Friday, August 28, 2015
Chronicle of a reporter and his pet politician
by Larry Geller
During a political campaign it is not unknown for some news outlets to embrace one party or the other, or that a reporter or columnist will faun on a particular candidate or blast another relentlessly. Journalism has never been free of that.
Astute readers catch this right away, and for many of us, questioning the motives of the news outlet seems both natural and critical to maintaining basic standards. After all, we pay for our newspaper subscriptions. We are the customers, or should be. Fairness should be the basis of unbiased news coverage.
I am beginning to wonder what the connection is between the Star-Advertiser, its reporter Dan Nakaso, and Rep. Tom Brower. I won’t hazard a guess, but guess what, Nakaso didn’t miss mentioning the attack on Brower, carefully identified as (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako) , in another story that Brower had no part in.
Governor David Ige’s Leadership Team met yesterday. There were significant announcements. You can read about it in the newspaper or (better) on Civil Beat, which is not paywalled. It’s not “disappeared news” so I won’t repeat the story here, but you can watch the entire news conference in the YouTube player below if you wish.
In Nakaso’s article for the Star-Advertiser, he not only mentions the attack on Brower for the nth time, but describes exactly what Brower was doing that day, which has not yet been established.
Again, Brower did not appear in the news conference video. Dropping his name so many times is no crime, but does make me, as a reader, wonder what might be going on between this reporter and this politician that the guy gets so much free publicity.
And I realized just now that every time I mention this, I’m also mentioning Brower. In the future, maybe I should say “the B-word” or something.
I have no doubt that the B-word will be used again and again in Nakaso’s article.
Here’s the news conference video:
Listen to oral arguments on the Mauna Kea TMT before the Hawaii Supreme Court
“I was a trial judge for a long time, I don’t recall ever making a decision where I decided the case before the trial,” Justice Richard Pollack told a University of Hawaii attorney at one point.—quoted in Civil Beat article
by Larry Geller
Oral arguments are available for listening on line at the Judiciary website. The page for yesterday’s oral arguments on the Thirty Meter Telescope challenge can be found here.
Unfortunately, the audio quality is often poor when someone is speaking off-mike. I have improved it considerably—listen using the audio player below or (if it does not work), download the audio file. Remember, this is an unofficial copy, do not rely on it.
Alternatively, read Civil Beat reporter Anita Hofschneider’s comprehensive article, Hawaii Supreme Court Grills State on Approval of Thirty Meter Telescope: The justices questioned whether the Board of Land and Natural Resources violated due process by approving a permit for the $1.4 billion observatory before conducting a contested case hearing (Civil Beat, 8/27/2015).
The story is very well crafted and appears to be complete; I’ll admit to not having listened to the complete audio transcript: given the article, why bother, I guess.
Hear ye! Hear ye!
The total length of the oral argument recording is 2 hrs. 8 minutes. Click to play or download by right-clicking here, or try the audio player if it appears below.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Do we have multi-lingual warning signs when beaches need to be closed?
by Larry Geller
Waikiki Beach was closed due to sewage in the water. Yet people were observed to be swimming in the muck. At least one foreign-language news website has noted this again this time:
"English-speaking holidaymakers appear to have an understanding - said the tourist from Vancouver. - But the tourists who do not speak in English, are unsure of what is going on, and even children are in the water. "
[ru.euronews.com, Пляж Вайкики в Гонолулу: купаться запрещено!, 8/26/2015]
I didn’t go down to Waikiki Beach this time, but in the past, I’ve seen only English-language warning signs.
There have been the occasional overseas articles on the subject, picking up the news from the Star-Advertiser or the AP.
A shorter story posted by Kyodo does not indicate that Japanese tourists experienced a language problem—perhaps the hotels informed them of the beach closure.
You’d think we could do better. Back home (wherever that is), articles like this give a poor impression of Hawaii. Multi-lingual signage seems like a natural and easy thing we could and should do.
Governor Ige’s rejection of imported LNG in favor of renewables may be a sound decision
by Larry Geller
Some of the energy sector has reacted in shock or perhaps anger at Governor Ige’s announcement that he will not support importation of liquid natural gas (LNG) to substitute for other fossil fuels. The Governor would prefer to invest directly in projects that will make use of renewable energy sources.
For this, he has been accused of being dictatorial, and much else.
But could Ige be right? I would accuse him of being an engineer who understands that the Europeans have successfully done exactly what he is proposing and their grids already deliver power more reliably than does the United States—and with far higher levels of renewal power.
German grid reliability, meanwhile, far outstrips the best SAIDI [System Average Interruption Duration Index] results delivered by U.S. and Canadian utilities. The top quartile of SAIDI results captured by last year's North American reliability benchmarking exercise by the IEEE Power & Energy Society, for example, had consumers without power for an average of 93 minutes — six times longer than outages experienced by the average German consumer.
[IEEE Spectrum, Germany's Grid: Renewables-Rich and Rock-Solid, 8/28/2014]
The IEEE Spectrum article includes a graph titled “Grid reliability and renewable growth seem to go hand in hand.”
The European grid demonstrated its stability in March as a solar eclipse took out multi-gigawatts of solar power without effect.
Germany’s advances in provision of reliable power based heavily on renewables is a product of good engineering, not political wrangling in the absence of good design, which is where Hawaii appears to be stuck.
Both the article A Dictatorial Pronouncement (Energy Dynamics, 8/25/2015) by Mina Morita and the document she cites seem to be mired in the concept that a power grid cannot do without fossil-fuel based generation to stabilize and offset variable solar and wind generation, and that LNG is a more cost effective method of providing that backup and regulation.
Grid stability requires that voltage and frequency be strictly maintained. But there are a variety of technologies, old and new, that provide stability. Often that is done with spinning devices called synchronous condensers or with semiconductor thyristor devices. A recent article in IEEE Spectrum magazine describes how old-fashioned coal generating equipment can be repurposed to stabilize the grid, an interesting trick.
