Thursday, February 23, 2017
A potential fix for Hawaii’s chronic physician shortage is in sight
by Larry GellerHawaii has lived with a chronic shortage of physicians for some time. It only gets worse, never better. While doing nothing has its consequences, it hasn’t been clear what the legislature could do that would reverse this deadly spiral.
Perhaps there is a way: SB1137 gives power to the people to take action—specifically, power to HMSA members themselves. The bill has one hearing in the Senate (and testimony is needed!) on Monday, February 27.
First, some context. If HMSA members were able to influence the operation of what is supposed to be a “mutual benefit society,” they could require that several important changes be made. In addition to revising reimbursement rates, other worthy areas of scrutiny would be denials or delays of imaging requests, and a restricted formulary that can actually endanger lives.
The declining number of physicians has long been a major threat to healthcare
The continued attrition of doctors is a kind of "sword of Damocles," which, like climate change, brings with it a sense of impending doom. Nothing that the legislature, the medical school, or anyone else has done has reversed the downward trend that must lead one day to catastrophe.
The danger of a physician shortage surfaces periodically in the press. Here, as an example, are stories from 2005–a dozen years ago:
Every private practitioner is a small business. HMSA is the near-monopoly insurer that is so powerful that doctors either sign up or they can’t survive in the state. And HMSA sets the reimbursement rates for their services. Physicians cannot afford to practice in Hawaii largely due to low reimbursements that don’t compensate them for the high cost of doing business here. The only way out of this situation is an airplane ticket to another state.
Starting this year fundamental changes to reimbursement have been made along with an increased paperwork load that promises to accelerate the attrition.
If Hawaii’s physician shortage was a crisis in 2005, it remains a crisis today. I was recently told by my oncologist that four of his colleagues have just retired. When I visited a medical building in Wahiawa I found the number of empty office suites to be truly shocking. Physicians retired or shut down their practice and no one moved in to provide the community with care.
Restrictions on imaging can cost lives
Reimbursements are not the only issue that members can work on. Last year HMSA’s denials of doctor’s imaging requests broke into the news.
As a cost-cutting measure, HMSA began requiring doctors to get pre-authorization from a mainland company before it would approve imaging tests starting December 1, 2015. But this is not the first time HMSA has attempted to put the brakes on imaging.
HMSA claimed that the restrictions were necessary, according to the newspaper article, since its imaging utilization costs were about nine percent higher than the national average. Whether or not that is accurate, a Star-Advertiser story revealed that at least for Medicare patients, who typically have a higher usage rate than the general population, Hawaii’s imaging untilization rates are in fact lower than the national average. In 2014 the Medicare utilization rate was the lowest in the nation.
The effect of denying or delaying imaging would be a clear danger especially to patients wheeled into emergency rooms or for whom a delay could be life-threatening.
HMSA’s imaging restrictions are not new
Digging deep into the archives turns up this Star-Bulletin story of HMSA imaging denials that nearly cost a patient his life. Fortunately, he could afford to fly to Texas and pay for the test himself. Although privacy restrictions were not in force at the time, I’m redacting the names in this article since they are not important.
[Patient L], 49, had had surgery three times in his neck for what was believed to be
recurrent parathyroid cancer.
Five doctors agreed a magnetic resonant imaging study was needed to pinpoint the cancer.
Despite doctors' requests, HMSA refused to cover an MRI because medical directors gave an opinion "that an MRI would not detect recurrence of metastatic parathyroid cancer . . ."
[Patient L’s wife] said her husband's doctors ~ N.R., S.V., A.L, J.D. and J.A. ~ were flabbergasted.
HMSA was very wrong. The article continues with Patient L in Texas:
An MRI was done on [L] immediately after they went there in May last year, [wife] said. Two days later, surgery was done to remove a cancerous parathyroid gland from her husband's throat and a cancerous tumor from his chest, she said.
"If they had done exploratory surgery in the neck (the only option without an MRI), they would never have found it in the chest."
Thanks to this next case, HMSA allows PET scans to detect colon cancer
In another denial that made the news, HMSA turned down a PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography) request that would have quickly, painlessly and in fact inexpensively ruled out colon cancer after a polyp was detected in [Patient E]. As the Star-Bulletin reported, the patient paid for the test himself (about $3,500) and learned that the polyp was definitively not cancerous. So he had it shaved off in a simple procedure.
The alternative was painful and far more risky abdominal surgery involving five or six days in the hospital with recovery of another five or six weeks, and, in fact, much higher expense.
Patient E brought his case as an appeal before the insurance commissioner and prevailed. As a result if the same thing happens to you or me, we can have our PET scan if we need it. That is if you or your attorney are able to cite this case if denied.
I need to carry an Epipen these days. If I should go into shock and don’t have it, I could die. The company that makes it was recently in the news for alleged price gouging, and as a result, a far cheaper competitive version came on the market. The cost to me was only $109.99 instead of over $600. I paid because HMSA refused to cover the pen.
Families across the country have to dig into their kids’ college funds or their retirement savings to provide allergic children (and adults) with their life-saving Epipens. That’s why the manufacturer’s price increases made the news.
Although the consequences of not having this device are dire, HMSA declined to pay for it. Now, $109.99 is less than the cost of many medications that they do cover, and far less than the cost of treating me if I didn’t have my pen (and if I survived!).
Maybe I’m better off dead to them.
But I’m not dead, and will testify on Monday in favor of SB1137 so that HMSA members can change this and many other things we need to pay attention to.
A potential solution to Hawaii’s physician shortage
This problem has eluded solution through legislation. But there is another approach that has promise–and it has to do with member control of HMSA, the near-monopoly insurer that effectively sets reimbursement rates for physicians in Hawaii.
HMSA is, at least in a technical sense, a mutual benefit society. But right now, according to HMSA bylaws, members cannot effectively call a special meeting to work on outstanding issues–and those issues are more than just reimbursements. The bylaws require something more than about 17,000 members to get together to request such a meeting. Here is the relevant paragraph:
VIII Membership Meetings 2. Special Meetings. Special meetings of the members of the Association shall be held at any time upon the call of the Chairperson, upon the written request of a majority of the Directors, or upon the written request of not less than three percent (3%) of the members.
Since the number of members needed to call a meeting is so high, it is in practice impossible for members to exercise any control whatsoever over the conduct of their own organization. Nor are there shareholders to whom management would be responsible since HMSA is not a for-profit company.
If members could dialogue with and control the conduct of their own mutual benefit society, issues such as inadequate reimbursements could be resolved.
Will you testify before Monday’s hearing? See the box above. It’s quick and easy. Tell your story if you have one.
Hawaii has its own alt-facts to justify licensing of foreign fisherman in violation of state law
by Larry Geller
I’m not sure where this came from, but it’s a great summary of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources use of alt-facts to justify their illegal issuance of fishing licenses to foreign fisherman working in near slave-labor conditions to bring in highly profitable catch for the fish auction.
The reference is to a hearing yesterday on a bill aiming to reform the licensing process.
