable energy industries would “champion” the goal of increasing the use of renewable energy sources by means of tax incentives and accelerating the adoption timetable of the renewable portfolio standards (which the non-renewable industries hate) already on the books. I predict the existing non-renewable power industries will fight this idea vigorously.

In the sustained economy document there is a proposal to restructure the way Act 221 tax credits and investment capital are awarded and to reduce the tax credit to 50% instead of 100%. This seems to be a wise move in my opinion, since many of those receiving the 100% tax credit have really done little to help Hawaii’s economy or, perhaps more accurately, those receiving the credits have been unable to quantify exactly what the State has gained from it all.

The EMC also supports repealing the gasoline price cap law. I am very curious to know if they insisted upon unamimity (as the ERTF did) or if these proposals only needed a simple majority of the EMC. I am so curious because if the Senate president and the House speaker no longer favor the law then this would be the first public indication of that opinion that I’m aware of.

Repeal gasoline price caps and replace with a watchdog system of petroleum industry data collection and information reporting and analytical work to support market competition and monitoring by State enforcement agencies.

Caveat: According to the document those with “the responsibility to make it happen” are the energy industry and state government. The “champion” is not named. Safe bet that the champion is not Senator Menor.

Finally, parts of the workforce and education document are going to face certain opposition from HSTA.

The present process for hiring teachers involves evaluation of teaching experience and credentials by the Hawaii Teachers Standards Board (HSTB) that has very specific qualifications and criteria, which exclude very qualified individuals.

To respond to this, the EMC proposes to amend the law to allow anyone with a bachelor’s or higher degree to be qualified as a teacher in the subject(s) in which they have a degree. I know of many college graduates who are definitely unqualified to teach children, though I understand the great shortage of (for example) science and math teachers in the public schools. I don’t see this idea advancing in its current most sweeping form, but there could very well be some sort of compromise that involves reviewing such applicants on a case-by-case basis.

The EMC also proposes to change the way principals are selected and evaluated. They would eliminate tenure for principals and reassign underperforming principals back to the classroom. “Those who can’t do, teach. Those that can’t lead teachers, they teach again.” Heh. The “champions” of this proposal are the Hawaii Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce, and “the Superintendent of Schools?” (questionmark in the original)

Overall, although these EMC documents are not brimming with specifics, I am moderately impressed at the effort. Some of the ideas are overdue and many should be relatively easy to implement. There is still a danger of setting expectations too high, but I am tentativley surprised at the quality of their work. Frankly, I had expected crap (like I found at their all-platitude website).

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“Zen-like” mag lev is irresistable to Mayor

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 7:20 am
The SB has this story filed from Japan where Crystal Kua is travelling with the Mayor and a delegation of Councilmembers. They were given a sales pitch for a magnetically levitated transit system and shown a working example in Nagoya.

As with the two rail systems Hannemann and Councilmen Donovan Dela Cruz, Rod Tam and Todd Apo toured earlier this week, the group took a look at the operations center and then rode the train.

As a demonstration, Dela Cruz, Apo and Hannemann were asked to push the 54-ton rail car to show how easily the lack of resistance lets it move.

“Lack of resistance?” Just wait until Cliff Slater hears about these three “pushing” a mag lev for Honolulu, then you’ll see resistance, ha ha.

Mag lev trains are certainly geek chic. The costs, however, are very high. The 8.9 kilometer loop in Japan was built for about $890M. The route in Honolulu would be significantly longer than that, with the higher price to match. Finally, have a look at the photo in the article. That rail car holds 244 people!? Maybe. It certainly does not seat that many…

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Browser death banners – again

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— Doug @ 6:55 am
Hawaiian Telcom banner ads are crashing my browser again. Last time the problem for me was at the SB website, but now I have a similar problem at the Advertiser site (even though I have switched to Safari).

Get a new banner ad, already! Please.

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Haraga carries the water for Superferry at Maui event

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 12:28 pm
A peculiar story from a Maui News article by Valerie Monson reporting on a visit to Kahului Harbor by legislators from the House and Senate fiscal committees. State Transportation Director Rodney Haraga addressed the legislators and tried to answer some of their questions and concerns about the Superferry. For the moment at least, the project seems to be proceeding without any major delays.

