Friday, June 03, 2011


Richard Lim (DBEDT) vs. the people of Hawaii

by Larry Geller

“Ten surfers and a couple of well-heeled NIMBYs can wipe out economic development in the state”

Our economy could be in trouble, if ten surfers really control it. If they do, why not replace the current leadership with those with the real power? Anyone who thinks that ten surfers have more power than he does should not be in charge of the state’s economic development.

Richard Lim, head of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, sounds like an appointee the Governor should distance himself from. Unless he represents the gov’s thinking–in which case Houston, we have a problem. Lim’s talk last night, as reported in the morning paper, deserves some analysis.

Unfortunately, the Hawaii Economic Association, the venue for yesterday’s talk reported by Dan Nakaso of the Star-Advertiser (Future of tourism called into question, 6/3/2011), isn’t very high-tech. There are no videos or recordings of meetings on their website, and the meeting information is three years old.  They do attract important speakers, but they don’t share, at least on their website.

So I’ll depend on Dan’s article. If you have a moment, click over there and read it. But come back here, we need to talk.

….. …. … .. .

Are you back? Great. I took a moment to re-read the story and here are some preliminary comments. I’ll try and have more later. The snips appear in order of concern. No, in order of outrage.

Part of the solution is asking businesses to partner with state government to improve parks and other state lands that have been taken over by “undesirable elements … and drain our economy due to the vicious maintenance costs (caused by vandalism).”

The “undesirable elements” are citizens of the state of Hawaii. Many had good jobs until business leaders, in the guise of Wall Street banksters, took those jobs and their homes away.

When we moved from one apartment in Brooklyn to another, we kids were told it was because “a new element is moving into the neighborhood.” “Element” was a code word then as it is here, and it is just as bigoted.

Lim has apparently joined Governor Abercrombie in dehumanizing those without homes whom the state is unprepared to deal with. With even so-called “affordable” housing unavailable due to state inaction or favoring developers, there is no solution in sight for Hawaii. So Abercrombie wants to starve the people whom Lim now calls the “undesirable elements” by stopping feeding programs. Many of Lim’s undesirables, by the way (about 1/3?) are children (see: Hawaii has 1,436 homeless households with children).

Also, as a spokesman for the administration, Lim’s comments could put the Governor on a spot. The paper reports that the gov’s approval ratings are precariously low. Perhaps there is a reason for that. Abercrombie needs to avoid solidifying a position against the people he is supposed to serve, both in order to do the job he was elected to do, and to have any chance at re-election. He can remain silent or have a few public words with Lim. Coming on the heels of his APEC-motivated attack on the food security of Hawaii’s citizens forced to live without shelter, the trend could continue downward. Lim’s bigoted reference to “undesirable elements” can’t be helpful.

Shame on both of you.

Oh, and bathrooms are poorly maintained at beaches where Lim’s “undesirable elements” are not usually found. The City of Honolulu doesn’t believe in maintenance, whether it is bathrooms, potholes, sewer pipes or keeping paint on crosswalks, and that problem began long before the current economic recession.

Businesses also need to lobby legislators and push back against community opposition that killed projects such as the Hawaii Superferry, Lim said.

“Ten surfers and a couple of well-heeled NIMBYs can wipe out economic development in the state,” Lim said, referring to “not in my back yard” opposition.

Outrageous. The State tried an illegal end-run around its own environmental laws, laws that are there for the protection of our people and the environment in which we live. Justice was done. But that was only one reason the Superferry died—the other was that it apparently could not make a profit. You can’t waive the fuel surcharge and run at a loss each day and make it up in volume. So they went bankrupt. If outside estimates on the lack of profitability of that venture are correct, bankruptcy was inevitable. Lim seems to have slept through the issue.

But more galling is his polarization against the community and against Neighbor Islanders in particular. Hawaii government should represent everyone. Oahu-centrism is a fact, but Lim’s  “ten surfers” characterization of differing points of view is inappropriate and disturbing. It’s not going to make many friends on Neighbor Islands just at a time he will need them for his wind thing.

Economic development in the state has long favored moneyed interests at the expense of the people affected. Lim’s insensitive comments represent an escalation of that indifference and abuse of authority. Land and Power n Hawaii is still a great read (‘...a local bestseller...(the authors) describe a pervasive way of conducting private and public affairs in which state and local office holders throughout Hawaii took their personal financial interests into account in their actions as public officials years ago.'--The New York Times).