Pictured in the image is (top right) Sen. Karl Rhodes, chair of the Senate Committee on Water and Land, which held a hearing yesterday on SB152, the bill that seeks to reform Hawaii’s licensing of foreign fisherman who presently cannot land because of their immigration status (see: Latest AP story on conditions in Hawaii’s fishing fleet keeps the pressure on state government to correct abuses, 2/22/2017).
In the foreground is Bruce Anderson, DLNR/Division of Aquatic Resources, and next to him is frequent DAR spokesperson Alton Miyasaka, DAR/Acting Program Manager, Commercial Fisheries.
Anderson has refused in the past to change the DLNR’s licensing procedures holding that he is not responsible for what he described as “labor issues.”
If the cartoonist has more like this, please feel free to send any this way. Great stuff.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Latest AP story on conditions in Hawaii’s fishing fleet keeps the pressure on state government to correct abuses
Hawaii lawmakers are considering a proposal with the potential to cripple the state's commercial fishing industry after an Associated Press investigation found foreign fishermen confined to boats and living in subpar conditions.—AP story
by Larry Geller
The latest Associated Press story exposing conditions in Hawaii’s long lines fishing fleet is spreading to news outlets nationally and internationally. This story focuses on the potential consequences of new legislation currently being heard in the state legislature that would change the way fishing licenses are issued to foreign fishermen.
If Hawaii’s commercial fishing industry is “crippled” by a new law, it would only be because Governor Ige’s administration did nothing to bring the state’s practice of licensing foreign fishrman into conformance with existing state laws.
The original AP story exposing near slave labor conditions in the Hawaii long lines fishing fleet was published on September 8, 2016. Since then the state has rebuffed efforts to correct the situation by enforcing existing state law. Specifically, Hawaii already has a law on the books prohibiting the licencing of foreign fishermen who cannot be landed in the state.
A 2016 AP investigation found that some fishermen earned less than $1 an hour and worked without most basic labor protections while catching premium seafood. The boats often have crews of fishermen from Southeast Asia and Pacific Island nations, and the men are restricted to their vessels when docked in Honolulu because they lack proper documentation to enter the U.S.
[AP, Hawaii bill would ban licenses for some foreign fishermen, 2/22/2017]
If the fishermen lack proper documentation to enter the state, then they cannot be issued commercial fishing licenses, but the Department of Land and Natural Resources is issuing licenses to them anyway. In addition, it’s not clear that the fishermen are able to understand the conditions for applying for licenses in the absence of proficiency in English.
How many AP stories will it take before Hawaii eliminates the shameful exploitation of cheap foreign labor under questionable working conditions?
Fishing licence hearing notice posted in Hawaiian and English
by Larry Geller
Hawaii has two official languages, though in practice Hawaiian isn’t and generally can’t be used in any official circumstance.
But today I discovered that a hearing notice has been posted which is carefully written in both languages. This is remarkable enough to qualify for a couple of exclamation marks!!!
The notice is one that should be important to Hawaiian fisherman—it is for decisionmaking on SB152, a bill that could eliminate competition for jobs in the state’s long line fishing fleet. Here is the description of the bill:
RELATING TO COMMERCIAL MARINE LICENSES.
Requires commercial marine license applicants to appear in front of DLNR in person. Prohibits DLNR from issuing or renewing a commercial marine license to an alien crew member who has not been granted permission to land temporarily pursuant to federal law.
Strangely, this description is the only thing on the page not translated into Hawaiian.
Monday, February 20, 2017
Thursday February 23, 2016: End of Life Forum to Discuss Options Available for the Terminally Ill
This important program will be held at the auditorium of the Hawaii State Capitol on Thursday, February 23, 2016 from 7:00-8:30 p.m. There is no charge for parking after 6 p.m.
From the announcement:
As Hawaii’s population ages, what ought to be done at the end of life is becoming a matter of great concern to the state. To explore the options available to those with a terminal illness, the University of Hawaii’s Public Policy Center and the Matsunaga Institute for Peace are sponsoring a moderated panel discussion on Thursday, February 23 on the topic, “End of Life: Public Policy for the Terminally Ill.” The forum, which begins at 7:00 p.m. at the Hawaii State Capitol Auditorium, includes Attorney General Douglas Chin, Dr. Charles Miller and John Radcliffe of Compassion and Choices Hawaii, and Dr. Craig Nakatsuka and Joy Yadao of Hawaii’s Partnership for Appropriate and Compassionate Care. The panel will be moderated by Judge Michael Broderick (Ret.), the President and CEO of the YMCA of Honolulu.
Click the image for a pdf with full details of the event and speakers.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Latest AP story (yes, another) reports a new fishing license bill in Legislature, but will it be enforced if passed?
A legislative committee passed the bill that will require fishing boat owners who want a commercial license in Hawaii to provide state officials with a copy of employment contracts held with every fisherman on board before the license is granted.
Without those contracts, there’s no way for state officials to check whether fishermen are getting what they were promised or if an investigation should be launched about possible human trafficking, said Rep. Kaniela Ing, who introduced the proposal.—AP story 2/14/2017, Hawaii bill seeks more oversight of commercial fishing
In a document signed by Bruce Anderson, the administrator for the department that issues fishing licenses, the department recommended denying the rule changes because the petition focused on labor issues that are outside the department’s jurisdiction.—AP story 10/14/2016, Hawaii Agency Rejects Rule to Protect Foreign Fishermen
by Larry Geller
A new article by local AP reporter Cathy Bussewitz is appearing in newspapers across the country. The first pull-quote above is from the Washington Times, as an example of the penetration of these stories in the national media.
What the pull-quote describes is a labor issue—that is, the Department of Land and Natural Resources is being asked to assure that fishermen “are getting what they were promised.”
DLNR’s Bruce Anderson has already said (see second pull-quote) that labor issues are outside his department’s jurisdiction.
Back in October Anderson was referring to rule changes proposed in a petition to the DLNR [disclosure: I was one of the petitioners] to change the rules for licensing the foreign fishermen. The changes were not “labor issues” and the law in question was a conservation law, not a labor law.
But Anderson has made himself clear, and in fact, the bill before Hawaii’s state legislature would seem to require DLNR to enforce labor protections.
Given Anderson’s refusal earlier, and his refusal to enforce the clear provisions of Hawaii law that prohibit DLNR from issuing fishing licenses to fisherman who cannot set foot on Hawaii soil, how can lawmakers expect he will enforce the provisions of this bill, should they become law?
Passing laws is good, and it is important to support new lawmaking that could make a difference to the foreign fishermen. But like Hawaii’s traffic laws, which are seldom enforced at least in Honolulu, laws by themselves make little to no difference if no one puts them into effect.
DLNR has refused to enforce existing state law, and so the stream of AP stories will continue. In the end, it is likely that Governor Ige’s government will cave in the face of the ongoing bad publicity.
That’s not the best thing for Hawaii, or for the fishermen. Ige should not wait to see what happens with the new legislation. He could call Anderson to his office and ask why current law is not being enforced. That can be done now, it doesn’t have to wait until the end of the legislative session in May.