Here’s what I found peculiar about the article:

When Kauai Sen. Gary Hooser asked who would pay for any off-site highway improvements, Haraga again wasn?t sure.

?We?ve got a couple of years to figure that out,? he said.

Hmmm. Hold that thought while you consider this:

A barge will be built by the state to accommodate the Superferry, which will stand 15 feet higher than the wharf. The vessel will dock from behind the barge, which basically will serve as a giant ramp for vehicles to get to and from the dock.

Because constructing the barge will not impact ?actual land,? no environmental review was needed, said Haraga.

I’m not sure if it even matters who pays for off-site highway improvements. Wouldn’t any such highway work be on “actual land” and therefore require something even more crafty than the “floating harbor improvements don’t count” explanation to circumvent environmental review? More fundamentally, if without the highway improvements the ferry idea would not work then it seems that such highway improvements would have to be considered as part and parcel of the Superferry proposal. If that is true, it would compel the Maui portion of the Superferry project to undergo an environmental review which it seems to have dodged heretofore. Monson seems to be at least somewhat on a similar wavelength, judging from her follow-up research.

After the meeting, Harbor Manager Steve Pfister told The Maui News that a road project from Pier 2 to Puunene Avenue has been funded and construction should start soon. Pfister said the roadway would include a bridge to cross a drainage canal to provide access to the Young Brothers Puunene storage yard and hook into Puunene Avenue where it stubs out near Cary & Eddie?s Hideaway restaurant. It could not be determined if the road project has received all its permits.

Finally, before the amusing meta-story which concludes Monson’s piece, one other comment also jumped out at me:

Haraga said that while the Superferry could handle 280 vehicles, the company?s business plan predicts only 100 per trip.

Something is a bit odd about that. Why would Hawaii Superferry design and build a ship with over twice the vehicle capacity they anticipate needing? That would be like scheduling all interisland flights on Boeing 747-400s instead of smaller jets. It also suggests that if the Superferry business plan shows some profit with only 100 vehicles per trip then the profits will be pretty sweet if the boat is full of vehicles.

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Finally, I comment on the gas cap law

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 2:19 pm
The pickings were pretty slim today as I surfed around looking for something worth commenting on. For lack of a better alternative, I’ll have a whack at this post at the Hawaii Reporter by Andrew Walden. It’s a wide-ranging synthesis of assertions thrown together to support his explanation of the intentions behind the gasoline price cap law. Since I have yet to comment on the implementation of the gasoline price cap, now is as good a time as any to start.

Walden starts out with both barrels blasting:

Many of the anti-Gas Cap speakers at the Sept. 29 meeting of the Governor?s East Hawaii Advisory Council in Hilo rightfully question the economic knowledge of the Legislative Democrats who are foisting the Gas Cap law upon the public. Even the slightest reading of history shows that socialism does not work and that government controls over the free market always lead to two things: high prices – which we are seeing now, and shortages – which will be seeing in the future. This raises a question: what is the Democrats? goal with this law?

Gas station owners, truck drivers and gas suppliers told the Advisory Council that the law will lead to bankruptcies of gasoline dealers and wholesalers as they are whipsawed by wild weekly swings in the Gas Cap price. Gov. Linda Lingle opposes the law saying it may lead to the bankruptcy of one of the state?s two refineries. These outcomes are so obvious; they logically must be the intended result of the Democrats? Gas Cap bill.

With even the slightest effort one can read the “intended result” of the gasoline price caps in the 2002 and 2004 Acts that set up the law. Driving a refinery into bankruptcy is never mentioned, oddly enough. In fact, the 2004 Act says:

It should be clearly understood that the objective of this Act is not to guarantee lower gasoline prices. And in this regard, the legislature anticipates that, from time to time, there may indeed be situations where the actual pre-tax wholesale price of gasoline may be less than the maximum pre-tax wholesale prices of gasoline. This phenomenon should be expected, for nothing in this Act compels any manufacturer, wholesaler, or jobber to price up to the maximum pre-tax wholesale prices of gasoline.

