Wednesday, February 28, 2007

 

Makaha death underlines failure of police, Dept. of Transportation, to protect citizens






Both the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin covered the latest crosswalk death that occurred on Monday in Makaha. Of the two stories, reporter Gene Park's story in the S-B revealed the greater tragedy: the struggle of residents to get the state DOT to take necessary measures to ensure their safety. Corky weighed in with this cartoon.

Neither story mentioned that the DOT knew of the dangers of this crosswalk but has failed to take measures to protect pedestrians. In August 2001 a flashing crosswalk system was installed at that intersection according to this article, but the system was later removed. The installation was described in a DOT press release.

The AARP survey conducted in May 2006 and released in August included monitoring of an intersection near Waianae High School (pictured above), which is one or two away from the Alawa Place scene of the fatal accident. AARP found (at the crosswalk they monitored, which was controlled by traffic signals) that "drivers do not obey traffic signals," that drivers "seem to be speeding," that "car speeds are too fast." The monitors observed "unsafe driver behavior." The monitors also found problems with crossing lights that were too short for people of normal physical ability and other major problems at the nearby intersection they monitored.

The same drivers who speed through the nearby monitored intersection zoom through the Alawa Place intersection, it seems.

Since the publication of the study it appears that the DOT has done nothing to improve the unsafe conditions identified by the AARP. At testimony at the State Capitol, the best DOT could do was to ask for $1 million dollars to hire a consultant for a study that would delay action until 2010.

It's time that we heard from the City about when police will start to enforce the speeding laws already on the books. The blood of these pedestrians is on the City's hands because of their continued inaction. Drivers would pay attention at crosswalks if they expected they would be ticketed. They'd slow down, too, and obey traffic signals.

The state DOT is not much better. Instead of explaining what they will do when questioned by legislators, they consistently explained what they can't (or won't) do. They, too, have blood on their hands.

A clear message is being sent to drivers: no one is watching you, do what you want. The risk that you'll be caught if you violate speed or other traffic laws day after day, all year long, is so low that it's ok if you do it.

Even if a pedestrian is killed or injured, the focus of news stories is on the pedestrian rather than the driver. Where are the followup stories with photos of drivers facing a judge?

Hawaii will likely appear in the record books again if pedestrian fatalities continue at the current pace.

We should not tolerate this. The loss of life in crosswalks and on our streets is mostly avoidable. That we do nothing is inexcusable. That neighbors even have to talk about how many deaths it takes before DOT will install a traffic signal and yet that's the only way to get our government's attention is criminal.

This little blog calls on the Mayor and the Governor to devise and announce plans to turn this around. There is no budget surplus, dear Governor, if your DOT is paralyzed and unable to do anything unless it gets $1 million from the legislature. Your surplus is a profit earned by neglecting public safety--on the streets, near the dams, and no doubt elsewhere.

How many deaths and injuries will it take to get your attention?


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

 

CPC reschedules hearing, but amendment still a problem


Maybe someone at the House CPC committee reads this blog... the problematic hearing mentioned in the previous post has been moved to Thursday, eliminating the 48-hour notice problem.

However, the amendment that smells like it was written by the industry concerned is still unavailable to the general public, and the "gut and replace" problem is still there also.

Oh, well. Progress comes in incremental steps. One must be grateful for small things. Thanks, Rep. Herkes!


Meanwhile, please keep your hot tips coming. Please send them to: leak@bringsunshinetohawaii.com.


 

House CPC committee guts a bill and hides it from the public


This just in (and thank you for the tip): An amended hearing notice was emailed just before 10 a.m. this morning for a hearing tomorrow. The subject is HB761, a bill that would make ethanol-free gasoline available to owners of small or marine engines.


I wonder if the CPC chair will courier a copy of the proposed amendment to any of his constituents on the Big Island who call and ask for one? This text has not been available 48 hours before the hearing, either.


Bill is also a "Gut and Replace"

HB761 was once a simple one-page bill having to do with making non-ethanol-containing fuel available for marine engines and small gasoline-driven tools. If you might have been following this one, be warned--it has been exploded into a 6-page tome that looks like it has been written by the aircraft industry.

And if you've gone to the Capitol website to check on the progress of the original bill, you won't even know that it has been gutted and replaced. The web pages for this bill say nothing about it.

This bill was passed out of the prior committee unamended. It passed Second Reading on the House floor unamended. If you go to the Capitol website to check on the bill and prepare testimony, there is no indication that there is an amendment. Nothing in the original bill or the committee report even mentions a concern about aircraft engines.

But obviously, someone got to the chair of CPC behind the scenes.

Once again, industry has written an amendment with the cooperation of the chair of the CPC committee. Last year it was the health insurers writing language for a bill to regulate their own premiums. Today it seems that aircraft people have been allowed to do the same thing.

As before, we ordinary people are left out of the process. If industry wrote the lengthy amendment, they have had access to the legislative process for some time. But anyone living far from the Capitol is left out. Anyone checking the Capitol website on this bill is left out.

I don't know much about ethanol in fuel, whether it is good or bad or what. I do know that what you see here demonstrates that a key legislator lends his ears to industry even if that means bypassing the democratic process in the legislature.

How could this have been handled to respect and honor the process? Simple. When the bill will be heard tomorrow, the aircraft industry could testify any way they like, including proposing new language. If the new language is relevant to the original bill, it can be the subject of discussion among committee members and the public attending the hearing. As a result of testimony, a bill can certainly be amended.

No secret amendments, no huddling with industry. No favoritism. A good example is set instead of a bad one. Tomorrow, CPC Chair Bob Herkes will no doubt recommend to his committee that they pass the bill with amendments. They'll probably do as they are ordered. Nevermind what they are doing to the legislative process by voting for a secret amendment most likely written by the industry concerned.


If you support open government, you can call Speaker Calvin Say's office and just leave a message that you think the House should post any proposed legislation on the web, the way the Senate does. His office can be reached at 586-6100 or at email repsay@Capitol.hawaii.gov. You might also say you object to industry writing "secret" amendments and to "gut and replace" as standard practice in the House.


Please keep your hot tips coming. If anyone is aware of any other amendments that are not available to the public before a hearing, or if you attend a hearing at which the chair pulls a secret amendment "out of a hat" and asks the committee to pass it, please send the info to leak@bringsunshinetohawaii.com.


 

Wrestling match will be held to decide Honolulu transit route


Biggest match of the season to be decided today at Honolulu Hale

Governor, newspapers, bloggers anxiously await outcome of "denshamichi-sumo" match


Yes, a decision that will profoundly affect the future of both the state and the city for years to come looks to be decided today as the City Council meets for what could be the final and deciding round.

The media is circling the ring closely. I cannot do better than to send you to Ian Lind's analysis this morning. Stop reading this and go there now.

Despite being away from the action at a meeting in Washington, Governor Lingle attempted an oshidashi from afar for the airport route. Supporters of this route were formerly the top contenders but were unexpectedly pushed from the ring by Councilman Romy Cachola in last week's competition.

I enjoy watching a good match as well as the next person, but the City Council seems never to rise above the lowest-ranked jonokuchi division. Watching them is often painful. No one bets because expectations are low, and outcomes are unpredictable, as we saw when Salt Lake suddenly became a contender through the exertion of pure political force rather than convincing logic.