Even if the new legislation passes, the issuance of fishing license to unlanded fishermen is still against Hawaii law.
The new legislation will either pass or not, but for sure what happens to it will be news around the country once again. Hawaii’s failure to deal with a humanitarian issue is on display for all to see.
I’ll end the way many tweets do these days: Sad.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Hawaii heading inexorably for the cliff on affordable housing
by Larry Geller
We’re headed for a cliff, and no one is doing anything to save us from our fate.
An op-ed in today’s Star-Advertiser co-authored by Victor Geminiani, Bob Nakata and Rene Berthiaume clearly states the impact that illegal transient vacation rentals are having on the supply of affordable rental units. Along the way it drops some of the numbers we’ve been seeing in the news that describe the severity of Hawaii’s housing shortage. Here’s a snip:
A recent report by the state Department of Economic Development and Tourism determined Hawaii will need 65,000 more homes by 2025. That estimation is similar to the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation’s (HHFDC)’s projection that between 2015 and 2020, we have a housing shortage of 29,500 units. The Hawaii Tourism Authority estimates over 27,000 vacation rentals in the state are advertised online. The overwhelming number of these rentals are illegal. Every home used illegally as a visitor lodging business is one less home for our residents.
In tight housing markets with low vacancy rates, any reduction in supply naturally increases rents, particularly because neither the market nor the public sector can quickly add to housing stock. Airbnb indirectly reduces the affordable housing supply by reducing the overall housing supply of units available for long-term rentals.
[Star-Advertiser p. E3, Illegal vacation rentals harming community, 2/12/2017]
Airbnb and its ilk have drastically exacerbated a problem that has existed for years: the tolerance of county government for these illegal short-term rentals.
Yes, the problem is the non-action of government. Where there is money to be made, people will go for it. The complaints from Kailua residents and others over noisy illegal vacation rentals have appeared in the papers for as long as I’ve lived in the state. Government has not moved against this lucrative black market and so it has prospered—and now, aided by software, it has drastically expanded.
While some tiny steps have been proposed or implemented towards creating affordable housing—such as a process to efficiently permit Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)—those steps are insufficient at best. For example, the number of ADUs that will ultimately be constructed will not approach the number of housing units needed, and the chance that they will end up on Airbnb’s website or otherwise used illegally is likely quite high. So-called Ohana add-on units have been rented out at market rates, which was and is not allowed, but who is paying attention?
A perfect storm is brewing as housing resources evaporate
Today’s op-ed reports and laments that listings for long-term rentals have declined to as little as 10 percent compared with three years ago.
This, at a time when demand is at an all-time high and people are leaving the state in order to find housing.
This, at a time when housing for the rich and ultra-rich is being constructed in Kakaako instead of the workforce housing that would make more sense.
This, at a time when homelessness in the state, a marker for the shortage of affordable units, is increasing year over year.
This, at a time when American soldiers are to be relocated to Guam and then to Hawaii, further (due to their housing subsidies) competing with and displacing others in need of housing.
This, at a time when the state continues to demonstrate that it has no intention whatsoever to make housing available as Hawaiian Homesteads, despite an obligation the state assumed as a condition of statehood in 1959.
This, at a time when Honolulu, for example, still has no viable plan to build those 29,500 or 65,000 housing units.
A complex problem requires a complex solution
Hawaii government has a habit of confusing goals with plans. A goal (“65,000 housing units by 2025”) is something on a PowerPoint chart with a bullet at the front of it. A plan is complex and detailed, with timelines, budgets, personnel assignments, projections, and so forth. It does not fit on a PowerPoint slide.
A plan requires first of all a clear strategy and then it lays out the steps to implement that strategy. Given where we are now, the strategy can be expected to be complex. I think this scares the hell out of our city and state leadership and so we never get there. We don’t have any plan to look at. Instead, developers find they can get exemptions to even the requirements that are currently in place. It’s as though the only plan is not to build the required number of housing units.
A strategy may include modelling the problem and the program. Inputs to the model might be some of the things I’ve mentioned above along with an accurate description of the housing market today. We’ll need to model the market so that we can see how to arrive at 65,000 units or whatever the correct target is.
And then the model and the program get tweaked as time goes on.
Is there any will to do any of this in Hawaii?
Not that I’ve noticed.
Now, someone prove me wrong. Please. We’ve had enough of nothing. It’s time to not only do something, but to figure out what’s necessary and do that.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
#Fail again—a second AP story notes that abuses continue in the Hawaii long lines fishing fleet
by Larry Geller
Once again, the Associated Press reminds the world that Hawaii’s fishing fleet is made up not of local residents dedicated to maintaining a safe and sustainable fishery. In fact, the fishermen are largely from foreign countries without even the language ability to read the words on the fishing licenses they are gifted with by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The AP story refers to laws that are being broken. But it doesn’t provide details.
The most relevant would be this one:
§189-5 Aliens not admitted to United States. It is unlawful for any person who has not been lawfully admitted to the United States to engage in taking marine life for commercial purposes in the waters of the State. The term "United States" as used in this section, includes the several states and the territories and possessions of the United States. [L 1929, c 187, §7; RL 1935, §336; RL 1945, §1260; am L 1947, c 39, §6; am L 1955, c 96, §6; RL 1955, §21-115; HRS §189-5; am L 1981, c 85, §82]
The cryptic stuff at the end indicates that the law was first passed in 1929, that is 1929 Session Laws of Hawaii, Act 187, Section 7. It was recodified as Section 336 of the Revised Laws of Hawaii of 1935 and amended a couple of times. This law is about as solid as it can get.
Other likely state and federal violations involve the need to provide translators or translations. How can our fisheries be protected when the fishermen can’t read the rules for licensing?
The AP story is in newspapers all over the country.
What will it take for Governor Ige and his DLNR to obey the laws that would prevent the fishermen from being exploited?
Also: when can people trust that the Hawaii fish they are eating is not the product of trafficked labor? Only when Hawaii begins to enforce its long-standing laws so that foreign fishermen cannot be abused or trafficked in its fishing fleet.
That this has gone on for so long should be an embarrassment. What are they waiting for? A third or a fourth AP story? Those will follow for sure if enforcement of Hawaii’s laws does not begin.
The world learns the truth about Hawaii’s fishing industry
The story is literally everywhere. Throwing a dart at the map, here are the intro paragraphs from the Pueblo Chieftain:
HONOLULU — Lacking visas and confined to their vessels, about 700 foreign fisherman work without most basic labor protections just a few miles from Waikiki’s white sand beaches, sometimes paid less than $1 an hour to catch premium tuna and swordfish sold at some of America’s most upscale grocery stores and restaurants.
Hawaii authorities may have been violating their own state law for years by issuing commercial fishing licenses to thousands of foreign workers who were refused entry into the country, The Associated Press has found.
