Sunday, January 31, 2016


Must Hawaii be the state that just cannot plan?

by Larry Geller

What is wrong with us as a state, that we seem to be unable to plan? A statement of “goals and objectives” or intent to do something is not a plan. We’re lucky to even have goals sometimes it seems.

Too many issues of public governance and importance are simply ignored until a crisis may develop.

If you never changed the oil in your car, what would happen? So you change the oil. It’s common sense. So what’s wrong with Hawaii?

It’s worth ranting about. Perhaps one day we’ll change. I hope so. So on to some examples, several from this morning’s paper. It’s good to see the editors questioning government decisions as well as reporting them.

Cutting services without a plan hurts us

Important comment on today’s op-ed

Although the op-ed referenced below describes the disease-carriying mosquito as biting during the evening and at night, the Wikipedia confirms that the Zika virus is transmitted by daytime-active Aedes mosquitoes, such as the Aedes aegypti now proliferating on the Big Island. 

Although Aedes aegypti mosquitoes most commonly bite at dusk and dawn, indoors, in shady areas, or when the weather is cloudy, "they can bite and spread infection all year long and at any time of day."

[Wikipedia, Aedes aegypti]

This is important to know. That mosquito curtain draped over the bed at night won’t protect anyone during the daytime.

Today’s Insight section of the Star-Advertiser has an excellent op-ed by Michael Markrich, writing from Kauai. In it he describes how cutting Department of Health Vector Control Branch staff from 56 staffers to 17 and eliminating the branch entirely has eviscerated Hawaii’s ability to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Controlling that mosquito is the only way known to halt the spread of the Zika virus, dengue fever and similar diseases.

Defective planning now threatens our health. Should the Zika virus go pandemic here our tourist economy could suffer as well. Imagine the consequences of possible “don’t travel to Hawaii” advisories.

The Zika virus, said to be more destructive that Ebola, is spreading through the Americas and Hawaii is also at risk.

The risk exists because we are just beginning to scratch our heads about what should be done about the mosquito that carries not only Zia but dengue fever as well.

The head scratching should have taken place years ago, before vector control staff was cut, leaving us vulnerable.

Perhaps Zika virus wasn’t on our radar then, but dengue certainly was. We’ve got the dengue and may soon get the Zika. Is our planning, even today, adequate to fend off a state of emergency later on?

There is a possible link between Zika fever and microcephaly in newborn babies by mother-to-child transmission, as well as a stronger one with neurologic conditions in infected adults, including cases of the Guillain–Barré syndrome.

What is needed is a plan (including a timeline, budget, staffing, measurements, etc.) that will assure us that our state government is working to defeat this mosquito and save us from a Zika pandemic.

Out of control UH repair backlog

How did the repair backlog at the University of Hawaii get to be $503 million? This is likely a symptom of the poor governance that we’ve written about before, but it also indicates that planning is not something important in an organization that should know better. No doubt they are teaching students planning over at the business school, but why, how, did a repair backlog ever grow to $503 million unless planning is something they just don’t do?

Maintenance is an operating cost. It should be central to competent planning to include costs for maintenance. Instead, new facilities are proposed but UH seems to have no intention to keep things working after they are built.

Cheap talk about air conditioning classrooms

Governor David Ige revealed, in his State of the State address, that he plans to air condition 1,000 out of 11,000 Department of Education this year.

I use the verb “plans” very loosely. The result of “planning” should be a plan, and there is not anything one could identify as a complete plan.

Richard Borreca devoted an excellent column to the issue in today’s paper. He observed, in part:

The plan, however, appears more like the smoke one would see reflected in mirrors, rather than a set-in-stone reality.

[Star-Advertiser p. E1, Ige’s 1,000 cool classrooms face a credibility problem, 1/31/2016]

It’s good that Borreca is asking the necessary questions.

Central to the article is the state’s questionable ability to pay for the installation, and then the lack of a clear way to pay for operating costs. Sound familiar?

The first thought, as Borreca relates, was to add a charge to consumer electric bills to pay for installation. That does didn’t fly. So next is a proposal to steal $100 million from a special fund not intended for that purpose, and this is apparently implemented in a bill, SB3126. Read the column for a discussion about why this is a bad idea.

Also, there would be 10,000 more classrooms to air condition, and no plan for funding those seems to exist. One might also ask the question, “how much will all that electricity cost?” No plan is complete without that little detail.

Cutting vector control staff now set to bite us--again

A little about the Zita virus and why we should have been controlling the mosquito that carries it is on the sidebar to the right.

Cutting the Vector Control staff also rendered the DOH unable to deal with the proliferation of rats in Chinatown in 2009. In frustration with DOH inaction, I decided to post a video illustrating the problem. It went viral when the TV news picked it up and spread the word.

Even then, the DOH refused to authorize overtime—so while the rats came out at night, the inspectors were not allowed to visit the market to see them. Cutting staff with no plan to continue services had its consequences.

Rail operating costs still unknown—why?

Today’s Insight section has been a gift to this blogger.