Spinning synchronous condensers provide the stability that avoids blackouts during transitions of renewable power.
Interestingly, modern wind turbines have been designed to provide the same function. Rooftop solar installations can also be controlled to provide grid stability, and soon may be upgradeable to provide the same functions as spinning synchronous condensers. And guess what: those rooftop installations are providing grid regulation right now, on Oahu! See 800,000 Microinverters Remotely Retrofitted on Oahu—in One Day (IEEE Spectrum, 2/5/2015).
There are renewable energy sources that are as continuous as fossil-fuel power plants. One, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, is well on its way to becoming practical. Hawaii just plugged in the first fully closed-cycle Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) plant in the US. This plant uses temperature differences in the ocean to generate electricity. Geothermal power is also continuous.
These sources are not here yet, but engineers (rather than regulators) are potentially equipped to estimate when (or if?) these technologies might make significant contributions, and what level of investment is necessary to reach that goal.
Oahu can also utilize stored hydro power. Water pumped into Lake Wilson, for example, during sunny days, can be run through turbines to generate power at night.
Other storage technologies are making advances.
Eventually there may be wave power. I wonder why we don’t have it already, but don’t want to leave it out.
What I would like to see is evidence that the proper engineering calculations are being done to assure that anything we do, whether LNG substitution or greater emphasis on renewable sources, is affordable. Hawaii ratepayers have been paying about three times the national average without much complaint, but the cost is hurting our economy as more people are driven into poverty by the combination of energy, housing, food and other costs of living.
What we could use is a timeline of how we are to get to the state’s renewable energy goals.
As to Governor Ige’s “dictatorial pronouncement,” he may basing his decisions on sound science that is already proven elsewhere. He may be right. Get used to it.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
“Accessory Dwelling Unit” bill contains no funds for enforcement—so won’t be enforced
by Larry Geller
Honolulu’s City Council plans to approve a new class of housing unit that is intended to somewhat relieve the chronic shortage of homes on Oahu. The units are spoken of as “small” but 800 sq. ft. is larger than the condo apartment I’m living in right now.
The proposed regulations are intended to prevent their diversion into illegal transient rentals and keep them affordable. Unfortunately, regulations need to be enforced, and the Council has included no new appropriation in the bill for enforcement.
Honolulu cannot enforce its current regulations so a proliferation of new, cheap-to-build additions will be a boon to the construction trades but no more enforceable than current, similar rules for so-called “ohana” units. Without inspections and enforcement, anything goes in this town. It’s a way of life, whether in housing or in any other area (restaurants, for example) when there is little chance of ever seeing an inspector for perhaps a couple of years.
Let me illustrate how this works, or rather, doesn’t work.
Here is a house I am familiar with that had an “ohana” unit added in 1989. Due to vegetation on the street side, it is hard to see what is going on.
The additional unit is supposed to be occupied by a family member, but it was built to be rented out and was immediately occupied. The “ohana” was rented as a studio at the market rate. From the front (right side in the illustration) it had a spectacular view, since the location was high in the hills overlooking Honolulu.
Inspections were few and conducted only after plenty of notice. When the inspector arrived on the appointed day, the illegal appliances weren’t there. As soon as the inspector left, the appliances were moved back in. Bottom line, there was no effective enforcement of the “ohana” rules at all.
Next is a case that made the news after illegal structures on the property collapsed. The story is from 2008, and at that time, there were 50 tenants living illegally in a makeshift pole-and-plywood structure that was never caught by inspectors. In order to put up such a monstrosity, the owner of the Kalihi property had to be pretty confident that he could get away with it.
The picture is stunning, but it is copyrighted and I can’t reproduce it. Please click to the story here and then click on the picture inside, which you can enlarge further with your control key and mouse wheel. Trust me, it is worth your time to see that image.
Now, if anyone thinks that the current homelessness crisis is a recent development, it’s because they have been deceived by the media’s lack of coverage over the years and by our government inaction. Remember, this story is from 2008.
The first snip is about the Kalihi home, the second about the broader housing crisis:
The addition to the home that collapsed and fell into a streambed behind the property was built much like scaffolding — with floors made out of thin wood and tarpaulins used to shield tenants from the sun and rain. There are several such additions on the home, some of which were at one point as high as four stories, neighbors said.
[Honolulu Advertiser, Collapse at Kalihi home reveals 'hidden homeless' struggles, 10/28/2008]
Advocates say the case highlights the dire need for affordable housing in the Islands.
And they say the Gulick Avenue house is not the only place where renters are living in squalid conditions out of necessity.
"There's a whole cadre of people who are living in less than acceptable conditions," said Doran Porter, executive director of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance, which provides case management to the homeless and pushes for more affordable rentals. "The cost of rent is so high that people are living in structures that are really not sound."
This snip illustrates several important points.
(1) Inspections never caught that large, egregiously illegal structure
(2) The “dire need for affordable housing in the Islands” was well-known in 2008 but nothing effective has been done about it to-date
(3) The social services provided are vital to the well-being of those living in poverty or who are homeless, but do not reduce the need for housing or jobs and a living wage which could change the situation. (“Across the islands, 1 out of every 5 Hawaii residents depends on food aid from the Hawaii Foodbank and its network of agencies.”)
This is important to understand because neither the city nor the state currently have revealed any intention to fund the services that will keep people in their homes. In fact, under Governor Lingle, those services (provided under contract to the Department of Health) were cut, dumping some people onto the streets and resulting in avoidable deaths. The city’s plans call for better coordination of existing services, which clearly have not reversed the annual growth in homelessness or the underlying poverty, much less alleviated the housing shortage.
(4) Honolulu’s planning effort is focused almost entirely on providing expensive homes for the rich and ultra-rich. Even so-called “transit oriented development” pays little more than lip service to creating truly affordable homes. The sunbirds will have an abundance of options (see pic at right) while we hope for a few of those “ADUs” for the rest of our people.
So ADUs are not at all a bad idea, but if the rules are as poorly enforced as are the “ohana” rules, they will fall short of realizing their potential to provide some additional affordable housing in Honolulu.