More troops coming to Hawaii means housing crisis will escalate further
In June, large crowds of Japanese protested the U.S. presence in Okinawa. The United States is responding. Thousands of U.S. troops are going to be relocated in several waves, first to Guam and then to Hawaii.—Civil Beat article, How Trump Is Working To Play Nice With Japan (2/10/2017)
by Larry Geller
When will the “thousands of US troops” arrive to live in Hawaii? When they come, won’t they have housing subsidies? Won’t that further deplete the supply of affordable housing?
My last question: When will city and state homeless czars produce a plan for the 20,000, 24,000, 60,000 or 67,000 new truly affordable housing units that different sources predict we will need by year 20xx?
Ok, one more: when will true rent control be implemented so that families can stay in their current housing and not become homeless?
Friday, February 10, 2017
AP: Hawaii may be breaking law by allowing foreign men to fish
by Larry Geller
The AP tweet is “Hawaii may be breaking law by allowing foreign men to fish.”
But as astute readers of Disappeared News, you already knew that.
The latest AP story reiterates our reports that Hawaii is issuing commercial fishing licences to foreign fishermen in violation of state law.
Hawaii's boat owners pay brokers up to $10,000 for each crew member sent from abroad. Because the workers don't have visas, they aren't allowed to arrive at Honolulu's airport. Instead, they're flown to foreign ports and put on fishing boats for long sails back to Hawaii.
Before they start working, they need a commercial fishing license. And in order to get that, Hawaii requires that they are "lawfully admitted" to the U.S. As proof of legal admission, state officials point to landing permits issued to all fishermen by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents when the men arrive at the dock.
Here's the hitch: AP has learned Customs agents stamp "refused" on all the landing permits, which voids them. So instead of being "lawfully admitted," the fishermen are actually barred by law from setting foot in the U.S.
[AP, Fishermen in legal limbo fill US plates for $1 an hour pay, 2/10/2017 ]
The AP story introduces some new information. Check it out.
And think twice before you purchase fish that may be caught by fishermen working in abusive or near- slave labor conditions.
Preserving reality against the Trump administration—the data rescue movement
Under federal appointees with records of being hostile towards environmental health regulation, data may be harder to come by, Whittington worries. “If you don’t have the data, you’ll be told your problem doesn’t exist. It is in a way a struggle over what we consider reality.”
by Larry Geller
Who could imagine the US government could stoop to destroying scientific data on a massive scale?
In its place, we’re fed “fake news” or just stare into the void where (for example) climate data used to be.
On the first Saturday morning in February, scientists, programmers, professors and digital librarians met at New York University in New York City to save federal data sets they thought could be altered or disappear all together under the administration of US president Donald Trump. Around 150 people turned out for the gathering, many after hearing about it through Facebook.
Enthusiasm for guerrilla archiving is skyrocketing; the day at NYU was the latest in a ballooning list of “data rescues” across the country. All-day archiving marathons have been held at Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Boston, and Michigan, and by the time the NYU event was over, attendees from several other cities had volunteered to host their own.
Data is being harvested as fast as possible before Trump appointees can get to it. Twitter reports that government web pages (for example, the EPA website) have already been altered to remove information and data. The data is saved using special apps and stored in new websites and the Internet Archive. T
Anyone who may need to access this data in the future might check out the Quartz article and stay in touch with the rescue movement. Or join in if you have a special interest that depends on access to information that may be disappeared.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
DOH fights lawsuit on their non-posting of inspection reports even as two bills in the Legislature again fund the posting
by Larry Geller
This is how the state spends your taxpayer money.
Kokua Council’s lawsuit to compel the state Department of Health to post inspection reports which seniors and others depend upon when a loved one must be placed in a care home will be heard this Thursday, Feb. 2, at 10:30 a.m. in Judge Nakasone’s courtroom on the 5th floor of the courthouse at 1111 Alakea St. corner Hotel St.
[Disclosure: I am on the board of Kokua Council.]Having to defend their non-performance in court is such a waste of taxpayer money. Let’s see how it goes, of course, but the basic argument seems simple enough—that the law requires these reports to be posted but the DOH is either not posting them or is posting documents so heavily blacked out (as in the KHON screen grab above) that the information is useless.
DOH resistance (at taxpayer expense, of course) seems all the more questionable since the Legislature has two bills, each with a long list of sponsors in each house, to fund the posting of the reports (see SB538 and HB433).
It’s also important to understand that the Legislature not only passed Act 213 in 2013 requiring the posting of inspection reports starting in 2015, but it apportioned money at that time for the purpose. The DOH did not hire and the $148,000 lapsed.
They have argued that they don’t have the resources to post the reports. They had resources but didn’t use the money to hire anyone. If one of these bills passes, they will have resources again. Will they hire someone this time? Don’t they have to follow the law anyway??
Here’s my best understanding of what happened with the positions:
- Governor Abercrombie approved the positions before he left office in November 2014.
- DOH advertised the positions internally only in March 2016.
- It appears that the Department of Human Resources denied the request because there was not enough time in the fiscal year.
- DOH could have but did not try to hire an 89-day temporary worker to do the posting chores.
- The money appropriated lapsed because it was not spent.
- A public records request sent to Governor Ige’s office for copies of any requests by the Department of Health for permission to establish positions authorized by Act 213 (2013). and for the Governor’s approval of those requests resulted in a response that they don’t have either.
I wonder what the judge will do Thursday.
Giving credit where due: Another in a series of excellent audit reports
by Larry Geller
Kids are scolded when they do something bad. I hated to be scolded, at home or at school. While some of my teachers seemed only to criticize, others did recognize good work and pile on the positive reinforcement.
And now I have this blog—how easy it is to point out government failures. Now I can do the criticizing. So today is something different, a change of pace. I liked praise as a kid, and a blog is good for that, too!
I’ve written before about the remarkable changes in how the state’s audits are presented. They are now designed to be accessible to the average person. The data is still there, but it is explained, and often illustrated so as to make it easily understandable.
The first audit of 2017 was just posted: Sunrise Analysis: Regulation of Certified Professional Midwives (a summary is here). It’s an audit, but it is also an education.
The bar graph illustrates the increase in home births. On the second page, a sidebar outlines the regulation of professions, an important context for most readers, I think. It also explains the Hawai‘i Regulatory Licensing Reform Act.
You can check out audit reports at the auditor’s website. As citizens, we should be informed about many of these things. Now it’s a lot easier.
Check out the audit page
Monday, January 23, 2017
Johan Galtung’s view from Europe: Donald Trump Inaugurated as President
You have inherited from your predecessor a USA on high alert under the formula “war on terrorism”. You are surrounded by triggers. Do not satisfy their lust to be pulled.
Donald Trump Inaugurated as President
23 January 2017
#464 | Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service
And the first question to the 45th US president: Will you kill, abroad? Predecessor Obama was in the US tradition that killed more than 20 million in 37 countries since WWII, bombing and droning. His Special Forces seem to have killed in 138 countries. And a shocking majority voted for Hillary Clinton with her warfare record of even privatized warfare. Will you make America “Great” the same way?
Or make America Greater by breaking this morbid tradition?
The 22nd US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, has summarized his experience in some statements (in Wall Street Journal 7 Jan 2017, from Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. Knopf):
- War is nothing other than tragic, inefficient and uncertain.