Trouble is, this is the best we can do to choose a transit system for Honolulu.



Monday, February 26, 2007

 

Again, state House makes amendments available only for pickup


Again and again they do this. Here is a snip from a hearing notice for the House Finance Committee with two proposed amendments that are not available on the Capitol website. If you live on another island and have no fax machine, you're out of luck. Or even if you live on Oahu but don't want to spend hours fighting traffic just to find out what they are talking about, you're also left out of the democratic process.

When they hear the bills tomorrow, those who worked on drafting the amendments will know what it's about, but not the public. They are the insiders, the rest of us are the outsiders it seems.





Usually the chair will ask the committee to pass the amendment because that's what they've been working on, often with the parties affected by the legislation. This is another part of the problem--even if you wanted to testify on these bills, would what you say matter? It seems the House does not care about you, Mr./Ms./Mrs. voter.

As mentioned in a previous post, the Senate provides their proposed amendments to the public on the Capitol website. The House could do the same. There's no technical reason why something should be "available in Room 306" only. There must be some other reason.

Thanks to the person who sent in this tip. Please keep 'em coming. If they think no one is watching and no one cares, they'll just carry on as usual.

If you support open government, you can call Speaker Calvin Say's office and just leave a message that you think the House should post any proposed legislation on the web, the way the Senate does. His office can be reached at 586-6100 or at email repsay@Capitol.hawaii.gov.


Please keep your hot tips coming. If anyone is aware of any other amendments that are not available to the public before a hearing, or if you attend a hearing at which the chair pulls a secret amendment "out of a hat" and asks the committee to pass it, please send the info to leak@bringsunshinetohawaii.com.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

 

Is our city government competent to make transit decisions?


After reading this article in today's Star-Bulletin and this in the Advertiser on the new plan to route transit through Salt Lake, I was struck by a strong mental image--of a snake. Both articles have maps. My image was of a big green snake writhing and flopping around on the map, with its head, its tail, and its body in different places, changing even as I watched. The snake paused only to snack on our tax money every few seconds. I wish I could draw it for you.

What kind of a decision making process are these people using, if any?

When there are complex choices to be made, and particularly when they involve the huge and potentially ruinous expenses, decisions ought not to change from day to day according to pressure exerted by developers, communities, firms interested in contracts, or representatives of think tanks. Decisions should be informed by studies, measurements, and also knowledge of what works and doesn't work in other places, but these things need to be weighed according to the reality on the ground in Honolulu to arrive at what will work best for our people. Remember: the developers will not be riding the trains, we will. They'll be out in their new yachts or riding in golf carts.

Great forces are blowing like strong wind on the City Council, and they are swaying like bamboo. That's not the best way to arrive at a decision.

There are various methodologies they could use. For example, there is the matrix method, where options are listed on the rows of a table and options at the top of columns. Then weights are assigned according to relative importance. This is not rocket science. When the decisions become complex, there are ways to evaluate them. Here's some elementary discussion. There are textbooks, consultants to assist, and lots of other ways to arrive at a well-reasoned decision.

Sitting in a conference room taking 1-minute testimony is not the best way to lay out train tracks.

If an organized methodology is used, it becomes possible to show the citizens how the ultimate decision is arrived at. You've got something on paper to discuss and to vote on. If the decision is called into question later on, the methodology demonstrates that the decision was the best possible at the time it was made.

Ian Lind's post this morning deals with the ethics of planned City Council trips to Europe to inspect transit in different cities. If carried out ethically, I'm all for our city councilpeople learning as much as they can about transit. But they need to apply this knowledge in a systematic way when they return. I'd hate to have them vote for "Paris" or "Seattle" just because they liked what they saw (or because they were better treated or better fed) in one place or another.

Using a proper methodology to arrive at a decision will be more likely to serve the people rather than favor one special interest or another. It would be a demonstration of wisdom rather than favoritism.

It's awful to watch that snake flop around on the map. Tomorrow there could be a different route. Next month it could all change again. The snake could stretch to UH. Or it might shrink!

This is not good government at work, it's pretty ugly. I hope they can do better, and soon.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

 

Support House clean elections bill


The House version of the Voter Owned Elections bill HB661 is still very much alive and worthy of support. This bill was modified by the House to create comprehensive public funding for elections to any county council. This would be a good start and would help remove the influence of corporate and special interest money on the county level.

You can help with a couple of phone calls. Please call Rep. Marcus Oshiro (808-586-6200 or email repmoshiro@Capitol.hawaii.gov ) and Rep. Marilyn Lee (808-586-9460 or email replee@Capitol.hawaii.gov ), chair and co-chair of the House Finance committee, and ask them to hear and pass HB661.

We gotta keep this concept and this bill moving along. As always, I appreciate the many people who do take a moment to make these calls.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

 

Another Senate rule violation on Clean Elections bill?


So many people have worked for so long on advancing clean elections in Hawaii that it is truly sad to see how one person can halt a popular effort in its tracks. Or was that the plan?

SB1068 was originally the Clean Elections (Voter Owned Elections) bill. It was gutted and replaced with language taken from SB1549, an unrelated bill.

I mentioned that doing this appears to be in violation of Senate rule Rule 54, line 2:
(2) The fundamental purpose of any amendment to a bill shall be germane to the fundamental purpose of the bill.
Well, here's another Senate rule that appears to be violated:Rule 23. Public Hearings on Bills
(4) If a bill:
(A) Has been referred to more than one standing committee and more than one committee hearing is required for passage of the bill out of the Senate;
(B) Contains any significant or substantial amendment made by a committee other than the last standing committee to which the bill has been referred; and
(C) The public has not been provided with an opportunity to submit testimony on the significant or substantial amendment;

then, prior to reporting the bill out of the last standing committee, the last standing committee to which the bill was been referred shall hold a public hearing to provide the public with the opportunity to testify on the bill.
In other words, if this interpretation is correct, the bill must now get a hearing in the next committee. But that's not the plan it seems.

The gutted bill is advancing to Ways and Means on Thursday, but their notice is not a notice of a hearing--it is a Notice of Decision Making--that is, no public testimony will be accepted. Committee members will not hear testimony and will not have testifiers to question. The hearing notice is very careful to say that written comments only will be accepted--it doesn't say written testimony. It also says that the "bills were previously heard in their respective subject matter committees." In other words, WAM is not going to hear the bills, including this one.

If you'd like to weigh in on this--that is, support Clean Elections and fight rulebreaking in the Legislature, may I ask that you email Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, and Ways and Means Chair Senator Rosalyn Baker, and ask that Senate Rules 54 and 23 (4) be respected. The original language should be re-inserted, and/or the gutted bill should be given a proper hearing. Of course, you could also submit written comments to the Ways and Means Committee for Thursday, but I'm not trying to make too much work for you.

Sure, they can argue that WAM is holding a hearing. Sure, they can argue that Rule 54 doesn't apply because this bill has something to do with elections. The truth may be that Senate leadership just doesn't want to allow a clean elections bill to go forward, even if it has to break its own rules.

Either the people stand up for Democratic process in our state legislature or we'll get more of this treatment in the future. I think it's pretty shabby, and I'm confident that if enough people got together, we can have a better legislature and better laws for everyone.