Monday, August 24, 2015
Great minds tweet alike–and Star-Advertiser gets batchi
by Larry Geller
|I was so surprised that two captains of Hawaii media would declare that homeless people do not need to have permanent housing that I wrote about it and tweeted a link to my article. Star-Advertiser publisher Dennis Francis and KGMB General Manager Rick Blangiardi (Hawaii News Now) wrote a joint op-ed in the Sunday paper reflecting either bias, ignorance or ideology, I can’t tell which.|
Three Civil Beat reporters were on it also, and expressed themselves compactly in their tweets (see at left).
And then the Star-Advertiser got batchi. That’s an expression widely used in Hawaii that originated with the Japanese word (罰) batchi – punishment. It loosely means that the gods will punish you if you do or say something bad. Like if you cut off another driver, a whole flock of birds will poop on your car.
So bad karma earned by the Star-Advertiser statement arrived in the form of a computer glitch that took down their fancy German-made press. Only the pre-printed sections of the Sunday paper could be delivered.
[Batchi aside, I was wondering if they had decided to upgrade to Windows 10 over the weekend. Just curious.]
I couldn’t contain my thoughts to 140 characters yesterday. Here’s a snip from my article. Probably, the tweets said pretty much the same in far fewer words.
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Today’s paper clarifies its management’s stance on homelessness, housing and Kakaako
by Larry Geller
Due to some production glitch, all we received at our doorstep this morning were the sections of the Star-Advertiser that were printed in advance. Perhaps the rest will be delivered later.
The glitch delayed my Sunday morning instant gratification—no David Shapiro column. So instead I turned to the Insight section, and then looked up Shapiro on-line, where they keep him locked up behind a paywall. Sad, but true. My comments on Insight and on Shapiro’s column follow below.
Local action needed to protect Hawaii’s health against pesticide effects
The baby was born minutes before with a severe heart malformation that would require complex surgery. What worried her as she waited for the ambulance plane to take the infant from Waimea, on the island of Kauai, to the main children’s hospital in Honolulu, on another Hawaiian island, was that it was the fourth one shehad seen in three years.
In all of Waimea, there have been at least nine in five years, she says, shaking her head. That’s more than 10 times the national rate, according to analysis by local doctors.—Guardian article
by Larry Geller
When you see numbers like “10 times the national rate” there is little room for argument. If I saw, 5% more than the national rate, I could say, well, we need more proof. But 10 times?
This sounds like a public health issue that our Department of Health and independent medical organizations should jump on, for the sake of the health of their patients.
In Kauai, chemical companies Dow, BASF, Syngenta and DuPont spray 17 times more pesticide per acre (mostly herbicides, along with insecticides and fungicides) than on ordinary cornfields in the US mainland, according to the most detailed study of the sector, by the Center for Food Safety.
That’s because they are precisely testing the strain’s resistance to herbicides that kill other plants. About a fourth of the total are called Restricted Use Pesticides because of their harmfulness. Just in Kauai, 18 tons – mostly atrazine, paraquat (both banned in Europe) and chlorpyrifos – were applied in 2012. The World Health Organization this year announced that glyphosate, sold as Roundup, the most common of the non-restricted herbicides, is “probably carcinogenic in humans”.
[The Guardian, Pesticides in paradise: Hawaii's spike in birth defects puts focus on GM crops, 8/23/2015]
Pesticides cause other health problems besides this particular heart defect. There is no reason why Hawaii’s health should be allowed to suffer for the profit of these large chemical firms.
If it falls to either our state Department of Health or to the ag folks to protect us against the adverse effects of these businesses, they are failing to do their jobs.
Please read the entire story by clicking at the link. One more snip:
When the spraying is underway and the wind blows downhill from the fields to the town – a time no spraying should occur – residents complain of stinging eyes, headaches and vomiting.
“Your eyes and lungs hurt, you feel dizzy and nauseous. It’s awful,” says middle school special education teacher Howard Hurst, who was present at two evacuations. “Here, 10% of the students get special-ed services, but the state average is 6.3%,” he says. “It’s hard to think the pesticides don’t play a role.”
Friday, August 21, 2015
Borreca on Lingle’s policy on housing and my take on the ugly fence
by Larry Geller
The Star-Advertiser’s columnists are often a welcome breath of air and an escape from an otherwise stifling ideology.
Today’s On Politics by By Richard Borreca was a refreshing read. It begins:
Now we are building fences. The latest step in the help-the-homeless campaign comes from City Hall in the form of Mayor Kirk Caldwell teaming up with the City Council to spend $240,000 for a 1-mile, chain link fence along Kapalama Canal to block the homeless from rebuilding a shanty town there.
If the way to firmly address the homeless issue is to shoo them away, then Honolulu is doing a great job.
[Star-Advertiser p. A15, A governor who acted on homelessness? See Lingle, 8/21/2015]
The article is very good, worth finding a copy of the paper if you can.
… Hawaii’s high cost of housing, lack of jobs and flood of poor migrants from Micronesia have been festering for decades
Yup. That should be in a news article someplace, also.
Borreca dared to use the “H” word (Housing First) which may be forbidden in the rest of the paper:
In his final report on housing for the homeless, [Russ Saito, Lingle’s accounting and general services director] urged government to drop the shelters program and instead move to the Housing First approach. In other words, put those without a home in a domicile. If not houses, then rent subsidies for those stable enough and without the mental health and drug abuse problems.
My own rant
About the only thing I would have liked to see, and Borreca may not have known about it (unless he regularly read Disappeared News), is that Lingle’s cuts to mental health services dumped many people onto the streets. Take this point as my own addition, it would have muddled his theme, which was very well executed.
Before I let this go I do have another addition.
Caldwell’s fence will make the city that much more ugly.
The solid row of planters around Thomas Square would never have been installed by a proper landscape designer or competent city planner, nor did it follow Complete Streets, if that was in effect. The sidewalks were narrowed drastically and the public was not consulted on it.