- On the left we hear about the “responsibility to protect”.
- On the right about failure to strike as abdication of leadership.
- The rest of the world sees the U.S. as a militaristic country.
- Wars are a lot easier to get into than out of.
- Presidents–have too often been too quick to reach for a gun.
- Most of Congress is uncivil, incompetent, egotistical, thin-skinned. Members postured and acted judge, jury and executioner.
Strong words, based on his experience and spoken with frankness. What is missing is, of course, the alternative; in one word, diplomacy. Your word is “negotiation”. The US political market is now yours, a monopoly on U.S. power, by verbal means. For some of them you have to apologize in one way or the other.
But the world political market is not yours; but for give and take. The world is watching with apprehension. There was much aggression in your speech. Will it be followed by aggressive action?
Another new world leader, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “highlighted in his first address to the Security Council the need to rebalance the approach to world peace and security, avoiding conflict beforehand instead of responding to conflict. Security Council members pointed out that conflicts in South Sudan, Syria and Yemen proved to be difficult to resolve” (The Weekly Mirror, 13 Jan 2017).
Exactly. “Avoiding beforehand” means “resolve”, that is the word. And “difficult” means exactly that; in other words, “not impossible”.
The Russian leader Putin organizes resolution conferences without USA. Time has indeed come for USA to focus on conflict prevention by resolution, not conflict response by war or threats of war. Your turn!
But you still seem to want a wall between the USA and your neighbor Mexico–from which your predecessor James K. Polk stole 53% of the territory in the 1846-48 war. Imagine you go ahead, that you are not only telling Mexico, improve your border control, or else–a wall!
That means a wall between Anglo and Latin America, between two civilizations in a world crying for dialogue to understand and for mutual learning and enrichment. How do you think Mexico will react?
By turning inward, developing its own country the hard way, doing it yourself also learning from China, becoming more of a competitor. Including growing its own apples instead of harvesting yours–at the risk of being expelled before they are paid.
And by turning southward and westward, cooperating, integrating, solidifying the budding community of Latin American-Caribbean States; opening all those borders ever more to compensate for your closed one.
They will now probably do both, given your insulting rhetoric.
Of course you have the right to control illegal immigrants, and to expel criminal immigrants that have already arrived–with care. However, if you want to close the border with a wall do it on your side and pay it yourself. They will not do it.
A much better policy would be to make legitimate expulsion credible as a warning to others; and to give those jobs, better paid, to your own people badly in need of them. The USA has a right to develop, so does Mexico. But the de-developing embrace we witness is not a good policy.
As strong or stronger than your rhetoric against Mexico is the one in favor of Israel, including its choking hold on US autonomy, AIPAC.
Again, it could be your way of saying “we will not betray you”, “we recognize fully the right of Israel to exist, but not Netanyahu’s wildest dreams.” You know perfectly well the solid world majority against the illegal Israeli settlement policy, even privatizing it to escape responsibility. You really want to challenge the world?
True, you may improve your US media support by such means, but at the expense of turning most of the rest of the world against you. Putin has another policy, friend with all sides, except IS. And Putin has a strong ally, China, whom you have challenged by relating to Taiwan. That is certainly your right; one thing is to talk with a president, another is full recognition, UN membership, etc.
But maybe a better policy is simply to withdraw that aircraft carrier off China’s coast and encourage China-ASEAN cooperation in the South China Sea, including finding formula for Taiwan’s presence, e.g., together with other parts of China?
Your opening to Russia, cutting through the present US paranoia, harking back to the 19th century with US-Russian amicable cooperation, is brilliant. But maybe you underestimate the solidity of China-Russia, SCO, friendship-alliance, as a reaction to the policies of some of your predecessors? China and Russia are closer to each other than to USA. Mildly speaking, alienating Russia in the Middle East, and China in East Asia, is a risky game, precisely because that game has been played before, and may freeze all parties into the past.
You have inherited from your predecessor a USA on high alert under the formula “war on terrorism”. You are surrounded by triggers. Do not satisfy their lust to be pulled. Insist on multi-party choice in Cuba, but accept their insistence on basic needs for all; they will benefit from the former, you from the latter. Insist on non-nuclear Iran, but accept their insistence on a nuclear-free Middle East.
Give and take on both sides. Is that not what business is about?
Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. Prof. Galtung has published 1670 articles and book chapters, over 450 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service, and 167 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Let’s shift the dialogue to “family housing” to plan for Hawaii’s affordable housing needs
Data also reflects the national trend towards increasing income inequality. Middle income families are decreasing while low income and high income populations increase.—New York Times, San Francisco Asks: Where Have All the Children Gone?
San Francisco notoriously has the smallest percentage of kids — 13.4 percent — of any city in the nation. But while San Francisco officials sweat and bicker over affordable housing, they rarely talk about family housing.
“The vibrancy of the city really depends on families and children. What families offer is stability — they’re the ones who will stay, who will invest their time and energy to make sure that neighborhoods are safe and productive.”—San Francisco Chronicle, SF housing shortage leaves little room for families
by Larry Geller
Advocates for solutions to Honolulu’s homelessness crisis sometimes get impatient with me for my limited enthusiasm for ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units), small houses, or the tiny units that the City may be planning for properties it has purchased.
Where will we get the 20,000, 27,000, 60,000 units or whatever the goal is (and it varies by time frame and organizations reporting)? Will they be tiny ADUs? Some could be, but we risk ending up where San Francisco is today: facing a declining population of children because families either have fled the state or are postponing having kids.
An ADU is not a great place to have kids and raise a family.
Meanwhile families who cannot afford skyrocketing rents and cannot stay with relatives leave town—even as condos multiply for the rich and ultra-rich.
Wages in Hawaii are notoriously low and housing costs high, so what choice is there for a young family?
What we need is family housing that meets the needs of the lower-income sector of our population.
Let’s insist that planners and the City Council provide family housing in the income ranges and quantities necessary.
Newspaper editors need to change their tune: “affordable” defined as 120% of area median income is not the affordable housing needed. Units need to be available down to 30% of AMI. In fact, a wide range of rentals—guaranteed indefinitely—is needed to satisfy varied demand and allow families to remain here.
And we’re talking about adequate housing, not tiny units where kids have to be kept in closets converted into bedrooms (as described in the San Franciso Chronicle article).
A message to Governor Ige from past wisdom: “Good intentions might sound nice, but it’s positive actions that matter.” –Tim Fargo
“A man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble at his door.” –Confucius
“If you are failing to plan, you are planning to fail.”—Tariq Siddique
by Larry Geller
Business executives and government leaders are measured by their ability to execute—that is, to get results. To do that, somewhere in the organization must be people working hard at planning. Richard Borreca’s column in this morning’s paper describes a disturbing inability to execute on the part of Hawaii’s Governor Ige, who drew praise when he announced that 1,000 classrooms would be air conditioned by year-end.
How come only 42 classrooms were air conditioned last year when the goal was to do 1,000?