I also want to thank those who have sent emails to legislators and sent me copies. It's very encouraging, thanks very much.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

 

Advertiser headline misleads: "Making Islands safer for pedestrians costly"


Unfortunately, nothing in the article supports such a negative headline. There is no study cited and no indication of what the few remedies so far proposed will actually cost. In fact, the article mentions cost-effective traffic calming measures used in Portland. The headline might well have read, "Many low-cost options possible to make Islands safer for pedestrians."

I'm not aware of any data showing how many drivers fail to stop at an intersection before turning, how many illegally enter crosswalks with pedestrians present, how many pedestrian deaths and injuries result from accidents where alcohol is a factor, etc.

The state Department of Transportation hasn't been proposing solutions yet, and certainly has not been in the lead in protecting pedestrian lives. So we don't know what a fix will cost. AARP deserves our heartfelt thanks for mobilizing volunteers to do what our paid servants have resisted--with their survey, they demonstrated that many of our crosswalks are dangerous. They did this with minimal spending. Perhaps the DOT could enlist AARP volunteers if it is so concerned with costs.

Adjusting crosswalk lights to give pedestrians more time seems like a low-cost plan, and something that should have been done already. The Advertiser newsroom and editorial staff might get together on this.

What we do know, based on last year's AARP survey of traffic signals on Oahu and other islands, is that many intersections are simply dangerous to cross. Instead of correcting those intersections, the state wants to delay any action until at least 2010, according to testimony in the Legislature calling for a survey of crosswalks. A survey is good, waiting for it to be completed and submitted to the Legislature is not. Action by the legislature is not needed to make our streets safer. Where have our city and state officials been all these years? Isn't maintaining safe crosswalks everywhere part of their regular jobs?

Although this problem cannot be blamed entirely on the current administration either in City Hall or the Capitol, it's surfacing now and could benefit from the Mayor's and Governor's attention. It's not enough to introduce bills for new or stiffer penalties for the legislature to act on. That's ok to do, but getting police out on the street and lighting a fire under the okoles of our state DOT doesn't require new law.

I have full confidence that our legislators will weigh the options presented to them, but I have no confidence that the county police departments will enforce any new laws that the legislature might pass. After all, the police are not enforcing the laws we have now.

We do know some things, although not quantitatively. For example, we know that Hawaii drivers commonly race through red lights, turn without stopping or signalling, often while chatting on their cell phones, and speed and tailgate with a vengeance. Drivers know that they can get away with it, every time, any number of times a day, at any intersection. A study can establish what new laws will be necessary. But we don't need to study the obvious in order to begin acting.

Many pedestrians cross outside of crosswalks even when there is one nearby. Of course, education helps, but there are things that can be done besides education. [aside: there was a cute little garden of medicinal herbs, with signs in English and Hawaiian, across Lusitana Street directly opposite the Queens POB2 entrance. The garden discouraged pedestrians from jaywalking because they'd have to trample the plants. What a great solution! I learned last week that Queens has to respond to a city demand that they pull up all the plants. Some sort of minor violation. This seems like a step backwards in pedestrian safety, not to mention the loss of a spot that many people loved and visited on their way out of the doctor's offices after hearing some good or bad news.]

If we use crosswalks ourselves, we know that many drivers do obey the law, but sadly, many others ignore it. Being cut off by a car that hasn't even stopped before turning is an everyday occurrence, not a rarity, experienced by anyone who walks instead of drives. It will simply cost lives to wait until 2010, as the DOT proposes, to fix these intersections. Oh--did I mention that the DOT wants the lege to appropriate $1 million for consultant's fees for the study? Do they have any quotes or estimates? Where did that figure come from? Or is this just more stalling on the part of the DOT? Will they ask the consultants to study whether police are enforcing existing laws?

I wish AARP would ask its volunteers to stay a couple of days at the dangerous intersections and report on how often they ever see police on duty. They would do us all another great service.

Most news stories are based on reliable sources, double-checked for accuracy. Our daily papers should not accept excuses instead of facts on this issue. We don't know yet what it will cost to make Hawaii safer for pedestrians because those in our state and county governments charged with maintaining safe streets for all of us are just not doing their jobs. How about this low-cost plan: Replace them, if necessary, with people committed to pedestrian safety.

Or let's take away their official state cars until 2010. Make 'em walk across the streets and catch buses. I'll bet, if they survive, they'll have a few suggestions about what they can do to keep us all safe.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

 

Senate committee breaks the rules, hijacks clean election bill


This tip came in this morning. Keep your hot tips coming. Details on how to send information are at the end of this article.

Clean Elections bill hijacked

This is very sad news for hundreds of people who have been working to bring clean elections to Hawaii for so many years: According to the Capitol website report on decisionmaking held for the Clean Elections bill SB1068, Senator Clayton Hee, Chair of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, has carried out a "gut and replace" operation on the bill, completely removing its contents and replacing it with that of an unrelated bill.

"Gut and replace" is one of the abuses that reformers are trying to drive out of the Hawaii legislature. It is a technique that can be used by a chair to discard a bill the chair doesn't like, even if the public is 100% behind the bill. The chair either inserts some other text that's been lying around somewhere, or (as here) uses it to advance a bill that had no chance to progress because it did not get a hearing. "Gut and replace" is by its nature antidemocratic. The bill that was passed was not the bill that was heard by the committee.

Chairs get away with it because the public generally doesn't know what has happened. But times have changed. Starting last session, this sort of activity is not likely to go unreported.


Perhaps Sen. Hee overlooked Senate Rule 54. Bills: Amendments:

Rule 54, line 2:
(2) The fundamental purpose of any amendment to a bill shall be germane to the
fundamental purpose of the bill.


That's right, there seems to be a rule that this can't be done. I'll email a copy of this post to Senate President Hanabusa and see if she will defend this clean government rule and intervene. I'll let you know what happens. Sen. Hee will also get a copy. If he has made a mistake, he can figure out how to correct it.

Note: the bill that Sen. Hee "replaced" into the clean elections bill was introduced by Sen. Hanabusa, but never got a hearing.

The sordid details

SB1068 is the Clean Elections bill. Here is the description as of yesterday:

Description:
Creates comprehensive public funding for elections to the state house of representatives; establishes qualifications, limitations on funding and use of funds, reporting requirements, amends chapter 11, part XII to reflect changes


SB1549 is unrelated. The description of this bill is:

Description: Revises various campaign spending reporting deadlines. Amends definitions of "contribution" and "expenditure". Increases amount that may be spent per voter for state and county elections and adds prosecuting attorney as an election subject to spending limitation per voter.

As you see, there is no relationship between the two bills. SB1549 was never heard. That's right. Not enough interest in the legislature to get it a hearing. It still hasn't been heard, because the text was snuck in at decisionmaking time, after all public testimony is complete.

There has been quite a bit of testimony on the original Clean Elections bill. It has been one of the hottest topics so far this session, with hopes high that this could be the year that Hawaii might join other states that already have passed similar bills. Candidates and incumbents in those states can choose to give up corporate funding and demonstrate to voters that they are independent of special interests. And those who choose to run "clean" are winning their contests.

Whether Hawaii joins the other "clean election" states should be decided by vote in the legislature. Hijacking the bill is not something that will be easily tolerated by the voters.