Mayor Mufi was trying to wipe out gambling and the homeless along the Nuuanu Stream in Chinatown, so he removed the tops of the trellises leaving ugly posts with rusting brackets and broken glass lighting fixtures. The gamblers moved across the stream. Those now awful posts are still there.
And starting probably from Carlisle (?), bus stops were modified so that the homeless could not sleep in them. Comfortable benches were removed and replaced by a couple of small, hard, round toad stools which meant the elderly could no longer sit while waiting for the bus.
And they are ugly toadstools.
So now it is to be a $240,000 uglifying chicken wire fence. This strategy is damaging to the rest of us, and solves little. Galvanized wire fences are ugly. The canal should be an attractive public asset.
The tents will move elsewhere, the fence will remain as did the toadstools and ugly columns, and Honolulu will be worse off than it was.
And the housing crisis will be no closer to solution for all this expenditure.
Star-Advertiser forced to mention Housing First by federal visitor
Homeless shelters, Doherty said, should be thought of as “short-term intervention,” adding, “Sheltering people does not end their homelessness. If you think shelter is an endpoint, we’re not creating the solutions that people really need.”
The long-term answer is creating more Housing First options that put homeless people — even those with substance abuse or mental health problems — into homes where they will be surrounded by social service assistance.—Matthew Doherty, Executive director, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, quoted in Star-Advertiser story
by Larry Geller
Once again it takes the Federal Government to intervene and correct Hawaii’s wayward social policy. In this instance, it took the executive director of an independent federal agency to push for a Housing First solution to Hawaii’s long-neglected homelessness crisis—and to force the Star-Advertiser to actually print the words “Housing First” in a news article. Matthew Doherty, Executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, used the term and so the paper had to report it.
War on the homeless?
The New York Times is widely criticized for its warmongering leading up to the Iraq invasion, and I think it’s fair to blame the Star-Advertiser for its war on the homeless. In today’s front-page lead story Kakaako in ‘crisis’ reporter Dan Nakaso yet again milks the assault on Representative Tom Brower, which has recently morphed in his articles into a “mob” action.That attack is kind of the “aluminum tubes” for the S-A, something they can repeatedly parade before the public to fan the flames of war on Honolulu’s homeless. The paper advocates clearing the encampment without regard to the impact on the people or the communities into which they would be dispersed, and salivates editorially over the prospect of new sit-lie bans.
At the same time the newspaper has studiously avoided mentioning Housing First (as a Google search confirms) which is a solution that has worked elsewhere and saved taxpayers money. A lot of money.
While Housing First may save taxpayers money and greatly reduce homelessness, it is clearly not the “chamber of commerce” solution, so the paper’s attitude is explainable. That luxury condos are so often given lavish front-page spreads is the giveaway. Their front-page coverage is returned to them in expensive full-page ads paid for by the developers.
Controlled or limited rent, low-cost housing, Section 8, vouchers—these are not chamber-of-commerce friendly terms.
It’s not just the news desk: the paper has editorially pushed overbuilding in Kakaako (e.g., Kakaako plan for 22 towers holds promise, 10/12/12) while itself ignoring the growing plight of the houseless over the years. Yes, 22 towers hold promise for lots of ad revenue. So there you have it.
Milking the assault incident
Reporter Dan Nakaso actually mentioned the assault on Brower twice in a recent article (see sidebar). Nevermind that the articles would be just as good had he not exploited that incident at all.
Editorially, the paper got into a snit on July 19 because government leaders were not “jolted awake” as the result of the assault against Tom Brower. Never mind that crimes of all sorts take place in far greater numbers elsewhere. There’s crime in Kakaako, where people have been pushed together in unsatisfactory conditions by the city. There’s crime elsewhere, too, which the paper does not repeatedly remind us of.
At the same time, the editors are aware that while they cheerlead condos for the ultra-rich, the affordable housing deficit is growing without hope of a resolution in sight. On February 22, 2015 the paper ran a story, Shortage keeps growing, that admitted two key points: (1) the best case scenario was that the state would not meet its modest 2016 housing goals until 2029 the very earliest, and (2) the working definition of “affordable housing” at 140 percent of median income is an outrageous fiction.
WHAT IS AFFORDABLE HOUSING?
Affordable, or workforce, housing is broadly defined as rental or for-sale units priced for individuals or families who make less than 140 percent of the area median income, which is currently $134,140 for a family of four.
However, according to the city’s estimates, 75 percent of the affordable housing needed on Oahu should be designated for families who make below 80 percent of the area median income, or $76,650 currently. Nearly 44 percent of the housing is needed for families earning less than $28,750.
Not only those living on the streets, but most in the growing poverty sector, will not find the $134,140 for that kind of “affordable housing.” In previous articles I’ve noted that in NYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio is working with a definition of 40%, not 140%. They also have a plan for 200,000 homes that they might meet, even as we flounder here in Honolulu. And we keep planning to build shelters. Shelters don’t replace a solid plan for affordable homes. Plan shelters, but also plan for the necessary truly affordable housing, which will be needed in perpetuity.
Worse, as you’ll see below, the state has been contributing to the housing crisis since about 1995.
There is some hope perhaps. For example, in today’s article they acknowledge that the growth in the Kakaako encampment was caused by the city itself:
The encampment expanded rapidly over the last several months, in part due to the city’s “sit-lie” ban, which continues to force homeless people out of Waikiki, downtown and Chinatown.
[Star-Advertiser p. A1, Kakaako is in ‘crisis’, 8/21/2015]
This is a baby step forward, because first of all, it is obvious, and second of all, they have been cheerleaders for the city’s actions while ignoring its inaction and the consequences of both.
As to ‘crisis’ in single quotes, it is a crisis, period. In fact, homelessness here has been recognized as a crisis in their predecessor newspaper since at least 2003. See, just as an example, this article by Rob Perez:
The state's repeated, multimillion-dollar raids of affordable housing funds to balance the budget, its failure to get tenants into scores of empty public housing apartments on a timely basis and its accumulation of an unusually high percentage of vacant units have contributed — some say substantially — to Hawai'i's growing homeless crisis.