The legislature intends to keep a watchful eye on tendencies for the actual pre-tax wholesale price of gasoline to equal the maximum pre-tax wholesale prices of gasoline since such parity could well suggest that additional affirmative legislative action is needed. The possibility of the need for additional affirmative legislative action is not a sign of infirmities in the Act, but, rather, a recognition of the myriad options available to market participants to impair the consumer welfare.

If, as Walden argues, the “logical” intended result of the gasoline price cap law was to drive a refinery into bankruptcy, then the law would not have provided mechanisms for the PUC and the governor to intervene. The PUC, in fact, has already used their powers to adjust the price cap for Kauai when petitioned by a gasoline jobber. As I said before, this law is not an economic suicide pact. However, I must admit that it is possible that one of the refineries might indeed be economically imperiled by this law, and would choose to go bankrupt instead of exercising the remedies provided, and the governor and the PUC would stand by and let that happen—all simply to make a politco-economic point. Is that “logical?” No.

While I was in the Arctic, I was forwarded this op-ed written by the Consumer Advocate, John Cole. Cole tries to make the case that it would be very difficult for the governor to suspend the cap:

Although the Legislature passed the gas cap law allowing the governor to suspend the cap, she can do so only if she determines the cap “will cause a major adverse impact on the economy, public order, or the health, welfare, or safety of the people of Hawaii,” and states specific reasons for that determination. That is a very high threshold, and I don’t believe there is yet a basis for such a determination.

There is no so-called “high threshold” defined in the law. “Major adverse impact” is … whatever the governor says it is! Once the governor publishes that finding the law would be suspended. It would then be up to the Legislature to debate and consider the substance of the governor’s concerns. Given the, uh, shaky support for the law, a suspension of the gas cap could stand a fair chance of holding up, in my opinion.

Cole also claims that the PUC has very little latitude to intervene “arbitrarily:”

Likewise, while the law provides the Public Utilities Commission with some discretion to make adjustments to the components of the gas cap formula, it does not have the power to make arbitrary changes in the formula or suspend the law. No adjustment to the formula can protect Hawaii consumers from price increases caused by events in distant markets to which we are artificially tied.

Which does not square very well when you consider this portion of the law:

Regardless of whether a petition has been filed and notwithstanding a determination of the adjustments made pursuant to subsection (a), the commission, in its discretion, may make such other and further adjustments deemed necessary and appropriate to establish maximum pre-tax wholesale gasoline prices that reflect and correlate with competitive market conditions.

Uh, that’s actually a lot of latitude. In fact, one could interpret the plain language of that subsection to mean that the PUC could throw the entire formula out the window at any time. I agree with Cole’s complaint that the formula in the law ties Hawaii to markets that are not supplied from the same petroleum sources. That is a flaw that needs to be reconsidered. I believe the law provides the PUC authority to make that change, again under the “other and further adjustments deemed necessary and appropriate” rubric.

Clearly, neither the Legislative or the Executive branch would like to be seen as the side that “came to the rescue of Big Oil.” Though in the current market, with hurricane-inflated prices throwing the gas cap law for a loop, the temptation to succumb to the pressure from the loud opponents must be increasing every day.

Consumers are actually less upset with the immediate impacts of this law than I had expected, suggesting to me that they are willing to wait for the hurricane prices to “filter out”of the formula. Apparently, there are more people suspicious of the petroleum companies and the many years of high prices than there are people who believe “explanations” such as those provided by Walden.

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The meaning of Party membership

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:48 am
The final letter to the SB editor today is from Richard Rowland of GIH. It’s short, so I’ll reproduce it in full:

This addresses the goof-up in the appointment of Bev Harbin as representative of the 28th District by the governor. Somehow a clouded past was missed during the governor’s screening process.

But Harbin had just joined the Democratic Party. The party accepted her. What’s the deal here? What does the Democratic Party (or any political party) stand for? If they accept members just willy-nilly with no value, check or screen, what does membership in a party stand for?

It looks like the answer is “not much.” It makes the proclamation “I am a proud member of the so and so party” rather empty, don’t you think? Otherwise, the questions of why she was accepted as a member and why the party does not now expel her would be on the table for discussion.