If there is a difference between state leaders and their subjects the people they serve, they can work on it by being more inclusive in their sharing of information, more collaborative, and less dictatorial. That would apply to city government as well, which is trying to ram a train down our throats. Confrontation, which is what Lim seems to advocate, is counterproductive to begin with. NIMBY? Would he like to live next to a noisy and intrusive wind farm sending power to Maui? I think not. Nor is his insult, “Ten surfers and a couple of well-heeled NIMBYs,” accurate or likely to be forgotten.

As to “economic development” in the state, this brings us to a scary proposition in Lim’s comments, as reported:

Businesses need to partner with state government and provide private capital to develop new industries, improve public lands and link the islands with an undersea cable to deliver broadband technology and renewable energy, Richard Lim told the Hawaii Economic Association.

Expecting Honolulu ratepayers to underwrite the cost of a business venture designed for the profit of large landowners is a stretch. Business won’t assume the cost of anything they can pass on to customers. They are responsible to their shareholders or investors. That”s why electricity users (ratepayers, you and I) will get stuck with the costs of this project. Business is not foolish. But then, Lim’s comment is probably designed to boost support for the undersea cable project. Watch for Superferry-like maneuvers on the part of the State to make it happen.

There are several good reasons why Honolulu residents who still pay HECO for their power might want to oppose that project. One is that should the cable be cut, they could be waiting months for their electricity to be delivered again. Another is that adding developer profit into the equation is a formula for increased rates rather than cheaper electricity. Obviously, this is a pitch for those who will profit from Big Wind.

As to broadband, yes, it is important. But cool off, delivering broadband will not revolutionize our economy. It’s the use of data communications that is important. Hawaii still suffers under the delusion that it can be a high-tech center of the Pacific if only the right cables were plugged in to it. We went through that in the past as DBED (no “T” yet) demand in the late 1980’s that the phone company install fiber-optic cable to the real estate project then called the Mililani High-Tech Park. The substation was put in, but all the needs of the tenants were accommodated with the usual copper wires. No demand. And then it happened again, when international fiber optic cables passed through Hawaii on their way to the Continent. Somehow the predicted revolution did not happen. So broadband is good, but probably overblown as to its influence on our economy. As usual.

As to business improving public lands, careful there, Mr. Lim. That would be nice, but business is not philanthropy. Try taking away the state’s subsidy to tourism and apply it to maintenance of public lands, which is a state responsibility, and see who screams. If it can happen, great, but maintaining public lands is something individuals and business pay for through their taxes. And parks and so forth are there for the use of the people. I don’t think we are ready for McDonald’s State Park or for Walmart Diamond Head Lookout yet. At least, we want to decide about that ourselves. Besides, putting DBEDT in charge of improving state lands is a sellout I don’t think we are ready for.

Lim, who has been running DBEDT for six months, outlined a gloomy economic picture for the islands and said tourism has essentially remained stagnant for the last 20 years and can no longer be relied on to move the economy into a prosperous future.

I think this is the most critical part of Lim’s talk, since presents a picture of the administration’s economic direction. Note the span of the “stagnation”—20 years. That sounds like important data. A trend. A limitation.

Hawaii could never depend on unlimited growth of tourism. That’s ridiculous. As Waikiki is overbuilt out of greed, tourism will naturally level off. As the rest of the island is paved over and developed, the effect on tourism may be quite negative. The lack of planning is what is gloomy. It is a failure of government to let developers run rampant and expect tourism to grow indefinitely. Instead, there should have been prudent planning which accepted realistic limits. What’s gloomy is the lack of a plan.

Tourism can continue to support our economy, although it is fragile at best, provided we live within our means. That’s called “zero growth” and it works even if venture capitalists hate the very idea of it.

We should never stop looking for new ways to create jobs, but expecting tourism to grow when the evidence provides no support for that projection is simply foolish. Oh, Mr. Lim, tourism has produced prosperity for hotel owners and low-grade, poorly-paying jobs for Hawaii residents. We’re probably stuck with it, but it will not bring prosperity for us. Get real. The cost of living is increasing steadily but tourism offer us jobs with no future even if it should expand. We’d like to have better jobs, but no one has figured out how to do that yet. Tourism is the only thing that we have, it produces tax revenues that keep the state from descending into Pacific-island poverty, and it is limited. We must live within our means on this one, not destroy our land for hotel owners.