[Honolulu Advertiser, State missteps worsen homeless crisis, 12/17/2006]
There’s so much in that article that I urge you to read it. Now.
Many of the more recent homeless ended up on the beaches because they couldn't afford escalating rents, a problem exacerbated by the state's severe shortage of affordable homes.
Yet since 1995, the state has diverted roughly $212 million from funds designed to stimulate the building of affordable rentals and for-sale homes to assist income-eligible families with down payments for their first homes, and to underwrite other programs meant to address Hawai'i's housing-affordability crunch.
I wish I could reproduce the whole article here. Ok, one more snip, and remember, this is from 2006:
"It's been devastating," said Terry Brooks, president of Housing Solutions Inc., a nonprofit developer and operator of homeless shelters and low-income housing. "Look where we've ended up."
Where Hawai'i has ended up is with a high-profile social crisis that is as complex as it is widespread and that increasingly has attracted national attention.
All the editors of the Star-Advertiser would have to do is look through their morgue, there are good stories dying to be read in there. Then take off the single quotes from ‘crisis’ and begin reporting the news properly.
So we need Housing First, right?
So now the phrase “Housing First” has been forced into the paper. Will they explain it to readers, including a timeline of how well it worked in other cities? Will the paper turn around and properly accuse our state and city leadership of negligence all these many years by not implementing a Housing First policy?
Don’t hold your breath.
Although I wish they would do it.
Reporting the news properly includes describing the success of other cities as they deploy Housing First strategies and the failure of Honolulu to do so. Please also report what ignoring Housing First will cost the city, if one must make an economic as well as a moral argument.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Abercrombie’s “New Day” may come without him
He called it the “most ambitious affordable housing program” ever initiated by an American city. It would “change the face of this city forever” as “the largest, fastest affordable housing plan ever attempted at a local level.”
On May 5, 2014, at the site of a construction project in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York City’s progressive new mayor Bill de Blasio sketched the outlines for his housing plan: 80,000 new low-cost homes, 120,000 more homes preserved. It would put Robert Moses and Michael Bloomberg to shame, dispatching construction cranes to the city’s every nook and cranny in the pursuit of affordable housing.—from an article actually critical of de Blasio’s plan. The Mayor shot back at critics.
by Larry Geller
We never did get that promised “New Day” during former Governor Neil Abercrombie’s reign, but Hawaii has a better chance to achieve it now that he’s gone. It depends on how the current housing crisis is handled, and whether state leadership, both in and out of government, can turn that crisis into the proverbial opportunity.
New York City faces a similar crisis, but it is putting in place a hoped-for solution. Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised 200,000 affordable apartments. His formula is 20 percent low-income, 30 percent middle-income, and 50 percent market-rate split. Also, NYC defines affordable as (per another article) 40% of area median income, which is considerably lower than Oahu’s definition.
Our affordable housing policies must reach every New Yorker in need, which is why this plan thinks big about the changes we need to make—in government and in the private sector—to make this a city where everyone rises together, and everyone has a safe and decent home.
If you're in a community where affordability is disappearing, we want to protect it.
If your family lives in a rent-regulated apartment, this plan is focused on helping you keep it.
If you're a senior trying to remain in the neighborhood you helped to build, we are fighting to help you stay.
If you are a building owner or developer intent on building or preserving affordable apartments, we will support you.
Governor Ige’s new Leadership Team on Homelessness is composed entirely of virgins on this issue. No doubt they want to achieve something, and because of who they are, failure is not an option for them. So they will have to learn quickly, or their political careers may take a hit. Hysteria, also, is not an option, and so they will ultimately be pushed to do something which promises to work. But how far off will their enlightenment be?
The measure of success will be how effectively truly affordable housing can be created in numbers sufficient to meet the growing demand, and how well people can be supported to stay in their homes. This may also mean rent control or stabilization, and/or adjustment of the minimum wage. Or whatever it turns out to both provide homes and ensure that people can actually afford them.
All the Team has to do is get the process started and make sure the path is clear: the end will not be in sight for a decade or more.
Oh, they will also have to give up the lies and the hype, such as using an unworkable definition of “affordable housing” as their working goal. And they might as well learn to Google “Housing First” so as to erase their misconceptions.
Abercrombie could not have done it. He had already sold out to development interests. The public fought him, successfully killing the PLDC, for example. We clearly preferred to keep public lands in our public hands. Affordable housing did not appear on his radar.
Ige (and his team) can put together a program of change for Hawaii that Abercrombie couldn’t imagine. Why? Abercrombie was misusing capitalism by pushing development only for the profit of developers. We’re still stuck with that model, and it needs to be retired.
In order to solve the current housing crisis we will have to conduct a really big makeover of the entire island. That will be capitalism at its best, doing what it does best. At the same time, we need to control the process by stopping capitalism from doing its worst: catering only to the ultra-rich and paying into politician’s campaign treasuries.
Capitalism is by nature selfish. We need to let it be selfish while it works on behalf of others. De Blasio has got that, we need to get it also. There is nothing new about this.
Building condos for the ultra-rich is counter-productive. It is old-think. Putting in 10,000, 25,000, or 60,000 new housing units is new-think. Paving over prime agricultural land is also old-think. We need both homes and affordable food, plus the jobs that local agriculture brings. A buck spent for a local eggplant stays in the economy, plus there is more to quality of life than just condos. Farms, parks and open space are important to quality of life. Housing needs to co-exist with, not replace, agriculture and natural spaces.
Those homes will not be micro-units or “auxiliary dwelling units.” What people want, and what is profitable to construct, are apartments or homes that will be filled with individuals and families able to afford them, paying rent and driving the gears of capitalism. The only acceptable outcome is one that stimulates this new growth in homes and in jobs that can pay for them. On Oahu, some of those homes are already “auxiliary dwelling units” because the city has proven unable to regulate so-called “ohana” dwellings, which are going at market rate. So there will be some of those too.