Richard O. Rowland
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

It’s a legitimate critique. Have a look at the forms required to join the Hawaii Democratic and Republican parties. If you’re a registered voter, that’s all it takes. Or so it would seem from the application.

The Hawaii Libertarians require applicants to “certify that [they] do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals.” That’s a very succinct screen and clear statement of what being Libertarian means. Simplistic, to be sure, but that’s not always a bad thing.

The Hawaii Greens require applicants to agree to abide by the bylaws and to “agree in principle” to the platform. The bylaws and the platform are lengthy documents, but (other than the “in principle” wiggle room) you can get a good idea of what Green Party membership means.

Rowland is right to conclude that Hawaii Democrats (and Republicans) can’t honestly complain too loudly about who joins their Party. They have set themselves up for situations like the Bev Harbin debacle. Will they learn from it?

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UARC participation a civil rights violation?

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:49 am
A very interesting new wrinkle in the UARC issue is raised in this letter to the Ka Leo editors today. The letter is from Jon Van Dyke of the UH Richardson School of Law and he argues that UH participation in UARC would be in violation of Hawaii employment law insofar as UH would be aiding and abetting the US Navy’s discrimination against homosexuals.

The UARC proposal would require the University of Hawai’i to spend millions of dollars in the first few years to fund the project. Once underway, UHM researchers would work on research projects as agents of the Navy, with security clearances. The purpose of these funds and this research is to help the Navy. The University and those who work on these projects would become partners with the Navy and thus would be ‘aiding and abetting’ the Navy and its mission, unavoidably including its discriminatory employment practices.

Hawaii’s law against employment discrimination may not be enforceable directly against the Navy because of federal immunities. It is possible that the federal government could require the State of Hawai’i to work with the U.S. Navy, although whether the federal government has this power is not clear in light of recent Supreme Court decisions prohibiting the federal government from commandeering state government officials.

With regard to UARC, in any event, the federal government has not required the state or the University to cooperate with the Navy. Instead, if UARC is approved by the University’s Regents, University officials and employees will voluntarily be working to help the Navy fulfill its mission, a classic form of aiding and abetting. If the UARC activity goes forward, therefore, those participating in it will be violating Section 378-2 of the Hawai’i Revised Statutes.

I’ve heard of law schools barring military recruiters (and the effect this can have on federal funding for such schools), so the concept of pitting local non-discrimination laws against the military policy is not without precedent. The difference being, of course, that the government would have less monetary “stick” in this situation (beyond denying UH a tempting additional “carrot”).

If Van Dyke is correct then this could have very wide-ranging implications. There are many other Hawaii employers providing services to the military, and I see nothing in his summary of the situation that would differentiate UH from any other Hawaii employer. If it were illegal for UH to work for the military, would it not be a violation for the others, too? For example, I also discoverd a Stars & Stripes story today concerning the decision to begin contracting of gate security duty at Hickam Air Force Base to civilians.

There’s either a very fundamental aspect of the law being overlooked (perhaps found in the sixth exception here?), or Van Dyke has stumbled onto something illegal that has been hiding in plain sight.

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DOD $ for native Hawaiians?

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:47 am
Another article in the SB today that indicates the relevance of the Akaka Bill with respect to the legal ramifications of existing programs from the federal government benefitting Native Hawaiians. In the end the article seems rather mundane, but I was struck by one detail:

Last week, the Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget cited Justice Department questions about the constitutionality of native Hawaiian program funding in the military appropriations bill, H.R. 2863.

What progrms for native Hawaiians are funded by the military? That seems rather strange, so I attempted to find out.

Unfortunately, I am not as comfortable with grepping around the federal legislation as I should be, but Section 8014 of H.R. 2863 (click on one of the versions of the bill and then see Title VIII) is the only place I find any mention of native Hawaiians. That section is not an appropriation per se, but rather (so far as I can tell) allows certain exceptions for DOD contracts with Native Hawaiian-owned businesses. If there is something else that I missed then maybe there is a bigger story here.

Just trying to be sure that the DOD is not planning to build a fleet of koa wood war canoes or somesuch.