The editorial headline is Start talking now about long-term rail funding. Well, yes, at least let’s start talking now. But why did this key issue wait until now?

Just as the University of Hawaii ought to have maintenance costs in its budget before it builds yet another new building, the operating costs for Honolulu’s ruinously expensive rail project should have been known in advance.

Of course people are now balking at paying more excise tax or suffering a potential nine percent increase in property taxes. The argument that tourists pay part of the costs that is frequently raised (as in today’s editorial) to justify GET increases is immaterial—you and I pay it regardless of whether tourists pay it or not. Increasing the GET is a regressive method of taxation. Had we known about this at the beginning, would we have chosen this rail system at all?

Of course, not telling the public about operating costs may have been the actual “plan.” I’m not being cynical, it should not be ruled out that developers and rail interests would not want to strew the path to approval with obstacles. The entire rail project is a product of special interest influence including contributions to city council members that have been estimated as up to 91% if their campaign funding. With that much money at stake, prudent planning in the public interest may well take a back seat to the greed that drives politics here and elsewhere.

Street repairs and repainting—where’s the plan?

I use disappearing paint in crosswalks and line dividers as a marker of poor maintenance of our streets. Another, of course, is the contiued proliferation of potholes.

Why do we allow crosswalks, turn arrows and other street markings to fade away, endangering both pedestrians and car passengers? What about questioning why there isn’t an adequate plan to maintain our roads?

I look to Tokyo since I lived there.The paint is always spick and span and bright. We can do it too. If our Departments of Transportation cared to plan for adequate maintenance.

As to potholes, why do places with worse weather not have them (yes, some other cities certainly share our pothole plague). Are we using the right technology? Must this situation go on from year to year? Where’s the plan to end potholes in our lifetime?

Halting pedestrian deaths and injury—why no plan?

Thank you for reading this far. It must be boring by now. But somebody needs to say this.

Each year Hawaii sets national records for senior deaths on the streets. Year after year. We do nothing about it.

Where is the plan to improve the unmarked crosswalks on S. King Street, Pali Highway, Farrington Highway, and elsewhere, so that they are no longer death traps?

I drove down King St. with my dash camera running one day last year. Some crosswalks had signs, some did not. One had blinking lights, though I did not check to see if they worked. The situation must be pretty much the same today.

How do I know this? Because we have no plan to get off that list of states with record-setting senior deaths on the streets. Improvements still depend too much on human sacrifice (euphemistically called “incidents”) instead of adequate planning:

“A typical traffic signal is not appropriate for the crosswalk because it is close to the heavily traveled Castle Junction intersection at Pali and Kamehameha highways, and because the area in front of HPU did not meet the minimum requirement of five pedestrian "incidents" in a 12-month period”—Department of Transportation spokesman Dan Meisenzahl

Is the plan to wait until a traffic death gets into the newspaper before they improve the intersection? Once again, this is not cynicism, my question is the result of observation.

Homelessness crisis came about because there was (and still is) no plan to end the housing shortage

Both the affordable housing crisis and burgeoning homelessness were described as crises in the media as early as 2003. Yet we just let the problem roll on. We still do not have anything resembling a plan to create truly affordable housing in the quantity needed. So we have a growing number of those in need of apartments they are actually able to pay for. If the newspaper still refers to housing at 140% of area median income as “affordable” we are still far from being able to dig ourselves out of this hole, which is tens of thousands of housing units deep.

This morning’s paper describes a shortage of volunteers to do the federally-required “point in time” survey. Was poor planning a cause of this failure? How much federal money will it cost us?

Failure to spend federal funding is a result of poor planning

This morning’s article on the “point in time” survey mentions a failure to spend federal funds available to Hawaii. That same theme has appeared several times recently, and the amounts are astounding.

The article in the Local section, Layoffs cut state services for failed workers, may itself demonstrate a failure to plan. But it also mentions that federal money to deal with what is now an “emergency” may not be available because Hawaii has not spent the federal money it was previously given.

You’d think that we would have plans in place to utilize the badly needed funds.

But no. We seem unable to plan even to spend free money.

Doing payroll on 5 x 8 cards is a failure to plan

I’m writing this in 2016. A recent story revealed that the Department of Education double-payed some stubstitute teachers—because the DOE is still doing payroll on 5 x 8 index cards (!).

At some point didn’t it occur to someone that they better put that task onto a computer? Doing payroll is one of oldest tasks that computers were assigned, dating back to the room-sized monster mainframes. It’s what they do.

So where was the plan to replace the cards?


Gads—I could probably go on forever. Just a word about public policy before I end this.

No planning? No consequences

The media and the public should expect our government at all levels not only to plan, but to publicize what they are doing so that we know they are doing their job.

There should be consequences for falure to plan, which is a responsibility of public administration. If an administrator or department head is negligent, perhaps there is someone else who could do a better job.

Voters and good government advocates might take this up.


I couldn't agree with you more. I suppose that, if enough citizens were to register a concern with their elected officials, that might have an effect. I suspect that too many simply don't care enough to make the time.

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