No one says this path is easy, but the alternative is… what? A viable economy requires that people live in homes they can afford and pay for them with wages that are sufficient to support life. If the Leadership Team feels their job is only to sweep the streets of Kakaako, they still have a lot of learning ahead of them.
Economic reform won’t happen without government leadership, because it really is a new direction. Business does not create jobs as much as it consumes workers. Government creates jobs, directly or indirectly through public policy. Capitalism in the classic sense provides the energy that runs the machine, but government must make it profitable to construct that machine. Public policy must startle complacent developers into building that “new day” out of their bricks, their mortar, and their union labor.
The problem is, we need a big-picture view, whether mine or someone else’s. Putting together a Lego village on Sand Island saves nothing – as many people as it will hold will become newly homeless across the island before it is even built. Check out the annual increase in the official numbers. The crisis is not one of temporary housing, it is one of permanent housing.
The big-picture view involves the harnessing of American ingenuity to turn that around, so that the housing stock can be built and made available throughout the island, turning the growth in homelessness into an expansion of homefulness (?). Hmmm… need a good word for that. There is no solution until the growth in homelessness is reversed, right? Duhhh.
So we have an inexperienced team “in charge” but charged for the moment only with clearing the streets. Without Housing First, they won’t make much progress, and Oahu’s crisis will become their personal crises. They will have to discover the mechanism that will work. Stuffing as many people as they can into temporary shelters is not likely to work, and that scheme also fails to harness the mighty powers I am talking about.
If I am over-optimistic that they will learn, still, someone else will discover how to harness the power and ingenuity of capitalism and the passion for success that drives it. Hawaii, in the future, can still become a comfortable place for its people to live, work and play.
Affordable housing is part of the bedrock of what makes New York City work. It's what underpins the economically diverse neighborhoods New Yorkers want to live in. It's critical to providing financial stability for working families, helping them get ahead and build a better life.
[NYC Housing website, Message from the Mayor]
Monday, August 17, 2015
Breaking: Hawaii campaign spending case Yamada v. Snipes (A-1 A-Lectrician, Inc) petitions Supreme Court to hear appeal
by Larry Geller
Yamada v. Snipes, the case originally heard by Judge J. Michael Seabright in Hawaii District Court as Yamada Et Al. v. Kuramoto Et Al, also referred to as the A-1 A-Electrician case (1:10-cv-00497-JMS-LEK), may be headed for the Supreme Court. The case concerns disclosure of campaign contributions and the burden or ban on political contributions under various Hawaii laws, and reimbursement of some of the attorneys’ fees.
The Hawaii defendants are members of the Campaign Spending Commission.
A petition for a writ of certiorari is a request to have the Supreme Court agree to hear a case. If it is not accepted, the ruling of the 9th Circuit would stand. The circuits are divided on similar cases, as the petition notes, and so the Court may be somewhat inclined to resolve the differences by taking up one case brought to it.
According to Jamestown, New York attorney Randy Elf, one of the plaintiff attorneys, the petition raises all of A-1’s claims except the as-applied government-contractor-contribution-ban claim.
Here are the opening paragraphs of the petition, with citations stripped out.
Citizens United v. FEC establishes that registration, recordkeeping, and extensive and ongoing reporting are “onerous” organizational and administrative political-committee burdens, while Buckley v. Valeo allows government to trigger political-committee burdens only for “organizations” that (a) are “under the control of ” candidates or (b) have “the major purpose” of “nominating or electing” candidates. But circuits are split over whether another part of Citizens United which approved nonpolitical-committee, i.e., simple, one-time event-driven reports for “electioneering communications,” allows state governments to trigger such PAC-like organizational and administrative burdens regardless of whether the organization is “under the control of ” a candidate or has Buckley’s “major purpose.”
Petitioner A-1 A-Lectrician, Inc. (“A-1”), a large for-profit electrical-construction organization, is not “under the control of ” any candidate(s) and does not have “the major purpose” under Buckley. Nevertheless, Hawaii law triggers PAC-like organizational and administrative burdens for A-1 if it spends more than $1000 on vaguely-described expenditures for the purpose of influencing the nomination or election of any candidate to office, or for or against any question or issue on the ballot.
The petition is posted below, and is a complete, clear and easy-to-read explanation of the plaintiff’s reasoning. It is, however, 270 pages long because it includes appendices with the prior decisions and all of the detailed work needed to convince the Supreme Court to accept the case.
You can also find details of the legislative process behind these bills. It is very rich and detailed.
Did I say easy-to-read? The document is, however, very detailed and bristles with citations, of necessity. So no, not too many Disappeared News readers will challenge themselves to read this document.
The case is so significant that the record should be available to those who are interested. If the Supreme Court takes up the case, we’ll eventually hear their ruling on Hawaii’s campaign spending laws that the plaintiffs are challenging. A Supreme Court ruling will be easier to understand than the briefs they consider in reaching their conclusion.
Should the writ be accepted, there will be oral arguments which the media will analyze to divine the possible outcome of the case.
I won’t summarize the petition because I’m not equipped to do so. Perhaps Courthouse News will write it up. If they do, I’ll link to their article. My prior articles are here.
Do not rely on this copy of the legal document. It is posted here for educational purposes only.
Download Yamada v. Snipes Petition for Writ of Certiorari from Disappeared News
Friday, August 14, 2015
Touching Hawaii homeless story in the news in Taiwan
by Larry Geller
A Taiwan news website ET Today ran a story today based on Diana Kim’s photography project documenting the lives of homeless residents of Honolulu. While shooting her photos, Kim discovered that her own father was there, living on the street.
You can see Kim’s project on her website, The Homeless Paradise or read about it on Honolulu Magazine’s website in a story that ran also in their April magazine, What Do You Do When the Homeless Man on the Street is Your Father?