Because there was no plan that would have enabled that number of classrooms to be completed. If there had been, either the goal might have been achieved or nearly achieved, or the Department of Education, the public and Governor Ige could have known that some correction would be needed to make it happen.
It is when a plan is completed (tasks identified, people assigned, budget divvied up, timelines drawn, obstacles identified and strategies determined to overcome them, etc.) that an organization knows how (or if) it can achieve its goal. The struggle to complete a plan may also identify that it is impossible. Perhaps the needed funding isn’t available, or time is too short; perhaps the goal was unrealistic to begin with and should be revised.
A goal is not a plan. It’s great for press releases and Power Point presentations, but it does not make things happen.
I like Richard Borreca’s analysis of Governor David Ige’s failure to execute in his On Politics column today.Borreca sounds a note from a bell I’ve been ringing for years: things don’t happen in Hawaii when there is no plan to make them happen.
Although there was much more wisdom in his column, let me snip this part for you:
Twelve months ago, Ige shocked legislators and education bureaucrats alike with his bold announcement that he would air-condition 1,000 classrooms in one year by using funds from a little-used state energy saving program.
Getting chill in class was a non-starter. The Department of Education was caught unaware, the money had to be taken from another budget and the whole project, as of year’s end, totaled 42 classrooms, not 1,000.
“When he does say something it is not followed through with a clear plan of action. If you commit to something, commit to it,” Tokuda said.
[Star-Advertiser p. E1, Fellow Democrats faulting governor for lack of decisiveness and clear leadership, 1/22/2017]
The larger issue is failure to execute on the part of the executive
Now, a leader does not have to do the planning—leaders have people for that. Nor is the problem exclusive to the governor’s office or to this governor—I’ve lamented that the Department of Education, for example, has demonstrated an inability to plan.
Governor Ige’s commitment to air conditioning 1,000 classrooms was well received, particularly by overheated students, teachers, and concerned parents.
And then he failed to deliver. That hurts.
Failure to execute is baked into our state culture
In truth, having a plan does not guarantee execution. Too many plans sit gathering dust or lie buried in file cabinets somewhere. A task force or working group might diligently work to put forth a plan only to see their effort ignored. That’s one reason to oppose the creation of task forces, working groups, or studies when a legislative committee proposes them instead of passing a bill. Too often they just want to avoid the bad publicity that killing a popular measure would bring them.
Let’s put this in context. Execution is the responsibility of the executive branch of government. Ige made the commitment, so the failure to execute it is his, and he is being blamed for it, at least in today’s newspaper. But this is not at all an isolated case.
There are plenty of examples of executive failure in Hawaii, often resulting in the state being forced to perform by a federal lawsuit.
Hawaii’s Department of Education, Department of Health, and the Governor’s office (as representative of the State of Hawaii) were hauled into court in 1993 because they could not figure out how to educate special needs students. I found it interesting at the time that the DOH’s Children’s Division published annual reports that regularly stated that (for example) a number of Social Worker I (or IV, or whatever) positions were vacant and would be hired during the new year. The next report was the same, and the next, and the next. So they published a goal to hire the needed personnel to provide services to the children, but never did it. In fact, there was never a plan that would have filled the chronic vacancies.
The fix was exceedingly costly to taxpayers and took more than a decade to resolve.
Other examples would be failure to plan to resolve issues in the State Hospital or in the prisons. For some reason it takes a judge to motivate the state to act.
Note that there is no plan to reduce the record-setting number of senior deaths on the streets. It just goes on from year to year. No plan exists that will achieve a stated goal of better food sustainability—in fact, we are currently taking 35% of Oahu’s best agricultural land out of production for development. There is a goal designed to decrease reliance of fossil fuels by a certain date, and I’d love to see the actual plan published. Perhaps I’ve just missed it.
I’ll close with a biggie: The governor declared homelessness to be an emergency. He renewed his declaration several times. There is still no plan to provide the necessary tens of thousands of housing units to meet Hawaii’s demands. No plan, no housing. Simple. Sad.
“Good intentions might sound nice, but it’s positive actions that matter.”
Thursday, January 19, 2017
How to enjoy Hawaii fish that is free from the taint of slave labor
by Larry Geller
Tonight we’re going to enjoy Hawaii-caught fish that is completely traceable—so that we know that we won’t be feasting at the expense of trafficked foreign fishermen. Update: Thursday night’s pic added at the bottom of this article.Here’s one way to purchase the freshest fish—and to be sure that it was caught without the taint of human slavery.
We subscribe to a CSF (community supported fishery) that works like the more familiar CSA (community supported agriculture) economic model in that customers purchase shares and pick up their fish at designated points around town each week.
Last week’s fish from Local I'a was ahi, and this week’s is aku.
Each bag of fish is labeled with a number and a QR code that can be used to trace the fish and verify that it is sustainably caught.
Here’s a screenshot of some of the info for last week’s fish:
Information includes the species of fish, who caught it, and where it was harvested, landed and processed.
There’s more information for the clicking:
Clicking further yields information on the person who caught the fish and on how it was caught:
This fishery uses a variety of artisanal hook-and-line methods to catch coastal pelagic fish such as tuna, marlin, swordfish, mahi mahi, wahoo (ono) and others. A pole and line with live bait scattered into the water is used to catch feeding skipjack tuna. Trolling with lures and lines, and handlines with lures, lines and bait bags are used to target larger fish such as bigeye tuna, swordfish, mahi mahi and wahoo.
The technology exists to trace any fish, even those caught within the longline fleet. Of course, the Hawaii Fish Auction would not do well if it was revealed that much of their fish is caught under questionable circumstances. So don’t expect your fish to have QR codes on ‘em any time soon—unless you buy them via a CSF.
I can’t end this article without at least some snapshots of how Nanette prepared the ahi. The fish share was large enough for three meals for the two of us. We started out with ahi sashimi on the day she picked up our share. Here’s the pic:
And two preparations of aku (katsuo) from last year:
Update: Thursday night’s fish dish: katsuo tataki:
All veggies local from the Blaisdell Farmers Market (4-7 p.m. Wednesdays, free parking!).
Monday, January 09, 2017
Hawaii: the state chronically unable to plan
[Sen. Jill] Tokuda said she was “curious” how the administration went about drawing up the budget. She described it as “very odd” that there were a number of what she called requests for “arbitrary” lump sums of $10 million — one for the Department of Education, for example, and another for the University of Hawaii.
“That does not reflect prudence,” said Tokuda. “That reflects padding.”—Civil Beat, Legislature’s Financial Leaders To Ige: Give Us A ‘Real Budget’, 1/5/2017
We currently import 90% of our food. The governor is pushing his plan to double food production back another ten years, from 2020 till 2030. He’s failed so far. He will fail again. We are headed in the wrong direction. The Ho’opili farmland right now produces 32% of the crops grown on O’ahu for the local market. Koa Ridge produces 13%. Together they produce 45%, almost half of what the island produces for local markets.—press release, Dr. Kioni Dudley, 1/9/2007
by Larry Geller
What do these two pull-quotes have in common? What am I trying to illustrate here? What they suggest is that Hawaii’s government proceeds unencumbered with the need to plan.Sen. Jill Tokuda noticed the multiple requests for $10 million in the governor’s budget proposal. Not $8.67 million or some other “real” number emerging as the result of a planning process, but rather a number seemingly picked from a hat.
