Saturday, July 27, 2013


Honolulu committing suicide by condo

by Larry Geller

Can people change the course of an errant government?

If we (the people) do nothing, Honolulu will be overbuilt with condominium towers, each exceeding the height limitations set by zoning regs intended to prevent exactly what is planned to happen.

One could say that it would be the end of the Honolulu that we know.

Can’t we prevent that, if we feel it is wrong? Are we helpless? Are we mice or men!?

This question revived an old curiosity of mine. Throughout history, governments have acted against the interests of the governed. This puzzles me. There are plenty of examples even in our time. As Congress tries to cut off food stamps, reduce Social Security, destroy the postal service, bust teachers’ unions, and allows Americans to slip into poverty while preserving obscene profits for the rich, one can easily make the case that our own government is acting more and more against its citizens’ interests.

History has seen some powerful fault lines in which governments act and people do not check them. Some of these have led to world wars. But back to our little island. I fear that government at any level can slip free of citizen control if we stand by idly. It’s not enough to just vote every few years. The vote is a very ineffective instrument of control when government sets its own direction.

What ability do we have, as citizens of Hawaii, to influence our own fate?

In Hawaii, money is to be made by tourism, of course, but that money comes from owning the properties that tourists pay to visit. Land ownership is power here, and the great estates are our feudal lords.  The book “Land and Power in Hawaii” is still a must-read for anyone who wants to understand development, politics and crime especially on Oahu.

Media plays a political role by controlling public education

Today’s Star-Advertiser front page sported yet another giant condo image. But the picture is not worth the thousand words that might have explained the issues to readers.

Sky's the limitFreely granted height exemptions have become somewhat controversial, so it appears that our daily paper is taking a new tack—not mentioning the height of the buildings in its article, or whether or not a rubber-stamp exemption is being sought.

Remember, though, that the paper’s customers are its advertisers. We’re just eyeballs to be delivered to them. Condos result in ads, news does not. So get used to the glorious condo pictures splashed across front pages on into the future.

Each article at least notes the thousands of units that are being added to an unprepared section of Oahu. In this case, it’s 2,750 units, each unit to contain an average of at least double that number of humans, and at least one car to be added to our traffic. Each will have one or more toilets to flush into Honolulu’s overburdened sewer system, so we taxpayers will no doubt have to pay for improvements one day.

Some background would be useful at some point. The property is owned by Kamehameha Schools, formerly known as the Bishop Estate. The name was changed after a long-running skirmish too complicated to relate here, but one that perusal of the Google hits will easily reveal. It turns out that Bishop Estate/Kamehameha Schools might be viewed either as a school supported by real estate investments, or as an alternative, as a real estate mega-corporation that is bound by its founder’s will to also operate a school. The school part is admirable and important, but the newspaper articles are about the remaking of Oahu according to Bishop Estate, regardless of what they now call themselves.

As in pre-WWII Europe, the average citizen is powerless to control events. In modern-day Honolulu, the rubber-stamping is done by an independent authority, the HCDA (Hawaii Community Development Authority), not by our elected representatives.

The HCDA is administratively under DBEDT (Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism) which is a creature of developers. From the earlier “High Tech Park” in Mililani which was in reality a project of Castle & Cooke, to today’s HCDA, DBEDT is a facilitator of development, not of sound urban planning. They do not represent the people of Hawaii as much as the business interests. That’s their job. And they are doing a job on us.

What are the chances of blocking this overdevelopment? Slim, perhaps, but people power did stop the PLDC (Public Land Development Corporation) this year by pushing the Legislature and a reluctant Governor to repeal the obnoxious law. PLDC was cut from the same fabric as the HCDA—an exemption mill to benefit developers.

If city planning is to return to the people of Oahu, the HCDA must also be stopped, but they are well aware of public objections and apparently not expecting any effective challenge.

When the bulldozers come to Kakaako, it will be too late for the people to speak. And over time, the rich outsiders who move in will further solidify the developers in power.

After Kakaako, some other area of the island will be next. So don’t think it is just a local problem. Squeak up now before your neighborhood is next.

Update: A meeting is planned on Kakaako development on Tuesday, July 30 from 5:30–7:30 at the State Capitol Auditorium. Unfortunately, tropical storm Flossie may be dumping rain on Oahu at the same time. The auditorium at the State Capitol is below street level, so I wonder if flooding may be a concern.

See details in this story posted on the Hawaii Independent website. A snip:

Representatives of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which oversees development in the district, will present information on the 2011 Kaka‘ako Mauka Area Master Plan, reserved housing and the difference between workforce and affordable housing, the proposed Transit Oriented Development rules and how that will interact with the 2011 rules, enforcement of rules, variances and modifications, and adequacy of current district infrastructure and future infrastructure needs. There will be time for questions afterward as well.


I doubt that most of the proposed condos will get built. My guess is that perhaps half of the 30-odd developments will turn out to be vapor condos. They are simply behind the curve and will get squelched by rising cost of money and negative public sentiment.

Sadly, the very expensive 1%-er units are the ones likely to survive while the more affordable condos and rental apartment projects will get axed. Expect the super-gentrification of Kaka'ako, an extension of the superblock that is Nauru Tower, Koolani, Hokua, Hawaiiki and the new A&B condo.

Then, too, you can practically smell the public opinion turning against the projects after hearing that the developers will not be doing much for schools and parks or other necessities in an intense urban density neighborhood. When the HCDA starts counting McKinley High School grounds as part of its parks concept it is time to push back.

This Tuesday's (7/30) meeting should be interesting as HCDA attempts to respond to the public about why developers have gotten free rides and special variances that the neighborhood residents have opposed.

Thanks for your comments.

Considering that there is a public meeting on Tuesday, it's a pity that the newspaper didn't do a better job of educating.

With a storm coming, I wonder if attendance will be very high.

Power of the People

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