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Wednesday, September 29, 2021
September 29, 2021 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 4:17 PM :: 1569 Views

Hawaii Among Five Worst 'Sinkhole States'

Clean Energy Fail: Hawaii Still 10th Dirtiest in USA

New Regulation Protects Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins Against Disturbance

NOAA-Supported Aquaculture Projects Seek to Build Hawaiʻi Seafood Sustainability

China loves the Jones Act

Pearl City Second Lowest Percentage of Disabled Living in Poverty

HTA: Vacation Rentals Decline Sharply from 2019 Records

Honolulu Rail Board Functioning Illegally Since July--Votes may be Voided

CB: … in July, the rail board’s leaders and the attorneys who represent them tried a much simpler approach — passing measures as they did before board members were added, requiring only six votes. But critics say the solution may not have been legal…

The approach has also raised the ire of the state leaders whose help HART might eventually need to rescue the cash-strapped transit project yet again.

Meanwhile, the state Attorney General’s office is looking into the matter.

“The HART board needs to be careful,” House Speaker Scott Saiki said Monday. “If they proceed with a modified quorum it could potentially invalidate the decisions that they make.”

HART board member Kika Bukoski disagreed with his colleagues’ recent maneuvers.

“As a public board, we can’t be making rules up as we go. We need to be as transparent as possible. We haven’t had the best track record,” he said Tuesday.

“I think every vote that we take going forward” could be subject to legal challenge, Bukoski added. “Those are my concerns.”

That includes their recent approval of one of the project’s most expensive change orders in a long time, valued at $34 million and benefiting the contractor who’s building rail from Aloha Stadium to Middle Street.

During their July meeting, board members went into a closed session to discuss electing new leadership. When they emerged, Hoyt Zia, who was then serving as HART’s interim chairman, made a surprise announcement.

“It seems abundantly clear that continuing in this way is unworkable if this board is to function in the way intended,” Zia said.

He declared that the board would no longer follow the same quorum and voting standards that it had adhered to for nearly the past four years. Instead, it would revert back to the prior standards, which allow it to pass rail-related measures with a simple majority of six “yes” votes.

The city’s Corporation Counsel, which represents HART, consulted the board on the decision, Zia said. “I believe I have the authority under the rules to do this,” he added.

That led to a tense exchange between Zia and Bukoski, one of the board’s most outspoken members at meetings. He insisted that HART wasn’t following proper procedure and compared the swift reversal to something under a “unilateral dictatorship.”

“This is uncalled for,” Bukoski said. “This is not transparency.”

On Friday, HART released a Corporation Counsel memo that backs Zia’s decision. The Sept. 23 memo, signed by Deputy Corporation Counsel Geoffrey Kam, questioned the legitimacy of the board seats created four years ago by state lawmakers.

“The Legislature does not have the power to seat four non-voting, ex-officio members to the HART board of directors,” Kam wrote. Thus, the HART board’s quorum and voting majority should be based on the original 10 seats established in the city charter, Kam added.

Those Legislature-appointed seats, however, aimed to give state leaders more oversight after they approved a $2.4 billion bailout package for the project — their second such rescue of the project in two years.

In fact, the four non-voting seats were included in 2017’s Act 1, the bill that authorized the additional rail funding covered by the state’s general excise and transient accommodations taxes.

“If the city feels that the Legislature has overstepped by appointing these four members, then the city should decline any further state funding,” Saiki said.

Currently, Honolulu city leaders are looking at creating an additional TAT of up to 3%. At least some of that money would help cover rail’s massive budget shortfall, currently estimated at some $3.6 billion.

Saiki noted that even if the city administers the tax, it would still depend on a state tax source. Thus, the city can’t have it both ways, he said. It can’t claim complete autonomy to set the number of board seats but also rely on a state tax to fund the project.