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Honolulu Councilmembers want to study building bridges from Ewa to Ford Island

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 10:12 am
The SB has an op-ed today from Honolulu Councilmembers Apo and Djou (Chair and Vice-Chair of the Transportation Committee) that sketches a proposal for two bridges, one from Ewa to the Waipio peninsula and another from Waipio to Ford Island. If those bridges were built (and the existing Ford Island bridge were opened to civilian traffic) then there would be an alternative route for some town-bound motorists to take.

This new route provides broad relief. Connecting Ford Island to the Ewa plain will take thousands of cars off of H-1 and improve traffic for Central Oahu drivers at the H-2 merge and Pearl City/Aiea drivers entering H-1. If we can use private funding and federal defense appropriations, we believe this project can be built in a fraction of the time, without any additional tax increase.

Recognizing this potential solution, the City Council budgeted money to study the feasibility of this Ewa to Ford Island route. As the city initiates its analysis of Oahu’s mass transit solutions, we are asking that the mayor and his administration begin the process of examining this proposal.

We recognize that legitimate concerns raised by the Navy regarding the project need to be addressed and initial discussions already have been held with the Naval Command and our state’s federal congressional delegation. We appreciate the military’s openness and willingness to work with the city to find a sensible solution to our traffic woes. We believe this bridge project can provide the Navy with a vital link between Pearl Harbor and Kalaeloa, should the Navy locate an aircraft carrier in Hawaii.

You may remember that the Legislature this year considered the idea of tunnels to provide similar relief (see this post), but that idea fizzled in the Senate. Representative Cabanilla’s tunnel idea hinged on the premise that a private company would build the tunnel and then charge a toll to motorists. That leads me to wonder if the mention of “private funding” in this op-ed might suggest a toll would be charged for using these bridges. As for the federal funding, I think matching funds are the best we could expect. If a decision is made to homeport an aircraft carrier group at Pearl Harbor, and that’s a big IF, that might make the proposal more appealing to the military. As far as I know, however, there is not even a timetable for when that homeporting decision is to be made.

That said, the idea to build these bridges (and/or the tunnels) deserves a look, even if the Honolulu taxpayers ultimately had to pay for them. However, I would like to see some elaboration about the concerns expressed by the Navy regarding this proposal and I’d like to know exactly what has been discussed by the City, Navy and Congressional folks. It could be that Apo and Djou (and Cabanilla, too?) are building up hopes for concepts that face significant or even insurmountable opposition.

Not that Councilmember Djou would ever be involved in any grandstanding, of course. Heh.

Finally, also note that the HOT lane concept was quietly appended onto this op-ed, too, as if HOT lanes were on par with the rail system. We’ll see.

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Metal recylcer changes hands

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:15 am
An article in the SB business section today about the sale of Hawaii Metal Recycling to a mainland-based company. It makes me wonder if there is much talk between the various news departments at the SB, because this sale could have some impact on the general public.

For example, hiring more workers could make it easier for consumers trying to redeem containers under the HI-5 beverage container deposit program. Also, although I have not been following it very closely, I know there is a recurring problem with recycling scrap vehicles and appliances on Maui.

No immediate personnel changes are expected at Hawaii Metal Recycling, which employs 32 people. However, the infusion of new capital from Schnitzer Steel will allow the company to expand, which will result in additional jobs, said Jim Banigan, Hawaii Metal Recycling’s general manager.

Schnitzer is a publicly traded company with a significant presence on the West Coast and the Northeastern seaboard. It also is a used-auto-parts retailer with more than 50 locations across the United States and Canada, and it manufactures finished steel products.

“This is extremely good news for the company,” Banigan said. “It will give us a chance to aggressively pursue expansion and growth to the outer islands.”

Hawaii Metal Recycling uses contractors to bring in scrap metal from the neighbor islands, but the company expects to open offices on Maui and the Big Island in the near future, Banigan said.

On a more subtle level, one could infer from this transaction that with the beverage container deposit program in place recycling has become a good business opportunity in Hawaii.

Or not. I could be completely off base in my conjectures, but if that is the case I’d like to know. The story reads as if it was drafted straight off of a press release. Too bad.

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Idaho pol resigns to farm in Hawaii

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 8:51 am
Hmmm. File this under “odd.”