The Taiwan article includes Kim’s YouTube video in which she shows the magazine article to her father. Heck, she allows embedding, so I’ll save you a click, here it is:
Thursday, August 13, 2015
Out of the mouths of babes: Compassion for Honolulu’s homeless in Kakaako
Adia Dunn: “Build a shelter but increase the money you pay to the homeless people who work there so that they can save up and get their own apartment.”
Angelica Sanders: “Help them find housing or apartments — but not shelters, because people want their privacy.”
Sunshine Vannatta: “Stop sweeping them, because then they have to start all over again and they can’t save the money they need to get an apartment or a plane ticket.”
Rain Longoria: “Try not to be so hard on people, especially people who are alone.”—girl scouts quoted in Lee Cataluna’s column in 8/12/2015 Star-Advertiser
by Larry Geller
I’m pretty sure that the Star-Advertiser needs Lee Cataluna much more than she needs them. So she can say whatever she wants in her new column. She’s probably also the best writer the paper has at the moment.
Yesterday she demonstrated the only compassion that has appeared in the newspaper with regard to the people staying at the Kakaako homeless encampment.
Even though the Star-Advertiser ran an oversized picture of girl scouts visiting the Kakaako encampment on its July 29 front page (and another on the continuation page), the story was only about plans to (apparently) forcibly remove the campers. That story certainly lacked any compassion at all as it discussed how to get rid of them. Isn’t it odd that the article itself did not even touch on the subject matter of the two giant, featured photographs that accompanied it?
So Lee Cataluna has, so far, a monopoly on compassion in the newspaper towards those forced to live on the streets in Kakaako.
Dan Nakaso, who is the writer generally covering the site, has been emphasizing that there is crime there and repeatedly cites the assault on Rep. Tom Brower just so we won’t forget. He recently reported that Brower was attacked by a “mob.” So now we have a mob instead of two teenagers—based on what evidence, Dan?
One of the girl scouts wants the sweeps stopped. The paper wants to completely sweep Kakaako. City Councilman Carol Fukunaga authored a bill to expand sit-lie at pedestrian malls which will, of course, push more people into the pressure cooker that is the Kakaako encampment.
It would be wonderful if some of those girl scouts choose journalism as a career one day. Compassion in our news coverage would be refreshing.
Nakaso might write (if he is allowed to do so, he’s not Lee Cataluna) about the effect of packing more people into a limited space where they compete for food and other resources. Since city workers illegally seize and destroy ID, cash, medicines and other personal possessions, the stress level among those the City has exiled to Kakaako is high. If there was crime among them before, it can be expected to escalate. The City has created the ghetto conditions that the newspaper now complains about. So say that, please, in the news coverage.
It’s a privilege to expect those we have ill-treated to treat us with respect. Why does the newspaper chronicle their incivility while neglecting to mention the shoddy treatment the City has afforded them? Should they thank the cops politely for standing by as city workers illegally steal their possessions? Why would they not be stressed and nervous as the City talks about forcible removal, most likely to be carried out without consideration of their civil or human rights? See It’s unconstitutional to ban the homeless from sleeping outside, the federal government says, (Washington Post, 8/13/2015).
Since there is not enough shelter space to accommodate everyone in Kakaako even if they agreed to go to a shelter, the City action will export the campers, and whatever crime the newspaper feels goes with them, into Kalihi, Moilili and other neighborhoods.
That’s ok with the City, apparently, as long as they don’t go back to Waikiki or Ala Moana Park (see snip at right, S-A 7/29/15).
So once again: appreciation for Lee Cataluna for bringing a refreshing voice of compassion to our daily newspaper.
What Rep. Sylvia Luke, Sen. Brian Schatz, the City Council and the Mayor don’t know about solving Honolulu’s homelessness crisis
by Larry Geller
First, two quotes from the news, and then the answer:
"A lot of that population has mental issues and other type of issues," said Rep. Sylvia Luke, (D) Makiki, Punchbowl, Nuuanu. "Placing them in a home is not going to be the right solution."
[Hawaii News Now: Legislators say "housing first" not the only solution (Hawaii News Now, 8/6/2015)]
“Hawaii is different,” Schatz said. “We haven’t seen the same kind of statistical progress they’ve been able to make in other cities. … Whatever has worked elsewhere has not worked here.”
[Star-Advertiser, Task force addresses Kakaako campsite, 8/22/2015]
It seems as though the Governor’s Leadership Team is trapped in a time warp somewhere around 1992. If we have to wait for them to catch up, there will be increasing numbers of people looking for affordable housing and even more left out on the streets in Hawaii.
Let me snip from the Pathways to Housing website for an explanation of how Housing First has worked so well in so many other places:
Housing First Model
Housing First is simple: provide housing first, and then combine that housing with supportive treatment services in mental and physical health, substance abuse, education, and employment.
The Housing First Philosophy
Dr. Sam Tsemberis founded Pathways to Housing in 1992, with the creation of the Housing First model to address homelessness among people with psychiatric disabilities and addiction disorders.
Pathways’ Housing First is simple: provide housing first, and then combine that housing with supportive treatment services in the areas of mental and physical health, substance abuse, education, and employment. Housing is provided in apartments scattered throughout a community. This "scattered site" model fosters a sense of home and self-determination, and it helps speed the reintegration of Pathways clients into the community.
Housing First Outcomes
The Pathways model has been remarkably successful in ending chronic homelessness. Since its founding, housing retention rates have remained at 85 – 90 percent even among individuals who have not succeeded in other programs. Not only is Housing First effective at keeping people housed and working toward recovery, it has also proven to be incredibly cost-effective. Providing homes and support services to the chronically homeless costs less than the expensive cycling through of emergency rooms, shelters, jails, and psychiatric hospitals.
A recent success story is reported for Utah, as one example:
Utah's program places chronically homeless people in housing and supports them with services that help address the root causes of their homelessness such as physical and mental illness, substance abuse and addiction, low educational attainment, criminal records, or poor work histories.