This is normal for both our city and state.
I was amazed to sit in the peanut gallery at a state legislature committee hearing on the subject of dangerous intersections that were the cause of pedestrian deaths and hear a defensive Department of Transportation representative ask for $1 million dollars to hire a consultant for a study that would delay action until 2010.
No plan was in place despite long-standing public criticism of DOT inaction in the face of documented unsafe conditions. No plan justified the apportionment of $1 million. (See: Makaha death underlines failure of police, Dept. of Transportation, to protect citizens, 2/28/2007.)
It’s 2017, ten years later, and killer crosswalks still plague Honolulu. No action—because there is no plan.
Sometimes not having a plan might amount to willful neglect. Surely transportation planners knew they would have to deal with undergrounding high-voltage power lines along Honolulu’s rail route, and that it would be expensive. I posted a picture of those power lines in 2008.
Anyone driving along the rail route would see the problem. Yet the “plan” omitted the issue of undergrounding and its costs to resolve. Great planning, folks! (See: Dillingham power lines are and were a known obstacle that Rail would have to deal with, 11/16/2005 and this article.)
Often what government agencies call a “plan” is merely a goal. Bullet points on a PowerPoint presentation do not constitute a “plan.”
Surprisingly, our media buy into this. Is there a plan to be agriculturally self-sufficient, or merely a goal? If there is a plan, how does it account for the point raised by Dr. Dudley, that almost half of Honolulu’s farming capacity will be lost to make way for housing?
I would love to see such a plan if it exists.
Next, where is the plan for 20,000, 27,000, 60,000, 67,000, whatever the number du jour is for the needed affordable housing units to meet Honolulu’s needs and reduce or eliminate homelessness? There is no plan that I have seen.
To enlarge on this: the media talk about “Transit Oriented Development” as a way to provide affordable housing. There is no plan for that either. So I prefer to call it “Developer Oriented Transit.” Developers will propose ways to get out of any requirements for affordable units along the route and their proposals will be accepted.
Some plan. Supporters of TOD are suckers if they accept fairy tales in lieu of solid, credible plans.
One last thought: learning to plan is a skill that would help cut through much of the crap that costs taxpayers money. A plan can be reviewed, costed out, and criticized. The cost can be weighed against the expected benefits. This is not rocket science.
Should we identify ALEC members in Hawaii on a map?
by Larry Geller
A controversy has erupted over the publication by Republican state representative Gene Ward in his newsletter of a map pinpointing the locations of homeless people residing in his district.
On the map are descriptions of characteristics or alleged characteristics of these, his constituents, that you would not expect from the state legislator who is supposed to represent their interests. For example, from a Star-Advertiser report:
The map describes a man at China Walls as a meth addict “Whose Mother Has Restraining Order Against Him” and, at Hawaii Kai Towne Center, a “Mentally Ill Homeless Man (who) Frequently Screams at People.”
The posting on his website and inclusion of the map in his newsletter has raised controversy over whether his action, as a state legislator, is constitutional, and whether he is stigmatizing those living with mental health or addition issues. See Civil Beat articles here and here. I would like to add that he has not mapped those in his district who might be meth addicts living under a roof and who may possibly drive while impaired, which would seem to be a far greater danger to the public.
Certainly, publication of the map does not contribute to resolving the problem of homelessness nor the related issue of unaffordable rentals in Honolulu. Instead it may expose those he has identified to vigilante actions or other danger.
But there is a greater danger lurking in Hawaii Kai which suggests drawing another map, if making maps is a useful endeavor. I am thinking that it would be useful for the public, and specifically members of the Hawaii Kai community, to know exactly where threats to their democracy lurk. Yes, there are reasons to be concerned.
Fortunately, the information I sought was easily obtained. All that remains is to make the map and reveal the location of this potential threat.
I am referring to members of ALEC (the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council). Or rather, the member, the only member in Hawaii, who happens to also live in Rep. Ward’s district.
Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called "model bills" reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations.
[ALEC Exposed wiki]
When state legislators across the nation introduce similar or identical bills designed to boost corporate power and profits, reduce workers rights, limit corporate accountability for pollution, or restrict voting, odds are good that the legislation was not written by a state lawmaker but by corporate lobbyists working through the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a one-stop shop for corporations looking to identify friendly state legislators and work with them to get special-interest legislation introduced. It’s a win-win for corporations, their lobbyists, and right-wing legislators. But the big losers are citizens whose rights and interests are sold off to the highest bidder.
[Right Wing Watch, ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in State Legislatures]
ALEC members are strong supporters of the Second Amendment and were held responsible for the spread of "Stand-your-ground" gun laws in many states after the shooting of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. Who knows whether individual ALEC members, in Hawaii or elsewhere, may own or carry firearms.
Would not publishing a map of their location inform the public of potential danger?
I suggest that we need to be vigilant when there is good cause, and so the publication of a map showing where ALEC members are lurking in Hawaii would seem to be far more useful to the public than diagramming where people who have fallen on hard times are spending their time.
Wednesday, January 04, 2017
If we wait for Hawaii to fix its housing crisis, Waikiki will freeze over first
Most discussions of housing policy operate on the assumption that, whether or not it has been successful, the state has tried to solve the housing question. That is, many accounts of housing politics are premised on the myth of the benevolent state. In brief, the myth is that government acts out of a primary concern for the welfare of all its citizens and that its policies represent an effort to find solutions to recognized social problems. If government efforts fall short of success, according to this narrative, it is only because of lack of knowledge, countervailing selfish interests, incompetence, or lack of courage.—In Defense of Housing: The Politic of Crisis by David Madden and Peter Marcuse [Verso, see Amazon link]
by Larry Geller
Hawaii Governor David Ige has stopped renewing his emergency declaration on homelessness. It makes no difference. It made no difference. Hawaii, and the City and County of Honolulu, are no closer to building or developing the needed affordable housing units than they were before Ige’s action.
But what did we expect? As the pull-quote suggests, the interests of those in need of housing in the state are not what motivates government to provide it.
Madden and Marcuse go on in their chapter The Myths of Housing Policy:
The actual motivations for state action in the housing sector have more to do with maintaining the political and economic order than with solving the housing crisis. If the state were truly concerned with the best course of action to meet society’s dwelling needs and end residential oppression, housing history would look very different than it does.
Housing is not just about eliminating homelessness, which would make politicians, the tourist industry and our newspaper editors a bit happier. Housing is needed for everyone. Rents are out of sight and climbing. Young graduates find they have to leave the state to survive and prosper—and this is a society that values close family relationships.
Each year the numbers of homeless and near-homeless increase because there is simply no affordable shelter available.