The West Hawaii Today has this report of a Republican legislator with 20 years of service in Idaho giving up his seat (and his 9-year chairmanship of the agirculture committee) to manage a 37,000 acre HC&S plantation on the Big Island.

I wonder which/whose district he will reside in and if he has any ambitions to seek political office in Hawaii?

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Chamber of Commerce tries new tack

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 12:27 pm
Remember all the squawking at the Hawaii Reporter about the Chamber of Commerce support for granting Counties the authority to increase the GET? Well, according to this PBN article it would seem that the Chamber is learning from that incident and will try to formulate lobbying goals in line with the results of an upcoming telephone survey of their membership and focus groups.

It could all be just window dressing, but in any case I’m inclined to think that the survey is a reaction to the earlier criticism. I’m assuming that the results of this survey will not be publicly released, and I’m not a member of the Chamber so I won’t be polled, but I’d sure be curious to see how various issues will be posed to and ranked by the membership. We could perhaps infer the survey results from their lobbying actions at the Legislature next year, but that inference could only be as accurate as the survey process is legitimate…

Incidentally, you may also remember that the political lightning rod of the moment, Bev Harbin, tried at that time to exploit discontent with the Chamber of Commerce to foment a schism and build support for her fledgling rival group, the Employers Chamber of Commerce. Hmmm.

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Prison Economics 101

Filed under:
— Doug @ 12:00 pm
The Advertiser continues today with another batch of articles by Kevin Dayton about Hawaii prisoners being sent to the mainland. The piece focusing on economics and another about CCA (Corrections Corporation of America, the company that holds most of the Hawaii inmates on the mainland.) are worth a look if you’re not familiar with those aspects of the issue.

Beyond the almost-boilerplate discussion of violence and other problems, these two articles pry into the costs and benefits of working with CCA and the other mainland private prisons. I was surprised to see that, despite the significant costs involved, there is little bidding for this work.

[CCA] is expected to collect $36 million from Island taxpayers in mostly nonbid contracts this year.

All but one of the prison contracts were awarded without formal competitive bidding because, technically, they are government-to-government agreements, which are exempt from state procurement rules. The contracts are with governmental entities such as Pinal County in Arizona, the Watonga Economic Development Authority in Oklahoma and the Tallahatchie County Correctional Authority in Mississippi, which subcontract the work to CCA.

Hawai’i Department of Public Safety officials said they invite other companies to compete for the contracts in an informal process, but the nonbid arrangement gives the state greater flexibility to negotiate for services.

Wha? Gotta love that obfuscation. I sure wish that I knew what exactly Hawaii gains from this “greater flexibility to negotiate.” As I understand it, the State is typically in a very poor position to negotiate for these beds because, a) they are not able to forego a contract to wait for better terms—the inmates must be housed whether the deal is good or bad, and, b) the universe of available beds and private prison operators is so small. In short, it’s a seller’s market, and I have my doubts that bidding would save Hawaii very much money. Still, it’s interesting to learn how these deals go around the usual procurement process.

Unfortunately, CCA is more or less shameless when it comes to unfavorable media coverage. It is almost formulaic now to see stories about private prison abuses, and CCA figures prominently in most accounts. This notoriety is partly because CCA is the 800 pound gorilla of the “industry,” but also because they never seem to mend their ways. To wit:

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the company is simply filling a dire need for more prison beds while saving state and federal governments millions of dollars.

“We’re very proud of that partnership. We’re very proud of the services we provide,” he said. “Thank goodness this option is available to the state because the alternatives actually are overcrowding, which is unsafe.”

That article also includes these useful nuggets.

Since CCA relies on government contracts, it has not shied away from playing politics.

The company last year contributed $100,000 to the DeLay Foundation for Kids, a charity established by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay. DeLay resigned as Republican majority leader last week after he was indicted in connection with a Texas political fundraising scandal.

In Montana, which is a CCA client, the company donated $10,000 to help finance an inauguration ball for Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer. In the state of Washington, another client, CCA has made political contributions to Republican and Democratic organizations and candidates.

Hawai’i Gov. Linda Lingle accepted a $6,000 corporate contribution from CCA in 2002, the maximum allowed in a four-year campaign cycle, and an identical sum in February of this year for her 2006 re-election race.