Supporters and opponents alike should get a straight up or down vote by committee members on the bill that was heard. That would be democracy. It's the norm, the usual, and what we expect from our state legislators.

"Gut and replace" must stop. If the public doesn't stop it, other bills will suffer the same fate. Please call Senate President Colleen Hanabusa at 586-7793 and ask that SB1068, the Clean Elections bill, be restored to its original text. If you prefer email, her address is senhanabusa@Capitol.hawaii.gov . If you like, you can also ask that "gut and replace" tactics be stopped in the Senate.

Your call can help restore democratic process in our state legislature.

And thanks again for your "leaks"--please keep them coming.



Please keep your hot tips coming. If anyone is aware of any other amendments that are not made available to the public before a hearing, or if you attend a hearing at which the chair pulls a secret amendment "out of a hat" and asks the committee to pass it, please send the info to leak@bringsunshinetohawaii.com.





Wednesday, February 14, 2007

 

"Embedded lobbyist" (intern) bill killed in House committee


Thanks to Rep. Magaoay, Chair of the Committee on Legislative Management, and to members of his committee for voting the evil intern bill off the island. Testimony was overwhelmingly against passing this bill, HB1084, which would have provided an opening for the House to bring back corporate interns.

They did the right thing.

And thanks to everyone who came to the Capitol to give testimony today in person and to those who sent in testimony. The community really pulled together on this one.




Monday, February 12, 2007

 

House Speaker introduces bill to bring back embedded lobbyists


American cockroach, Periplaneta americana. Gary Alpert photographer

You probably know that cockroaches can survive for at least seven days, sometimes a month without a head. They are very hardy, so even when we think we've wiped out the last of them, just wait a while and more will come back.

It seems to be the same with "embedded lobbyists." Although they were banned this session, the House leadership is now trying to bring them back. If allowed to go unchecked, the halls of the Legislature will be swarming with them again (see Kristen Consillio's excellent article on last year's eradication program here.)

A new bill has just appeared that on the surface looks pretty good--if you were unaware of last year's damage toll and public outcry. The bill is HB1084.

Here's info on the bill, and here's the hearing notice.

Please check the end of this article for how you can submit testimony to help stomp out interns again this time around.

On its surface, the bill appears to be innocent enough--it would subject the "interns" to the state ethics code. Reading the bill carefully and referring to prior news coverage, it can be seen that the interns are subject to the ethics code anyway, so the bill is not necessary. The primary function of the bill is to return corporate executives to their former positions as embedded lobbyists or spies, working for both their corporate masters and for a legislator at one and the same time.

The wording of the bill may also introduce a loophole if the "intern" is not paid by the legislature. In other words, if the legislature does not provide "consideration" then the provisions of this bill would not apply.

I think the many people who objected to the practice last year when HMSA Executive Administrator Mark Forman worked within Rep. Bob Herkes' office would object equally to their return. Last session brought the unfortunate demise of the health insurance rate regulation bill due in large part to the cumbersome and industry-favorable language inserted by Herkes' staff while Forman was working there.

Legislators always have the ability to go outside their own offices for expertise. Indeed, Herke's defense was that it wasn't Forman who wrote the bill, it was the industry reps.

We'll never know what whispering goes on in legislator's offices anyway. We'll never know what an "intern" hears and reports back to the mother ship. During conference committee deliberations, which are murky and generally opaque to the public anyway, we'll never know what role these corporate operatives play in decisions made in the dark and only announced to the public when complete.

There are no ethics rules behind closed doors where the public never sees. With regard to corporate execs working at the legislature, the best way to eliminate their influence or extraordinary access to legislators is to eliminate their presence from legislators' offices.

Yup, it's going to take some more bug spray.

How can you help? Please submit testimony against this bill. The hearing is set for 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Start by getting a copy of the hearing notice on your computer screen.

Your testimony should be sent either to the House Sergeant-at-Arms via fax or via email to the Public Access Room at the Legislature. Best to send 24 hours before the hearing, or by 2 pm on Tuesday. But late testimony usually gets to the committee if it's not real late.

For faxing, see the instructions at the bottom of the hearing notice (this is real easy to do if you have a fax machine or can send faxes from your computer). To email your testimony, see the instructions at the bottom of this page. This is a great way to participate in the legislative process using your home or a library computer.

This page has a sample format at the bottom.

If possible, it always works best to come down to the Capitol and give your testimony in person.

If you can't write testimony, you can also call the office of Rep. Michael Y. Magaoay, Chair of the Committee on Legislative Management, and ask that your opposition to HB1084 be registered. His phone is 586-6380. His email is: repmagaoay@Capitol.hawaii.gov. But call before the hearing on Wednesday.

Help keep corporate interests out of our legislature. Please submit testimony on this bill.




Sunday, February 11, 2007

 

Extraordinary rendition-New York sends students to Boston to be tortured


The Progressive Review reports a WNYT story about students to what amounts to torture in an out-of-state facility:
When a school district had a developmentally disabled student who continued to act out or attack others, where normal discipline wasn't working and positive reinforcement was unsuccessful, they'd sent the child out of state to a Boston-area facility - the Judge Rotenberg Center.

.  .  .

To change the bad behavior, kids at the Rotenberg Center would be hooked up with electrodes to their stomachs and legs and required to wear a back pack at all times. Then if they misbehaved, staff would give them a two second jolt of electricity, described as a static shock times 10. Some students were getting 40 shocks a day.
You'll remember that George Bush wanted Congress to let him continue torturing anyone he likes (just by labeling them enemy combatants). Similarly, the New York Board of Regents wants to continue these electric shock treatments until 2009 when no new students will be rendered to Boston, but it reserves the right to continue the practice with those already in the program.

If New York thought it had problem children on its hands, wait till those who have undergone this brutal shock treatment grow up. As adults, how will they treat others, and the institutions that put them through this inhumane treatment?




 

Another House committee hides its actions from the public


Thanks to another helpful tipoff (see below for info on how you can contribute to the reform effort by sending in your own tips), I learned that another House committee has made an amendment available only by pickup at its offices.

First, let me set the scene. It's Sunday night. I've just come back from Kapiolani Park where we walked around and ate lots of Vietnamese food. Now play time is over, I have to face writing testimony for hearings tomorrow and Tuesday.

Looking at tomorrow's schedule for the House Committee on Human Services & Housing, Rep. Maile S. L. Shimabukuro, Chair (this is the one sent to me by my tipster), I see the brief description of HB1001. In part: "Exempts any eligible rental project that is dedicated to 100% affordable in perpetuity from the requirements of land use and environmental impact statement laws, and all county land use, charter, ordinance, and rule provisions." This is sure to be controversial. Should any developer be granted all these exemptions?

But wait--there is an amendment. Trouble is, it's one of those "you can pick it up in my office" amendments. On the weekend, I can't do that of course. It's not in the Legislature's computer, and even if it weren't the weekend, how would someone who lives far away get a copy, especially if they didn't have equipment like a fax machine or home computer? The hearing is scheduled for 8:32 a.m. (sic), not much time to get the amendment, study it, and submit testimony of my own.

Here's what that part of the meeting notice looks like:


Since I don't know what's in that amendment, any testimony I prepare is pretty useless, they've already amended the bill, and I haven't a clue what that amendment says.