Further, Saiki said that the city can’t disregard a state law based on a Corporation Counsel opinion. Instead, it “should just challenge the law in court if it feels the law is unconstitutional.” …

PDF: Corp Counsel Memo

read … Faced With Unwieldy Voting Rules, Honolulu Rail Board Simply Scrapped Them

Years Before Indictments, Honolulu Permitting Department Was Warned About Corrupt Culture

CB: … In the decade before federal investigators charged five permitting employees for bribery, the Honolulu Ethics Commission warned the Department of Planning and Permitting about questionable behavior by staff and lax oversight that could lead to abuses of power.

The city watchdog agency investigated the department several times after it received numerous complaints about a pay-to-play culture, documents show. Commission attorneys raised concerns about “actual or apparent special treatment” given to certain customers, according to a confidential memo the commission sent to DPP in 2012.

“The appearance of special treatment can be just as detrimental as actual special treatment because of the potential for doubt to arise in the mind of the public as to the integrity of the (Permit Issuance) Branch,” the memo states.

Civil Beat obtained the memo and several other investigative documents from 2012 through 2015 through a public records request.

Taken as a whole, the records foreshadow the scandal that erupted earlier this year. …

in October 2013, the Honolulu Ethics Commission investigated DPP again.

A complainant tipped off the commission that over two dozen DPP employees planned to participate in a golf tournament funded by Palekana Permits. The local company offers “permit expediting services” and third-party reviews in which the code compliance of building plans is certified by a licensed private sector professional instead of a DPP employee.

Permitting companies like Palekana are among DPP’s most frequent clients, and the ethics report said some of the DPP employees who participated in the golf event were in a position to approve or deny the company’s permits. The city ethics code prohibits city employees from accepting gifts that are intended to influence them in their duties.

In 2013, over two dozen DPP employees got discounted entry to a golf tournament funded by a permit services company and won prizes like gift cards and TVs. Wojciech Kulicki via Flickr

The Ethics Commission had been informed about Palekana’s tournament before, in addition to a lunch the company catered for DPP staff who were unable to attend the event, according to the commission’s closing report on the case. But they were unable to investigate that time because of a lack of resources, the report says.

The 2013 ethics investigation found that 32 DPP employees had attended the golf tournament. All of them paid a $50 fee, less than the usual cost of $109, according to the closing report.

And almost every employee reported that they’d won a prize, ranging from $20 gift cards to televisions worth $650.

One employee, whose name is redacted, told the ethics investigator that the employees paid to play golf, but the sponsor essentially paid them back in prizes and food.

“It is a tournament that has built in the ability to hide the transaction,” the person said, according to the report. …

The closing report on the golf tournament concluded: “City employees believed that because the mayor, city council members, and their supervisors attended that it was acceptable.” …

A few years ago, the FBI filed a public records request with the Honolulu Ethics Commission for investigative information on DPP, Wong-Nowinski said. She’s not sure whether it contributed to the criminal cases. …

a U.S. attorney’s office spokesman declined to comment on the status of the federal investigation or the possibility of charges for additional defendants. …

As Explained: Free Golf, Methamphetamines, and Building Permits

read … Years Before Indictments, Honolulu Permitting Department Was Warned About Corrupt Culture

HPD declines to reassign embattled commander despite calls from state leaders

HNN: … State Sen. Kurt Fevella told Hawaii News Now that he sent letters to Honolulu’s mayor and the police commission, among others, urging them to take action against Honolulu Police Major Stephen Gerona.

“Men in blue and women (are) terrified of this man. Nobody should have that kind of working conditions ever,” said Fevella, the Senate minority leader….

“(Gerona’s) being promoted within the ranks and being protected by other people higher up, that is a sad time in Hawaii, that we going have our law enforcement agency having this kind of leadership.”

Gerona was given a temporary promotion recently to acting assistant chief.

That’s despite at least a dozen complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed by Honolulu police officers.

Some of those officers spoke exclusively with Hawaii News Now earlier this month regarding their treatment by Gerona and those directly under him….

Police Commission Chair Shannon Alivado said in a statement that the body “takes allegations of officer retaliation and intimidation very seriously (or something).”