That pretty much speaks for itself, but I am curious to know if CCA has made campaign contributions to other Hawaii politicians. I recall that the private operators were heavily lobbying during the few years when the Legislature was considering construction of an in-state prison and, I would suspect, the contributions were flowing, too.

From the other article:

State economist Pearl Imada Iboshi said policymakers and taxpayers need to weigh the “lost opportunities” against the economic benefits if a new prison were built to accommodate inmates now held on the Mainland and those yet to be transferred because of overcrowding.

The state spent $31 million to house Hawai’i inmates on the Mainland in the fiscal year that ended June 30 ? an estimated saving of $25 million over what it would have cost to house them back home, assuming there had been room for them.

So, if the inmates were returned to Hawai’i, an extra $31 million would ripple through the state economy. But it also means Hawai’i would have to spend an extra $25 million to house the prisoners.

That additional $25 million cost is a “lost opportunity” because the money could be spent on something else, Iboshi said.

Construction costs can undergo a similar analysis. If the state spends more than $100 million to build a new prison, the extra in-state spending would help the economy, but it also would represent a lost opportunity to spend those same construction dollars on new schools or other public facilities.

That sounds almost rational on the surface (like most things economists say, ha ha), but turn it around and you’ll see what’s missing. This policy is only palatable because prisoners are unpopular. Following Iboshi’s logic, if there are private schools on the mainland that are cheaper to operate than Hawaii public schools we should forego building new schools in Hawaii and instead transport Hawaii children from overcrowded Hawaii schools to the cheaper private mainland schools, away from their families, and save millions of dollars.* Nowhere is there any calculation or estimation of the societal costs and/or benefits with respect to inmates (and families of inmates) better-equipped and able to succeed after serving their time in Hawaii instead of the mainland. As Dayton points out in an accompanying article, there are no conclusive data to compare the post-incarceration outcomes of Hawaii inmates (much less the families of inmates) who were housed in-state and those Hawaii inmates who were housed on the mainland. Plenty of anecdotal accounts of the easy-to-understand strain put on the inmate families, to be sure, but nothing is known as far as recidivism rates. What is the “lost opportunity” of exporting Hawaii inmates? We don’t know.

* I almost hesitate to use this example, for fear that an economist might actually take it as a suggestion for action.

Comments (1)

Hawaii prisoners on mainland becoming the norm

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:48 am
A wide-ranging, bordering on unfocused, array of stories and commentary in the Advertiser today about the practice of shipping Hawaii inmates to the mainland. I’m always happy to see the issue get wider attention, but the truth reflected by the recurring underlying theme of “inaction by the State” is frustrating.

The related editorial captures the crux of the issue.

Prison conditions don’t rise very high on the scale of voter concerns, and so policymakers have not felt pressed to find long-term solutions.

Elected officials have never confronted the true social costs of crowding in Hawai’i prisons, the effects on families of constant transfers to Mainland prisons and the inadequate preparations for their return.

It’s time to face up to those costs, and find some sensible solutions.

I agree, but I think it is unrealistic to expect many, let alone a majority of, lawmakers to get out in front of public opinion (which heavily skews to the “so what, the mainland prisons are cheaper” mindset) and risk their political future on something that is well-known as a hot-button campaign issue. Those “tough on crime” and “no prison in my backyard” campaign ads work, and so long as they keep working we’ll only see lip service (and newspaper articles) addressing any alternative prison policy. Sigh.

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Harbin defies Governor and categorization

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 8:34 am
Borreca’s Sunday column was just what I needed to get up to speed on the strange tale of how Bev Harbin came to fill Ken Hiraki’s seat in the House after he resigned.

“She appointed someone who is a political ally. She evaluated who she wanted to appoint on the basis of who would be aligned with her instead of the needs of the community,” Rep. Brian Schatz (D-Tantalus-Makiki) said.

Sen. Roz Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena) notes that Lingle was a big backer of Collin Wong, a 25-year-old computer programmer who last year came within 152 votes of beating incumbent Rep. Ken Hiraki.