Quite likely, at the end of the hearing, the chair will recommend to the committee members that they pass the bill as amended. It happens all the time. If so, the chair will be asking for a vote on an amendment that has not been available to the public.

My guess is that due to the high-profile nature of this bill, some talks have taken place behind the scenes, and as a result, there's an amendment proposed. My contention is that for this bill especially, every caution should be taken to make sure that the process is fully open to the public. Dear Chair: this is not the way.

One more thing needs to be said at this point. I need to tell you that there's nothing technical preventing the House from posting these stealth amendments. The Senate does it. Here's an example of an amendment posted by the Senate in advance of a hearing:
http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2006/Bills/SB2949_SD1_PROPOSED_.htm.

What the Senate does, the House can do too, right? If not, why not?

Last week it was the House Committee on Energy & Environmental Protection, Rep. Hermina M. Morita, Chair. I wrote about a hearing that was held on Thursday, February 8. Here's what the info for HB50 included:

After I was tipped off about this hearing notice, I emailed the Chair and copied all Representatives about the need to make amendments available to the public at least 48 hours before a hearing.

Amending bills in this way not only keeps the public in the dark, but it negates their testimony if the chair is prepared to advance the amendment by recommending its passage to the committee. Now, you know that some people have seen the amendment. In fact, some people probably helped write it. This leaves you and me, members of the public, at a disadvantage.

It's time to increase accountability in Hawaii's House of Representatives. It's time to bring Sunshine inside some dark crannies. The Senate has done it, the House can too.

Won't some open-government minded legislators check with the House Clerk about how their amendments can be posted on the website along with bill texts and other documents?



Please keep your hot tips coming. If anyone is aware of any other amendments that are not made available to the public before a hearing, or if you attend a hearing at which the chair pulls a secret amendment "out of a hat" and asks the committee to pass it, please send the info to leak@bringsunshinetohawaii.com.





 

Another reason recent helicopter crashes in Iraq are so disturbing


The first segment of WNYC's On the Media podcast (it also airs on Hawaii Public Radio KIPO on Fridays 5-6 p.m.) covered media attention to the recent downings of American helicopters in Iraq. Go to their segment notes for the link to hear the audio:
Bird Shot

February 09, 2007

Helicopters are falling in Baghdad, and making big headlines here at home. Why do chopper crashes resonate so loudly in the news? We parse the cultural significance of helicopters with reporter Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down.
I think there could be one more reason. For many of us of a certain age, the photo of a helicopter taking the very last Americans to safety from the rooftop of the American Embassy in Vietnam is burned into our psyche forever.

(See http://www.mishalov.com/Vietnam_finalescape.html for the picture and background story. The photo wasn't shot at the American Embassy, by the way.)

But what if we can't count on that helicopter to get us out this time?

I've thought about the Hubert Van Es photograph many times recently--whenever I hear President Bush insist he won't pull out the troops. If we do "stay the course" that means we stay until we win or lose. It means no orderly withdrawal, as I believe the majority of Americans would prefer. And fewer and fewer believe we can win, which leaves... ?

There probably is little speculation about how the fall of Baghdad might compare with the fall of Saigon. It would be premature. There's still the flashback of that famous image to haunt us, though.

I don't know what the American Embassy complex in the Green Zone looks like, but it probably does have a helicopter pad on the roof, and if we stay there long enough, it could see similar service. But what will happen if that last helicopter no longer can provide safe transport out?




Saturday, February 10, 2007

 

Police action on pedestrian slaughter welcome, if they're serious


This is the little "threat elevated" warning that you can find on the governor's web page if you dig around a little. What does it mean? See here. I wonder if anyone is taking the actions recommended? Have you followed instructions and discussed with your children their fears of terrorist attacks?

I hope not. The "terrorist alert" system has become a kind of joke. The problem of pedestrians, including the elderly, being picked off on our streets is a far more serious threat. Tomorrow, it could be me, or it could be you. We're being attacked not by terrorists but by speeding drivers.

And the police are nowhere to be found.

The announced police crackdown (today's Star-Bulletin, Offenders to get police warning) is very welcome. I'm disappointed that they are only giving warnings, though, and wondering if the police will be keeping a record of those who are issued these warnings. I'm also wondering if they will put in place policy changes that will station police at intersections and begin ticketing drivers and pedestrians.

My view is that nothing will work short of enforcing the law. The police have been letting motorists do whatever they want for too long, and the result has been an unacceptable increase in deaths and injuries. The article mentions 20 deaths on Oahu last year and more than 400 injuries. We are right up there nationally, among the worst in the country for pedestrian fatalities.

Educating both pedestrians and drivers seems necessary, especially drivers with attitudes you see expressed in their letters to the editor in both daily papers.

I'm mystified by the "driver reminder" being passed out by the HPD instead of a ticket. Here's the bottom part, snipped from the Star-Bulletin story:
This seems like a very lame joke. "What kind of impact do you want to make?" When a driver "makes an impact" on a pedestrian, the pedestrian will be injured or will die.

The HPD should get serious and begin enforcing the law. Period. No more jokes please, it isn't funny.




Friday, February 09, 2007

 

Walmart calling for universal health care is not at all surprising


I was surprised to read that Walmart is part of a coalition including unions. AT&T, Intel, Kelly Services, the Service Employees International Union and the Communications Workers of America are all working to make this happen.

I've been waiting for this. When business is hurting enough, I felt, it would get on the bandwagon. And that is what has happened. Walmart will certainly benefit if the government provides universal health care to all of its employees. In many communities, that's already happening. The company is criticized for not providing benefits, so that its employees end up with healthcare at government expense. (In Hawaii, there is a law requiring them to insure full-time employees.)

But let's not look a gift horse in the mouth. This could be the tipping point to get our federal government to work on universal health care for everyone, something that has overwhelmingly been supported by the people (memo to Congresspeople: Remember us? Your constitutents?).

It might just work. Clearly, Walmart and the others in the coalition have more clout than we do with our own government. Probably other companies will join with them.

Health insurers are not dumb, and they certainly have contingency plans to avoid their own annihilation. They also have large amounts of money. So do drug manufacturers, who don't want to see medical care centralized because they will be forced into negotiations that will drive down their exhorbitant prices for prescription medications.

It will be interesting to see how Hawaii Republican lawmakers regroup on this issue, now that business is getting behind universal health care. Stay tuned.

Do I dare get my hopes up? It won't be an automatic thing, citizens will have to get behind the train and push.

Now's our chance, folks.

Meanwhile, please support universal health care in Hawaii. If the feds provide it eventually, better for us as a state. By providing healthcare for everyone right here on our islands we will produce the same benefits for our local businesses that Walmart is looking for nationally. And, of course, get everyone the health care they need and deserve.



Thursday, February 08, 2007

 

HMSA reimbursement cuts threaten to close rural pharmacies


It's not a question of "may", but of "will." Unlike Longs Drugs in Ala Moana or other Longs on Oahu, a rural pharmacy serving its local community can't make up for cuts in insurance company reimbursements by selling more sundries. People in rural Maui or the Big Island, for example, can use only so many calendars, slippas, or cans of roach spray. When reimbursements drop below costs, the business will shut down. It's a fact of life.