Alivado said they will be (pretending to) discussing the allegations at the next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 6.... 

read … HPD declines to reassign embattled commander despite calls from state leaders

COVID-19 delta variant proves deadly in Hawaii

SA: … At the start of summer, Hawaii seemed on a path toward full recovery after more than a year of COVID-19-related restrictions and economic pain. More than 50% of Hawaii residents were fully vaccinated by the start of June, and 90% of residents 65 and older, who have suffered the brunt of the pandemic, had received at least one shot.

But then the highly contagious delta variant hit, sending case numbers soaring to the highest levels seen since the start of the pandemic. Over the past three months, there have been 239 deaths from COVID-19, according to state Department of Health data, accounting for one-third of all deaths from the virus during the entire pandemic.

The data includes Hawaii residents who died of the virus both within and outside the state, as well as visitors who died while in Hawaii. The total death toll from the pandemic stood at 757 Tuesday….

Related: Herd Immunity? Low COVID Infection Rate Leaves Hawaii LEAST Protected in USA

read … COVID-19 delta variant proves deadly in Hawaii

Over 160 Oahu businesses violate new COVID-19 mandates

SA: … As Safe Access O‘ahu mandates stretch into their third week, over 160 Oahu business operators have been cited, warned or been arrested for alleged violations of new COVID-19 requirements that include proof of tests or vaccinations for both employees and customers.

Honolulu police have issued citations or made arrests in 44 cases, and Honolulu Liquor Commission investigators, who regulate businesses that serve alcohol, have issued six notices of violation since new mandates issued by Mayor Rick Blangiardi went into effect Sept. 13 — and are scheduled to continue for the subsequent 60 days to help curb the spread of COVID-19 on Oahu….

read … Over 160 Oahu businesses violate new COVID-19 mandates

Oahu restaurants seeing drop in sales after proof of vaccination mandate

KHON: … Rick Nakashima, partner operator of Ruby Tuesday Hawaii and Gyu-Kaku Hawaii, said he noticed a steep decline in sales ever since Safe Access Oahu was introduced. The program requires sit-down restaurants to ask customers for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken 48 hours prior to dine-in under Honolulu orders.

“When the Safe Access program started 15 days ago, we really felt that,” Nakashima said. “We dropped another 40% to 50% off of really poor numbers already.”

Walk-up businesses like The Butcher and Bird located inside Salt at Our Kakaako is also feeling the loss. Owner Charles Wakeman said since customers order and leave within 15 minutes, they are not required to follow the vaccination program, but they remain affected due to less foot traffic.

“The added layer to going out for something that is going to be supposedly leisurely and fun and something that is kind of a treat, it’s taking away from the experience,” Wakeman said, “and I think a lot of people are just deciding to stay home and ride it out.”…

Meanwhile, the Hawaii Restaurant Association Executive Director Sheryl Matsuoka said she has heard from members who are seeing revenue cut in half compared to 2019….

MN: Some of Mayor Michael Victorino’s “Safer Outside” mandates may be loosened as early as this Friday

read … Oahu restaurants seeing drop in sales after proof of vaccination mandate

‘It’s just heartbreaking’: City’s changes on gathering rules baffle wedding planners

HNN: … The city on Monday quietly posted an update on its website, saying any ceremony that stays within the state’s gathering limits is allowed. But wedding planners say they’re still having to argue with police who have been showing up to ceremonies, claiming they’re violating the rules.

Lauren Carson is the co-owner of Weddings of Hawaii. She says police came by one of their ceremonies in Waimanalo on Tuesday, but it wasn’t the first time.

“And we’re still being told by the officers that we were breaking the law essentially by having illegal weddings,” said Carson. “And so that just provides a lot of stress on a ceremony, they’ve already cut their guest count.”

Carson said the officers referred to the city’s executive order — which was first imposed in August, then extended in September — which includes weddings on the list of prohibited events.