When Hiraki resigned, opening up the 28th District House seat, Baker speculates, Lingle appointed Harbin because she was unlikely to either challenge Wong or mount her own campaign.

“It looks to me like politics. I don’t know what other conclusion you can draw. Since it was a closely contested election, it seems to me either they wanted the weakest candidate or someone who would not run, this individual had bit of both,” Baker said.

Both Lingle and Bob Awana, her chief of staff, say Harbin was picked because of her qualifications, not political considerations. But since then, Republican Lingle, House Speaker Calvin Say and Democratic Party Chairman Brickwood Galuteria have all asked Harbin to resign, saying her newly disclosed past prevents her from being an effective representative.

Harbin has refused and said she plans on keeping up her agenda of lobbying for small-business issues and plans a weekly news conference “to tell you what is really going on down here.”

I think Senator Baker is accurate and is being too polite in her assessment of Representative Harbin. As for Harbin’s weekly news conferences: I can’t wait. She also desperately needs a blog.

Skimming other stuff trying to catch up with all I’ve missed, I saw this Hawaii Business article about the redevelopemnt of Kakaako. There I read that Harbin is involved in that issue in her capacity as a board member of the Kakaako Improvement Association.

So at a meeting of the Kakaako Improvement Association, a group of concerned businesses in the district, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone opposed to redevelopment. “We are not NIMBYs,” says Beverly Harbin, a KIA board member.

What worries Harbin and others is a shift in HCDA to include residential properties in the waterfront district. The Request for Proposals asks for 500,000 square feet of public and commercial space and 250,000 square feet of entertainment and retail. Then there is room to build parking and residential units. HCDA also wants a developer to manage the marina, perhaps adding boat slips.

HCDA is in the process of changing land use rules to allow residential, something the original designers felt was inappropriate. HCDA is also attempting to raise the height limits of a section along the basin from 45 feet to 65 feet.

Harbin points out that in 1998 an HCDA environmental assessment determined that “Concerts and other special events which may be held in the Makai area would also generate significant amounts of noise and traffic which would be incompatible with residential use.”

Harbin says the lifestyle conflict alone is reason to keep residential out of Kakaako makai. But Harbin says an even more risky situation is that the residential units will be built as luxury units, which middle-income residents cannot afford, let alone lower-end wage earners. That is a wrong use of public lands, she says.

“[Kakaako makai] will become very elitist,” Harbin says. “I am not going to let them destroy something that is so valuable for our future kids.”

So, Harbin’s a populist on affordable housing? Perhaps. [the rest of the HB article is worth a read, incidentally]

Did you notice the description of KIA as a group of “concerned businesses in the district”? According to an Advertiser story, Harbin’s business in the district failed and taxes owed from that business contributed to her most recent shame.

Already a parody blog seeking to draft Harbin to run as a Democratic candidate for Governor has been started here by those running the Draft Harry Kim website. Apparently, whoever “Larry” is, he has a soft spot for candidates with “flexible” party affiliations… heh.

META COMMENT: I like the new Star Bulletin text-only version web interface that shows all the headlines on one page. That would have been very useful when I was struggling with the slow satellite connection. Previously there was a separate page for each section every day. This is mo bettah.

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How I spent my (third) 2005 summer “vacation”

Filed under:
— Doug @ 7:44 am
After 26 grueling hours of flying on Saturday (7AM Norway to 9PM Hawaii), I have returned from my Arctic trip on the icebreaker Healy. Jet-lagged big time, but happy to be home in Kaneohe.

I won’t bore you with all the gratuitous shots of ice and science dorkiness, but here are two of my strongest memories from the trip. Photos by Martin Jakobbson.

The entire science party posed at the North Pole. I am wearing an inadequate tan jacket, standing at the middle right of the back row. [Note to the Kang’s: I am also wearing the hat Shelly knit for me.]

Next, there were a few times where we came upon seals that had selected the wrong ice floe to haul out for a rest. This photo is not for the squeamish. For this particular seal I also have some video that shows it still moving about, with arterial bleeding spraying all over, in a feeble and futile attempt to resist. But that’s a bit much…

The photo fails to get across the size of the bear. It is probably 8 or 9 feet long!

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