Local communities depend more on their pharmacies and their pharmacists than do big city folks. They can't drive for dozens of miles to get to big town that has a Longs. They also consult more with the pharmacist on the medications they are taking. It's often a very close and very important relationship.

For older folks or those who are not able to travel, the closure of a nearby rural pharmacy can be a matter of life and death.

Yet this is the prescription that HMSA is writing for its rural policyholders.

HMSA not only increases premiums to employers and individual policyholders, it has cut reimbursements to doctors so drastically that several specialties are getting scarce on Neighbor Islands. There have been op-ed articles in the newspapers. I've written that the scarcity of specialists threatens not just Hawaii's day-to-day health care, but our preparedness in the event of a storm, tsunami or other disaster:
Well, Hawaii is losing its doctors and it's no laughing matter. Insurance companies raise premium rates when they can, they also cut payments to doctors while building obscene reserves and paying large executive salaries. Why not fix this? We're not afraid to regulate insurance companies. We should deal with this problem in 2007, before a natural disaster strikes and finds hospitals unprepared.
The legislature is in session. Now's the time to call your own legislators and ask them to do something about rising HMSA premiums and plummeting reimbursements to doctors and pharmacies.

Pharmacies have only a few days to sign new suicidal contracts to be HMSA providers. If they are not HMSA providers, patients won't be able to get their prescriptions filled or renewed near their homes. The pharmacy will have to close, because HMSA has a near-monopoly in Hawaii. The decline of rural health care will accelerate.

It will be too late for rural areas when their local pharmacist moves away. No one in their right mind will open a new rural pharmacy under the current circumstances. So call your legislators today and let's get HMSA (whose reserves have burgeoned to around $700 million) under control, while the Legislature is still in session and can do something about it.

You can also check with your pharmacist to see if they have a copy of the petition that has been circulating to request the Insurance Commissioner to intervene. If they do, read it and sign it.

No one can save your neighborhood pharmacy but you.








 

New Advertiser reporter Mark Walker gets another full-page story


New Advertiser reporter Mark Walker is back. Today he has a full-page bylined story on page B6. Again, at the top, it identifies the article as an "Exclusive Interview".

Now, this is not to be confused as an advertisement, it seems. For example, on page C6 there is a full-page ad (it says "Paid Advertisement" at the top) for "Personal and Business Experts". Strangely, the Advertiser has given these folks a web page on its site (businessexperts.honoluluadvertiser.com). Mark can't be found (yet?) on the Advertiser website. I suppose it's only a question of time.





 

Bills in the legislature to protect our environment may get a boost from this federal court ruling


This news release from the Center for Food Safety describes a decision three days ago that applies to all future field trials of genetically engineered crops.

The suit relates to a 2003 case involving Roundup-resistant creeping bentgrass and Kentucky bluegrass. It may be of use to those testifying at the Legislature this year to protect Hawaii crops.
Washington, DC - In a decision broadly affecting field trials of genetically engineered crops a federal district judge ruled yesterday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must halt approval of all new field trials until more rigorous environmental reviews are conducted. Citing potential threats to the environment, Judge Harold Kennedy found in favor of the Center for Food Safety that USDA's past approvals of field trials of herbicide tolerant, genetically engineered bentgrass were illegal.
The link above leads to the text of the decision. More:
In seminal studies concerning environmental contamination from genetically engineered creeping bentgrass, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found multiple instances of the pollen from engineered bentgrass traveling several miles and transferring its traits to native grasses. Last year, EPA researchers found that the engineered grasses had escaped from field trials to contaminate a national grassland.

"These field trials threaten our public land, our communities and our health," said Lesley Adams, Outreach Coordinator for plaintiff Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.
Yup, pollen travels. Prohibiting open fields of GMO crops in Hawaii should be a no-brainer.

Maybe the tables are finally turning on Monsanto and other researchers who disregard and indeed trample over our fragile environment.






Wednesday, February 07, 2007

 

Clean Elections has a fighting chance this session


For the first time in eight years, there's hope that Hawaii will join other states that have passed some kind of clean elections law.

Star-Bulletin reporter Richard Borreca was in the hearing room yesterday and filed this story.

For the first time, the state Democratic Party testified in favor of the bill. The Campaign Spending Commission also made favorable noises (see article). The Voter Owned Elections people did a superb job explaining the advantages of the proposed bill to committee members. They were able to field all of the hardball questions thrown by a few legislators who seemed reluctant to go along with the wave of support in Hawaii and nationwide for clean elections.

As many as eight states have legislation in progress this year and may join the states and municipalities that already have some form of publicly funded elections.

If you would like to get corporate money out of Hawaii's elections, you can help with a phone call to House Judiciary Chairman Tommy Waters at 586-9450. Just leave a message that you would like him to pass HB661, the clean elections bill.






 

Welcome to new Advertiser reporter Mark Walker


I'm always curious about a new byline in our local press community, especially if the writer comes with interesting credentials.

Mark Walker appears to be such a person. I couldn't get hold of Mark before writing this post, but from the full-page Exclusive Interview spot he was given in this morning's paper, he must be a really respected guy, with connections in the real estate business. His interview, Learn How It's Possible to Double Your Money on Every Real Estate Deal, was opposite the continuation of the story on the Ehren Watada trial, so it probably caught the eyes of many readers.

Good first start, Mark! I hope to run into you one day around town. I'd like to learn more about your background and how you rose so quickly to prominence on the Advertiser staff. No, I don't need to know anything more on probate investing or doubling my money in real estate, but I'd like to find out what you might be writing for the Advertiser next.





Tuesday, February 06, 2007

 

First "leak" of the legislative session: a House committee hides an amendment from the public


Last legislative session we saw about a dozen committee hearings, all in the House, where a proposed amendment, which the chair would later ask the committee to vote on and pass, was not available to the majority of the public until after the vote was taken.

I received a tip that it's happening again. A House committee has put a note on their hearing notice on the Web that an amendment is available if you come to a particular room at the Legislature. Clearly, the majority of people will never see the proposed text.

I emailed the chair and vice-chairs asking them to make the text available to the public on the Web and then reschedule the bill 48 hours after that.

They may not agree with me. In fact, it would be a very pleasant surprise if they do. I'll wait a while to see if they reply, and if not, I'll post the details here.

Meanwhile, if anyone is aware of any other "secret" amendments that are not made available to the public before a hearing, you can send the info to leak@bringsunshinetohawaii.com.





 

The battle to save public access TV in Hawaii moves to the legislature


... and it could use your help

Not only can you help, but your help is needed to save Hawaii's public access television channels.

As you know, there's a move afoot to replace the current public access television providers. The administration plans to do this by opening the contracts to competitive bidding, while disadvantaging the current providers from ever winning a contract.

Mainstream media doesn't cover other media, so this story may never see print until the contracts go to some Mainland organization or special interest. Then you'll read the headline, "State public access contract won by Fox News subsidiary" or the like. It will be too late.

Two bills have been introduced in the legislature that would exempt the public access providers from the disruption of having to respond to the state's bidding process. In other words, they would be exempt from the procurement code. The existing contracts are still controlled by the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, as they always have been.

If these bills are passed into law, then there will be no risk that public access television could be taken over by special interest or moneyed interests, or even by a Mainland corporation. They would remain locally-operated.