These islands were fully self-sustaining with a population similar to the current numbers, in a zero-growth economy. We can’t go back, the world has invaded Hawaii and changed it. But as a Pacific island state, our growth may be limited anyway. Yeah, that would mean fewer iPhones and giant home theaters. That’s a rant for another time. The problem here is that our state has to face the facts, and those include possible limits on the growth of tourism.

Business, as taught in school, requires growth. Zero-growth is sustainable for ordinary people but it doesn’t work for those who would extract profit from these islands. Why invest in real estate if it won’t go up in value? Zero-growth is anathema to business as it is usually taught and practiced. Probably it is not what we want to look forward to, but keep building houses, keep adding cars, keep paving over Hawaii with asphalt, and that’s what we’ll get in the end regardless. A balance will be reached.

We are darn lucky also that we do have tourism, or we’d be just another struggling island in the Pacific Ocean. But it has its limits.

Somewhere there is an ideal balance which we can achieve through careful and prudent stewardship of our land, people and resources. We’ll arrive at some sort of balance eventually anyway. The two destinations will of course be different. With planning, we can weigh the quality of life of Island residents against the possible income that tourism provides us. With DBEDT’s limited foresight and disdain for the people,we could well reach a point where tourism is limited anyway and we have nothing left for ourselves. Unlike cities that have planned to limit urban sprawl, such as Portland, Oregon, Honolulu will grow like a cancer and eventually poison the tourist economy that sustains it.

Anyway, I suggest the governor seek out those ten surfers who control our economy, put them in charge of DBEDT, and let’s get busy working towards a more realistic economic future for all of Hawaii.

So what’s your impression of Lim’s talk? You’ve heard mine.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


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Aloha Larry,

Mahalo for an excellent article.

Dan Nakaso's article on Richard Lim stated: "He said a dozen companies remain interested in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s plan to deliver renewable energy to Oahu from the neighbor islands and offer broadband service throughout the state via an underwater cable."

That is not the Governor's proposal UNLESS it is yet another secret component of the cable EIS.

Rather it is connected to Ku`oko`a, the group seeking to buy out Hawaiian Electric Industries (HECO, MECO & HELCO). Ku`oko`a is proposing undersea electric and broadband cables to link all of the islands together.

I blogged about Ku`oko`a earlier this year.

Great job again, Larry. You put the spotlight on so many seemingly little things that have been overlooked for far too long.
The mediocrity in government is the demon in the works. Gone is the day where a semblance of respectability and intelligence were strived for as candidate qualities. The opposite is the norm now.
I believe that when the Bush family clawed itself into echelons of society where it would not have normally been accepted, is when serious decay started to take root. Itʻs no wonder they hated the Kennedys so much. By no stretch am I saying they clawed into an echelon that was by all means honorable but the Bush family had and has an insidiousness about them that was able to transform basic human ideals on all levels; that statement seems to give them a lot of power and so be it...rot is powerful if you donʻt nip it in the bud.
Thus we have the inflated mediocrity that is now the norm >>> running our lives. Abercrombie as governor, Lingle as a governor, Palin as a presidential possible and on and on.
So itʻs no wonder that DBEDT will B-DEBT.

That comment about ten surfers is as irritating as "those tree hugging environmentalist". Haven't they figured out yet that for the business environment to prosper we need a livable environment.

Haven't you figured out that for the livable environment to prosper we need for the business environment to prosper?

Yaddah, yaddah. Whatever the other guy says it must be stupid??

The guy has a point. Businesses make investment decisions based on what they think the business climate is, including the reliability of laws, precedents, and interpretations.

The current Hawaii Supreme Court has been busily finding that established interpretations of the EIS law are incorrect and that, for example, a Supplemental EIS is needed before a subdivision or a utility connection can be approved. I was there when the EIS law was established, and nobody thought it would be triggered at the levels the curent Court has required.

"Prosper" doesn't required unbridled and continuous growth. The corner Korean vegetable store near my house in Brooklyn when I was a kid had no growth opportunity and remained the same. I checked out the old neighborhood via Google Earth a couple of months ago and it's still there. Still feeding their family, no doubt. More: areas of the world not entrapped by the growth model do fine for centuries. Some of those places have greater longevity than we do, some have better food, wine, cheese, fish and so forth. Some have been making clocks for centuries. No, I never said the other guy was stupid, but unfortunately (for us) he might well throw us under the bus for the sake of profit. That's something to watch out for.

In any case, without paving over more of our limited island space, it's hard to imagine how indefinite growth will occur, given that manufacturing (for example) is not much of an opportunity here.

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