[Deseret News, Chronic homelessness in Utah down 91 percent under decade-long 'Housing First' initiative, 4/28/2015]
It has worked elsewhere for many years. Wikipedia reports that Housing First is being applied in New Orleans, Louisiana; Plattsburgh, New York; Anchorage, Alaska; Minneapolis, Minnesota; New York City; District of Columbia; Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Quincy, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Salt Lake City, Utah; Seattle, Washington; Los Angeles and Cleveland, Ohio.
Honolulu is still not on the list.
Could part of the responsibility fall on the newspaper, which has concentrated its news and editorial coverage almost exclusively on a theme of cleaning homeless campers off the streets (into where, it does not say)?
I don’t need to explain much more. If the Gov’s team wants to learn why Hawaii should try Housing First, they can start with Google and actually learn a lot.
Sunday, August 09, 2015
Today’s Aloha `Aina march through Waikiki could help level the playing field
I'm going back to Honolulu
To the island girl with flowers in her hair
If she`s waiting I will hold her close and never stray
From Honolulu, in Hawai`i nei--I Fell In Love With Honolulu - Donald Neil McKay
by Larry Geller
The tourism industry depends to a large extent not only on the attraction of warm tropical breezes and welcoming surf, but on a carefully nurtured image of Hawaii as a peaceful paradise where love reigns eternal.
Tourists seldom meet Native Hawaiians except in entertainment settings. Those who know anything at all about Hawaiian history may know about the overthrow but not even that it was illegal. They may think “all that” is well behind us now. Far from it. But they come in ignorance and leave in ignorance.
That’s why I suggested that demonstrations in Waikiki that defy that image could be “the nuclear option.”
Hotel owners and tour operators do not want to see Native Hawaiians and supporters marching in the streets exposing the tourists to reality.
Today’s march at 10 a.m. starting in Waikiki will introduce some tourists and visitors to another aspect of Hawaii, one that they have been shielded from.
It’s a single event, so probably isn’t of “nuclear” strength. But if repeated, tourists will indeed be educated. That is not the education the tourist industry wants. So repeated marches could have a powerful effect.
Bringing the issue of desecration of sacred places to the attention of tourists could be a way to apply counter-pressure to the otherwise overwhelming power of government. There’s nothing illegal or even immoral about educating the masses.
This could be a tactic that levels the playing field.
Update: I know it’s not good to feed the trolls, but I would like to respond to one of them.
No, I am not suggesting hurting the tourism industry. It would never come to that. First of all, this is only a single demonstration. If there were repeats and they were having an effect, someone would take the governor aside and tell him what he can do with his 30-meter telescope.
Wednesday, August 05, 2015
Honolulu City Council proves Albert Einstein was right
by Larry Geller
I never heard of the Quincy Herald-Whig, but readers of that paper now know about Honolulu’s criminalization of its homeless citizens.
An AP story by Cathy Bussewitz has been picked up by about 45 news outlets according to a Google search.
Today the Honolulu City Council voted 7-2 to expand the sit-lie ordinance to pedestrian malls and the banks of rivers. Read the story here, on ABC News.
A snip from ABC News:
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who supports the bans, said that because there was no designated place for displaced homeless people to go after leaving Waikiki, they just moved across the canal into her district. She said the bans aren't solving the problem, but she continues to support them.
"People are just moving wherever they can, and it's disrupting neighborhoods and local small businesses," Kobayashi said in an interview. "We have to keep doing it piecemeal, because people kept moving to other areas."
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”--Albert Einstein, (attributed)
City Council created the Kakaako homeless encampment and must bear responsibility for any crime there
The homeless are treated as something scary, a specter that goes bump in the night, one that we attach all of our worst fears to. We separate them so far from ourselves that they practically become another species. But despite a generally held belief that people living outside are chronic criminals, the statistics simply don’t back that up. A John Hopkins study found that just 25 percent of homeless individuals have committed a crime against a person or property, compared to 35 percent of the general population—DailyDot
by Larry Geller
Honolulu’s city government has been kicking the issue of homelessness down the road for at least 20 years, which is about when people from parks and beaches started showing up at the community health centers for assistance.
Now the problem has become so acute that, realistically, a solution to homelessness (and the burgeoning poverty of which it is a symptom) is much more difficult.
So what does the city do? It’s much easier to sic the police on homeless people rather than find, implement and pay for effective solutions.
In other words, kick the can down the road some more.
The John Hopkins study cited in the pull-quote is rather old, but probably still holds. As I noted in an earlier article, the newspaper is exploiting crime figures for Kakaako while crime in other areas is much higher. So the paper is enabling the city to ignore the need to get busy working on real solutions for Hawaii.
Let’s take a closer look at the Kakaako encampment
First of all, it’s only there because scattered campers were first banished from parks and beaches and then banned from Waikiki and other areas by the City Council’s sit-lie ordinances and numerous sweeps and property seizures. This is the “cheap” approach: policing instead of social solutions. In reality, it costs taxpayers much more and no long-term benefit whatsoever.
So the Kakaako encampment is really the fallout of the city’s bad social policies.
At a higher level, homelessness, poverty, and also the Kakaako encampment are a result of more than a decade’s neglect of the growing housing and homelessness crises in the city. As rents continued (and continue) to spiral upwards, more individuals and families are forced over the edge and must either leave Hawaii or could end up homeless.
Let’s throw in the effect of untreated mental health issues—untreated because the state cut off supportive services that effectively maintained many people in their apartments. Without supports, many ended up on the streets. Again, bad social policy, but this time on the part of the state.
The media and the city council blame the homeless for their poverty while neglecting to mention how they got there. They don’t ask how people became homeless in the first place.
There are things that government can do to alleviate poverty in the state, create affordable housing, and ease economic discrimination. But they are still not doing any of it. There is still no Housing First. Wages continue to be depressed so that working people cannot pay the high rents. Of course, there is no rent control or regulation that would help keep people in their homes.
Instead, we have criminalization of the homeless.
No wonder that City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi was quoted in yesterday’s paper as being “frustrated.” The only relief for her frustration will come when the Mayor and City Council get busy working on solutions that will work for Honolulu.