These two bills need to be heard by the committees they have been assigned to.

So your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is simple but important: Please call the chairs of these committees and ask that the bills be heard.

Four phone calls would be ideal. Don't worry, you don't get to speak to the committee chairs themselves, you just get to leave a message with their staff, who tally up the phone calls.

Ok, here goes. Please mark these down, and call right away.




Senate bill SB1847 has been referred to these two committees:

 Tourism and Government Operations Committee Senator Clarence K. Nishihara, Chair 808-586-6970


 
 Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Affordable Housing Committee Senator Brian Taniguchi, Chair


 808-586-6460





House bill HB1098 has been referred to these two committees:

 Economic Development & Business Concerns Committee

 Representative Kyle T. Yamashita, Chair
 808-586-6330



 
 Consumer Protection & Commerce Committee

 Representative Robert N. Herkes, Chair 808-586-8400







With your help we can save our public access TV channels. Please make the calls, and thanks!


Sunday, February 04, 2007

 

Hawaii's educational challenges in perspective, our lives in perspective


Superintendent Pat Hamamoto's article in today's Star-Bulletin is must reading for those who nodded their heads so enthusiastically when they read Rep. Gene Ward's commentary in the January 25, 2007 paper. The bone of contention was poverty, and whether the DOE is using it as an excuse for its often low ranking among states in student achievement.

Supt. Hamamoto describes what to me is one of the strengths of Hawaii's statewide, unified school system:
What the entire education field understands is that poverty is a real factor that can impede student performance. Despite the fact that the effects of poverty are almost entirely outside of the schools' direct control, educators accept the task of working to overcome those external factors and are dedicated to the belief that every child can learn. This is coupled with the belief that all students -- of high or low socioeconomic background, of any race, despite physical or mental disabilities, and regardless of native tongue -- deserve the same opportunities for the best possible public education.
I believe this is a strength that other states lack: schools in Rep. Ward's well-off Hawaii Kai district are financed and governed as well as schools in remote rural areas of Neighbor Islands, for example. But that doesn't make things all better by itself.

Hawaii's educational problems cannot be blamed, as many people are fond of doing, only on its educational system. The legislature, about to spend time debating whether the state should buy its own airplane, might instead study how to put in place solutions to the myriad challenges that face our economy. Tourism is holding things together at present, but it is fragile, vulnerable and problematic in the long run, yet there is no other viable model that has come forward for an island economy. Our low unemployment is not a sign of prosperity since the jobs in demand are too low-paid and often menial. Raise wages (somehow), provide better jobs (somehow), provide children with opportunities for enthusiasm (somehow), provide their parents with leasure time and time to help with the homework (somehow), and the educational performance of our children will improve.

Parents do not flock to the legislature asking for a better educational system. The governor proposes change from time to time, but her motives are not clear. For example, her innovation in education testimony was marred by mixing it up with a call that benefits would go only to those students who stayed drug free (the state's own studies show that drugs are not a problem in Hawaii's schools, but drugs in schools make such great PR). Her speech was otherwise a repeat of a high-tech dream that been shown to be unrealistic so far and so will disappoint its proponents. Won't students be let down if there are no jobs for them at the companies the Administration believes will magically flock to Hawaii?

Of course we want a better educational system. Get people living on the beaches into decent housing. Put in some kind of rent control to protect those who are hard pressed to pay for rent, medicine and food. Control health insurance premiums so people do not have to choose between food and prescription drugs. Quit supporting drug companies and negotiate with them for lower prices for Rx Plus.

When those things happen, students will do better.

There's more of course. We don't have the answers, and we're not working hard enough on finding them. Let's continue to improve the schools so that children will have opportunities (though many of them will have to move to the Mainland to realize them).

Let's put our heads together to figure out what will improve our economy and quality of life on these islands. I think we should do it soon, because any of a number of factors could send tourism suddenly tumbling. And then what?





 

Honolulu potholes visible from space


It's so much fun. If you see a really big, bad pothole, remember the spot and check it out on Google Earth when you get home. Or hunt for one on your computer screen then go outside and see if it's still there (the satellite images are snapped at an undetermined date and time, but not to worry, the potholes are long-lasting in this town).

This is Lowrey Avenue as seen from the sky. The dark spots in the street include filled potholes and light pole shadows. Lowrey Avenue was mentioned in today's Honolulu Advertiser article, Pothole restitution cost city and state $172,000


Arguments don't hold water

To this reader, the argument that this is the fault of the weather doesn't have the necessary truthiness:
Laverne Higa, director and chief engineer for the city Department of Facility Maintenance, blames the increase in potholes on O'ahu last year on rains from January to March, coupled with an asphalt shortage.
We visited the Big Island last year and drove around quite a bit. Hilo gets much more rain than Honolulu pretty regularly, yet we did not notice any potholes, patched or not.

We had potholes before last year and we have potholes now. We taxpayers are footing the bill for auto repairs as mentioned in the article, an unnecessary expense.

When the potholes are big enough and numerous enough to be seen from space, haven't things gone too far?

Oh, memo to the couple sunbathing nude near your pool in Kahala: the jig is up, heh, heh.





Saturday, February 03, 2007

 

Disappeared truth: Bush is sending 35,000-48,000 troops, not 21,500, to Iraq


The number of troops Bush is sending to Iraq in his current escalation of the war is almost always given as 21,500 in news stories (for example, in this morning's Honolulu Advertiser story, Intelligence outlook on Iraq paints bleak picture which comes from the Washington Post (subscription required):
National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said the [National Intelligence Estimate] "explains why the president concluded that a new approach and new strategy was required." He said Bush received extensive intelligence input before he announced his new plan, which includes the deployment of 21,500 additional U.S. combat troops to Iraq.
For some reason that I just don't understand, it seems reporters are content to take what the president says and print it as fact (that he said it is fact, of course). Why do they do this?

No matter what newspaper you look in, you'll see 21,500, though some articles use 20,000 for some reason.

On February 1, the Congressional Budget office issued a report that gives substantially higher figures for both the number of troops headed to Iraq and the cost of sending them. As many as 48,000 troops will be sent, and the cost could be up to $27 billion in the first year only, nearly nine times the Bush estimate.

The CBO estimate recognizes that the military will be sending additional support units along with the regular combat troops. This puts the total deployment to 35,000-48,000, not 20,000-21,500. Big difference. And much higher expense.

Somewhere at the Washington Post they have a copy of the CBO report (our local papers can get one also, please just click on the link above if you are reading this over there in the newsroom). You can also check with your sources to get the complete picture.

So now that you know, will you continue to tell us that only 21,500 (or 20,000) troops are being sent? Let's see. Democracy Now! and some of the alternative media have reported the higher number.

I hate to complicate this even further, but neither Bush nor the CBO have estimated the number of mercenaries, or contract troops, that we have or will be sending to Iraq. Perhaps that number is available elsewhere, and it could be of public interest. These troops work for Blackwater USA and perhaps other firms.