But for the past week, the city’s website has said weddings can operate if they follow indoor and outdoor guidelines.

On Monday, the city quietly updated its executive order saying weddings are allowed if they follow the gathering limits of 10 indoors and 25 outdoors….

read … ‘It’s just heartbreaking’: City’s changes on gathering rules baffle wedding planners

Another CWS Fail: Trial resumes in toddler murder case

WHT: … Police arrested in August 2018 Alcosiba-McKenzie, who was the boy’s caregiver, on suspicion of attempted second-degree murder and later released her. Charges were not formally filed until an October 2019 indictment, which stated Alcosiba-McKenzie intentionally or knowingly caused the death of Garett-Garcia including voluntarily omitting to obtain reasonable necessary and available medical service.

Alcosiba-McKenzie has been free on supervised release since her arrest following the indictment.

Meanwhile, a wrongful death lawsuit filed in April 2019 by Garett-Garcia’s parents Sherri-Ann Garett and Juben Garcia against the state Department of Human Services, Catholic Charities, state-licensed caregivers Chasity Alcosiba-McKenzie and Clifton McKenzie and others, continues….

read … Trial resumes in toddler murder case

Another CWS Fail: Hawaii Island man sentenced for abusing foster kids in his care

HNN: … A 37-year-old Hilo man who abused two children he was caring for as a foster parent has been sentenced to 10 years behind bars.

In June, Christopher John Kunishige pleaded no contest to kidnapping, first-degree terrorist threatening and two counts of felony abuse of a household member.

The felony abuse charges were for choking the minors.

The Hawaii County Prosecutor’s Office said the charges stemmed from incidents in 2014 and 2015, when Kunishige was a foster parent ….

read … Hawaii Island man sentenced for abusing foster kids in his care

Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Gives $30M in Free Rent to Solar Developers

SA: … The first community solar farm on DHHL land is expected to be built just beyond the end of a runway at Kalaeloa Airport, and would discount electricity to many or possibly most of the agency’s roughly 4,000 homesteaders on Oahu for 25 years.

An initial 1.7-megawatt phase is projected to begin operating in late 2022, followed by another 7 megawatts within three to five years, though the second phase is subject to a competitive award by Hawaiian Electric if the PUC approves the utility’s community solar expansion plan….

All the electricity from the solar farm would flow into Hawaiian Electric’s grid for general distribution. Bill discounts would be provided to select beneficiaries who sign up.

Initially, the community solar model involved community members paying a project’s developer either a one-time or monthly fee that would help finance the project and earn the investor a bigger return in the form of electricity bill discounts.

Now the model is to provide the electricity bill discount at no cost to community members who simply enroll to receive the benefit….

This 6-megawatt project on 40 acres of DHHL land in Kalaoa is planned by Nexamp Solar LLC. DHHL selected the developer in March following a request for proposals in 2020 — though development is dependent on a competitive bid award by Hawaiian Electric, if the PUC approves the utility’s community solar expansion plan.

Julie Beauchemin, a Nexamp representative, told meeting participants that the discount from the Kalaoa project likely would be 10% to 15%.

Another community solar plan DHHL selected in March is a 15-megawatt project on up to 88 acres in Nanakuli to be developed by the nonprofit International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Energy.

DHHL also has plans for a 15-megawatt community solar project on about 100 acres in Kalaeloa on the east side of the airport runways. This project, proposed by the firm Innergex, could be ready for operation at the end of 2023.

Some DHHL beneficiaries have criticized the agency, which has yet to provide homesteads to roughly 28,000 people on a wait list, for making commercial use of its lands….

Because the price for solar energy has come down a lot over the past decade and the shift to community solar, DHHL agreed to lower annual lease rent from original terms that began at about $300,000 and rose to about $425,000.

Arion’s annual lease rent is $125,000 plus 1% of gross income….

($425K-$125K = $300K x 25 yrs = $7.5M … x 4 = $30M?)

Related:

read … State embracing ‘shared solar’ energy farms on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands land

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