Bottom line on this self-evident conclusion: the housing shortage has continued for more than a decade and is only getting worse. “If the state were truly concerned with the best course of action to meet society’s dwelling needs” something would have been done long ago. “Housing history would look very different than it does.”
So we cannot leave it to the governor to create yet more task forces or to the Honolulu city government which is beholden to development interests (that is, development for the rich and ultra-rich) for a solution.
One last quote from this book:
Historically, the state has used the housing system to preserve political stability and support the accumulation of private profit.
This is where we’re at, folks. It will be up to the people to push for affordable housing in Hawaii—we’re not going to get it as a gift.
Monday, January 02, 2017
2017: Honolulu’s affordable housing effort is nothing to sing about
by Larry Geller
New York City has a huge affordable housing problem, which leads in turn to a huge homelessness problem. Like Hawaii, NYC’s numbers have increased each year.
Unlike Hawaii, where the governor has given up his homelessness task force without any promising plan for affordable housing as a result of its “efforts,” New York City is pushing ahead and may, in time, reverse the trend.
One thing it has going for it that Honolulu and the state of Hawaii could use is the ability to control rent increases. While our newspaper looks only at street clearing and the inconvenience caused by those homeless people living visibly in open view, the rising cost of rental apartments and homes assures that homelessness will continue as more and more people are unable to make their rent payments.
NYC Mayor Bill deBlasio’s office tweeted a cute song touting their accomplishments. Here are two slides snipped from their tweet:
Yes, new and preserved affordable housing is crucial to reversing the growth in homelessness—and also in reversing the trend of our young people fleeing the state because they can’t afford to live here.
We could also use laws enabling counties to enact rent freezes. No, I don’t expect that can happen any time soon. But at some point, should we not reverse our numbers, it may come to appear to be a very reasonable and necessary arrow in our quiver.
Isn’t it about time that both the Governor and Honolulu’s Mayor put together some concrete, measurable plans to preserve and create affordable housing here in the quantity needed?
Sunday, January 01, 2017
2017: Honolulu still has no plan for needed affordable housing while rail could increase rents and traffic
“Displacement [caused by transit improvement] is a real concern,” said Thomas K. Wright, the president of the Regional Plan Association, an urban policy group. “When you increase the values in areas like this, you need to do things to protect affordable housing and retail.—New York Times: Second Avenue Subway’s Arrival Brings Fear That Rents Will Soar
by Larry Geller
It’s always sad when a popular restaurant or a generations-old family shop closes due to untenable rent increases. Landlords are not known for their consideration of community or historical values. To me, it’s doubly sad to watch the premises remain vacant for months or sometimes years because no one is willing to pay the new rent demands.
As to apartment or home rentals, can rents in Honolulu increase any more?? Yes they can. All it would take would be completion of the oft-delayed and massively overbudget rail line. It’s not just common sense but the demonstrated effects of this aspect of gentrification on communities everywhere.
The new Second Avenue subway will provide badly needed relief to one of New York’s most congested transit corridors and is expected to be a boon to the local economy, making restaurants and stores suddenly easier to reach. But even as the city celebrates a line many doubted would ever open, its arrival has prompted fears that rising rents could force out longtime residents and shops — the kind of displacement that has swept through many other parts of an increasingly affluent New York and deepened its inequality.
People living near three new stations at 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets could face rent increases as high as $462 per month, according to a report by StreetEasy, a real estate website. Sleek high-rises are already popping up above the walk-up apartment buildings that have served as first homes for many New Yorkers.
[New York Times, Second Avenue Subway’s Arrival Brings Fear That Rents Will Soar, 1/1/2017]
Honolulu can be no exception to this rule. Already “sleek high-rises” are popping up, particularly in Kakaako, an area that by any logic should have been developed to include mostly workforce housing but instead will leverage the planned rail stops to install luxury and ultra-luxury housing in the city center.
The New York Times article supports fears that rail in Honolulu will drive up home values and hence rents. Why expect that we will be any different than the areas mentioned:
Across the United States, good transit access often leads to higher real estate prices, with home values near rapid transit in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix and San Francisco far outpacing other properties during the last recession, according to a report by the American Public Transportation Association.
Keep in mind that as we enter 2017, Governor Ige’s emergency declaration of emergency over homelessness has been allowed to lapse without the creation of any plan for the needed 20,000, 22,000, 60,000 or 64,000 new housing units (depending on the time span and which news article you are reading). Indeed, while Mayor Caldwell’s 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. sidewalk sweeps continue in all their cruelty, and the count of street dwellers increases annually, there is no plan that will provide the needed housing.
Instead there is a hope or belief, shared by organizations such as FACE (Faith Action for Community Equity) that the rail line will bring affordable housing to Honolulu. I mention this organization mainly to illustrate that this claim for rail transit may be based more on “faith” than on “logic.” Experience tells us that rents will increase. Housing will become more unaffordable, not less. Nor is there protection here similar to New York’s rent control and rent stabilization laws.
Affordable housing in large numbers of units is needed not just to clear Honolulu’s sidewalks, which has been the almost universal cry in the press and the only policy objective of city government. Affordable housing is needed by residents who are sheltered but just barely—either sharing rooms or living at risk of eviction if they become sick and can’t make the rent next month.
As the rail line moves towards completion the risk of rent increases only further endangers those who can barely make the rent today.
In the absence of any plan for affordable housing it is predictable that the crisis will worsen.
Add to this the loss of Honolulu’s best agricultural land to housing development. Nor are we planning for the traffic impacts of this central Oahu building boom. As rail brings further development the number of vehicles—cars and trucks both—on the roads increases, not decreases. Claims that those commuting to town by rail will reduce traffic are likely false. Rail does not decrease the number of cars on the roads simply because other cars will immediately take over the downtown parking spaces vacated by the new straphangers.
So prospects for 2017 are that housing will continue to be increasingly unaffordable, traffic will continue to increase, and agricultural sustainability will continue to be a receding goal.
There’s also a new unknown that could impact housing in Honolulu as well as the rest of Hawaii: moves by the Republican administration in Washington to cut benefits or programs for the elderly, disabled and those needing food assistance would literally pull money out of people’s wallets. There will be even greater pressure for lower-cost housing, which is not now and won’t be available any time soon.
What to do? Deal with it. Let the people plan their own urban environment including housing, agriculture and transit. The politicians, many firmly in the pocket of rail and development interests, have failed us.
There is a methodology that can be used called “charettes” in which citizens meet in workshops with the option of consulting experts—architects and engineers—and come up with their own plans. Yes, the methodology can be “hijacked” by pre-determining the outcome and only superficially involving the public, and that’s usually what happens here when the residents of an area (such as Chinatown) are gathered and “involved” in city planning. All that I’ve been to have been a farce, though I have also missed some others that may have been better.
The University of Hawaii has a very capable urban planning department. Instead of listening to city government we could benefit by looking to UH for guidance. If you are curious about that might work check out these programs on `Olelo that demonstrate both that they can provide the resources we need and that ordinary citizens are interested in learning and using those resources.
“Planning to the people,” I say. And hurry up, please.