Friday, February 02, 2007

 

Rent control works--for residents and small businesses


Image from Google Earth, copyright 2007 Bluesky
I have been meaning to write about this, and today the Advertiser beat me to it. See their editorial, Study of rent control a necessary first step. They're correct that the subject is controversial. And that
Opponents of rent control insist the free market is the best arbiter of rents and should be allowed to work without government interference.
Trouble is, the "free market" is just freedom for owners to gouge. The losers are the increasing number of families that can't survive their greed (does the phrase "greedy landlords" offend you? Why?) and also businesses, large and small, which find it hard to recruit workers.

New York City is an expensive place to do business, so people are acutely aware of of what makes their economy tick. We could learn from their successes and failures.

One success, for both residents and businesses (large and small) has been rent control. Because workers of all kinds are able to live in the city, they are available at reasonable wages for employment. While the executives might commute on the Long Island Rail Road to remote suburbs (or even to different states), they can't expect their staff to do that. People need to live reasonably close to work. In NYC, that means within a reasonable subway or bus ride.

And so there must be a place for them to live. If this falls apart, business will suffer along with almost everyone else (Why is it that greedy landlords never seem to suffer?).

But enough theory. Here's one alternative to rent control that worked when I lived there in the early '70s. I think it might be adaptable to Hawaii's situation in some way, and not get the free marketers too upset.

We were students, so income was limited. We bought a co-op apartment in Amalgamated Warbasse Houses (see pic above). How it worked was very simple (how it was set up is probably more complicated of course). I think we paid $1800 at that time for our one-bedroom unit. There was a monthly charge as well, and that was keyed to income, with a cap. After awhile, when we started to make some real money, we exceeded the income limit, so we paid the max, which was still very reasonable for those days.

And when we moved out, we had to sell back to the co-op for exactly what we paid when we moved in: $1800. That's the secret.

In Hawaii we're talking about "affordable housing" but it doesn't stay affordable if someone can turn around later and sell the affordable units at market prices. What might work is an extensive regime such as I have described. Maybe it's one idea, anyway.

My understanding is that the next occupant would have purchased the unit from the co-op for the same $1800. I don't know what those units go for today, presumably there's some adjustment over time. Or maybe not.

Looking at the picture above, I'm reminded that most of the tenants were senior citizens. There were plenty of benches for them outside, and on a warm day they gathered in flocks, like the friendly pigeons. You could hear conversation in several languages. The air was good, because the project is located in Coney Island.

The location was ideal for seniors or for anyone. Look what surrounds it, within a very short walking distance: At the lower left is a supermarket, dry cleaner and some shops. To the left is an elevated subway. Upper right is a school. To the right is Ocean Avenue, a major artery to the rest of the civilized world, and Coney Island Hospital, just across Ocean Avenue from the co-op.

Just outside the right edge of the picture is a great bagel place, everything made fresh daily, and all the stores and restaurants of Brighton Beach. And yes, one could walk the short distance to the boardwalk and Coney Island. Nathan's Hotdogs... bagels... lox... I'm getting nostalgic... not only for the bagels, but for the cheap housing!

If we're clever enough, we can find a way to produce more and more affordable housing. It will be good for the people of Hawaii and good for our economic prosperity. Let's put our heads together. We have nothing to lose but the "free" market that is hurting nearly everyone.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

 

This just in: Yet another disaster preparedness headache: levees in need of repair in Hawaii


The Advertiser's breaking news article, posted just minutes ago, Corps of Engineers lists 122 levees at risk, 3 in Hawai'i, describes one more headache for the state:
Three Hawai'i levees cited in the report are located on the Hanapepe and Waimea rivers on Kaua'i and the Moanalua Stream on O'ahu.

If the Corps of Engineers determines a levee to be at risk of failing, homeowners in the area could be required to purchase flood insurance, though exceptions can be made.
This is obviously an early article, I'm sure we'll learn more, including whether it is a state headache or someone else's.

We also should learn when the state found out about the deficiencies. The article is based on a Freedom of Information Act request filed by newspapers. The article says:
Communities near the levees have been notified that they have received an "unacceptable maintenance inspection rating."
but it doesn't say when they were notified or who was notified. Was Hawaii notified? Is this another "state secret?" Why am I suspicious?


 

The governor has no clothes


There's no substitute for true journalistic training, skill and years of experience. Reading Ian Lind's A seductive tale in this week's Honolulu Weekly (not on the web yet) impressed me with Ian's x-ray vision clarity and ability to reframe an issue to reveal its underlying truth.

In other words, I was reminded that I can rant, but Ian can write.

Ian contrasted the governor's annual speech with the reality on the ground. He criticized the governor for denouncing land development one day and doing a land deal the next. He highlighted the economic woes faced by the University of Hawaii due to factors including
the last high-tech research boondoggle promoted by politicians, the new medical school and "wellness" complex in Kaka`ako. The Legislature rushed to support that high-tech vision after backers of the Kaka`ako project promised millions in outside funds would flow in as local biotech startups bloomed and mainland companies eagerly relocated their research jobs and dollars into the state. But the wave of support never materialized and the build-it-and-they-will-come project has left the University of Hawai`i scrambling to cover a large operating deficit that is sucking money and resources from other parts of the system to keep the med school complex afloat.
As I read that, I was thinking of my testimony on the governor's innovation in education bill yesterday. I thought: here we go again, can we be fooled into chasing a high-tech dream yet again?

How will a university, already starved for cash, be able to take on yet another grandiose project? Or do they expect a cash influx from the legislature via this education program to ease their pain? HPU and Chaminade are also anxious to jump on the bandwagon.

Unlike the medical research project, this game would be played out not in Kaka`ako but in the schools, and at our children's expense. I would feel differently if the governor had huddled with the Superintendent over the past few months and announced a joint initiative. But that's not the way the governor's PR machine works.

And there are glaring weakenesses in state government that the governor might attend to instead. Like Mayor Harris' famous potholes, yawning gaps in management and planning at the state level that are actually threatening lives are being revealed. Shouldn't those be remedied before we go off on another high-tech wild goose chase?

Ian is on target when he lists a number of problems found in audits and a report on conditions at the University of Hawaii. He urges
These are management problems that ultimately are the responsibility of the state's top officer, the governor. Instead of public relations promises, we all might be better off if the governor spent her next four years providing the back-to-basic leadership needed to bring modern management and innovation into existing state departments and offices.
The following observations are mine, not Ian's. These are things on my mind at the moment:
  • We found out a year ago that when dams go uninspected, people are killed and property is damaged. Mother nature could not have done that alone. (Mother nature won't be sued, by the way, but the state might be, and we taxpayers will have to foot the bill.)
  • We now know that warning sirens are out of order, but those in charge can't seem to fix them in a timely fashion. Like the dams, these sirens did not all go bad at once, their inspection and maintenance were neglected. Planning meetings on disaster preparedness are being held in secret. The public is being excluded. Can things be that bad? You bet.
  • And most recently, we learned that the state is incapable of scrambling to fix dangerous pedestrian crossings. They don't want to fix anything until (maybe) 2010. Like the dams and sirens, problem intersections should be corrected routinely.
This neglect (and there's more) is a symptom of gross indifference to the stewardship of our island infrastructure. We claim to have a state surplus, and both the governor and the legislature seem anxious to either spend it or refund it. Let's see if this session also results in fixes for some of our pressing problems (hint to legislators).

I have to leave the last word on fixing state management problems to Ian:
The payoff might be more real, immediate and lasting than slick promises to reshape our collective destiny.


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