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Sunday, June 19, 2011
June 19, 2011 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 4:19 PM :: 6759 Views :: Maui County News, Congressional Delegation, Honolulu County News, Democratic Party, Hawaii State Government, Republican Party

Big Projects in Hawaii - Why Are They Stuck?

One-Step-Up Housing: Berg to hold Makaha Town Meeting July 12

June 23 Washington Middle School: Abercrombie to hear from public on Pro Bowl

Fathers Matter: Involved Dads Impact Children’s Lives and Civil Society

Abercrombie's New Day: Activist backers bypassed in favor of Corporate Developers

Ian Lind: …how about Gov. Abercrombie’s latest move, a formal request to members of key boards and commissions to resign in order to let him pack the boards with his own appointees.

This seems like an ill-considered move and a dangerous precedent…. I hope most of those appointees receiving these letters asking for their resignations will file them in the nearest wastebasket. Thanks, but no thanks.

Meanwhile, I’m becoming more worried about what the governor’s “new day” might mean.

I think many who voted for the governor expected “community partners” to mean communities themselves being given meaningful roles in determining their own futures. Now many are worried that community organizations, especially progressive ones, are being bypassed as the administration cuts deals with corporate developers and other special interests that the rest of us will not hear about until it’s too late for meaningful community input.

I talked to several activists this week who are deeply frustrated with the administration. One said they had been trying to contact the governor’s office on an issue of mutual concern and public interest, but had not even gotten the courtesy of an acknowledgement of phone messages or emails, much less a place at the table.

Another person expressed fear the administration is slighting its community allies while catering to corporate interests, perhaps driven by budgetary and economic concerns. There’s worry the governor’s desire to move quickly and sweep away bureaucratic impediments to quick action will really mean sacrificing environmental protections along with inclusive planning and decision-making….

These concerns are growing among those who were strong campaign supporters who cheered Gov. Abercrombie’s election. As one person told me: “People are asking me, ‘WTF is up with Neil?’”

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Abercrombie’s New Day: Permanent Tax Increases and No Reserve Funds

Borreca: Moody's Investor Services and Fitch Ratings, just finished kicking the fiscal tires out here. Both downgraded the state. Not by much, but the small thumbs-down adds a bit of reality to the glowing reports that the budget is balanced, this is the best of all possible worlds and that Gov. Neil Abercrombie's "New Day Hawaii" is working.

Both rating services picked up on the fact that Hawaii plans to spend most of its reserve funds, the Hurricane Relief Fund and the rainy day fund. The $180 million once tucked away in the HRF was a favorite for the bond rating agencies.

The boys on Wall Street could look at that fund and think, "Well, Hawaii can always tap the Hurricane Fund if things get really bad."

So we spent it. Now what?

"The downgrade reflects the state's minimal financial cushion against risks inherent in an economy dominated by the volatile tourism sector following the depletion of previously large balances, as well as the state's significant and growing long-term liabilities," Fitch dryly observes.

What it means is: "Those magic beans we bought to plant, well, we ate them last night for supper."

Back in the day (fiscal year 2006-07), Hawaii was packing a $785.8 million surplus.

Clearly not believing the vows that we must balance the budget every year, the agency warned that in the real world, this year's tax increases may be permanent.

"While the plan projects that ending balances will grow from the projected fiscal 2011 level, absent extension of the temporary tax increases or offsetting spending reductions in the next biennium, Fitch expects it may be difficult to retain those balances in future years," said the June 15 report.

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Slom: Appointees should reject Abercrombie’s call for resignation

Sam Slom, Hawaii's only Republican senator, visited Kona Saturday to give his take on the legislative session that has just passed -- and he wasn't too impressed.

"You know how people have said before, 'You get the government you deserve?' I don't think anybody deserves this government," the Hawaii Kai and Aina Haina senator said as he addressed a meeting sponsored by the Kona Tea Party at Kona Vistas Pavilion….

Slom also criticized Gov. Neil Abercrombie's recent call for members of the state's Stadium Authority and other boards to step down, saying no other governor had overstepped his authority as much as Hawaii's current executive.

"It's a free country -- he can ask them to resign -- but I hope they say 'go fly a kite,'" Slom said.

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DLNR could lose $500K/yr if Company run by Abercrombie cronies fails to fix Historic Preservation

The Department of Land and Natural Resources said last week that it had awarded the $186,387 contract to Solutions Pacific LLC.

Last year, a National Park Service report said the division failed to maintain a readily accessible historic properties database and had unqualified people reviewing federal projects affecting historic properties.

The park service warned that the state could lose more than $500,000 in federal grants each year unless it fixed the problems identified in the investigation.

"Loss of its status would have significant and devastating impacts on both heritage protection and timely processing of federal actions in Hawaii," the department's statement said.

Not Mentioned: Privatization of Historic Preservation Division $186,000 Contract Goes to Abercrombie Supporters

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HSTA Sabotage of Race to the Top

A federal team will visit Hawaii this week to check on the state's progress in implementing ambitious Race to the Top reforms at a time when the state Department of Education is hammering out union agreements to meet key pledges and facing big budget reductions that could slow improvements….

…the update also pointed to several challenges, such as the department's difficulty in pushing through tougher graduation requirements; mounting budget cuts, including a $32.8 million budget reduction over the next two fiscal years; and ongoing labor negotiations.

The DOE is negotiating a labor contract with teachers for the upcoming two school years, and is also seeking agreements needed to meet key Race to the Top goals, including for teacher evaluations based in part on student growth….

The superintendent is also pushing back plans to lengthen the instructional day in "zone" schools, in part because union agreements are still pending. The DOE had hoped to offer a longer school day for children in the zones in the upcoming school year.

(In other words NONE of the real reforms have been agreed and Matayoshi is relying on her ability to BS the feds. The purpose of this article is to instruct the HSTA to go along with the dog-n-pony show until the fed leave.)

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SA: Big Wind must be transparent

Wind energy is cited among the green alternatives to fossil fuel, but environmental and community groups are irritated about the handling of a massive project to transmit energy to Oahu from windmills on Lanai and Molokai. They should be provided more access to preliminary work on the plan by state agencies and Hawaiian Electric Co., and hold project members to promises of full access and participation at future venues.

HECO is seeking a "power purchase agreement" from the Public Utilities Commission to recover $4 million from ratepayers in costs for studies associated with the Big Wind, or Interisland Wind, project. The PUC has endorsed the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, which mandates that 40 percent of the state's energy come from renewable sources by 2030, so the studies are consistent with the state's goals. The path to getting there, though, has the potential to keep lay people in the dark until it emerges as a fait accompli.

Even Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa is complaining that "no one can tell us where the cable will run, its overall cost or how it would interconnect with the grids on the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.… We need a clear, complete, accurate, detailed analysis for the cable system before we agree to finance it on the backs of the ratepayers."….

The attempt by Honolulu-based Life of the Land to intervene so it could gain access to all the information about the project has been rejected by the PUC. The environmental organization's executive director, Henry Curtis, said his attempt to obtain public documents from the state has been resisted. Curtis said the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism said it would cost Life of the Land $15,000 for photocopies of all its Big Wind material, and the PUC would charge $8,000 for copies of its documents.

PUC Chairwoman (anti-Superferry protester) Hermina Morita says it complied with the law on Curtis's request, which asked for an overabundance of information (see today's Letters to the Editor), and that anyone can view the commission's website.

Morita: PUC complied with law about requests

Wind Farm Documents Online:

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Big Wind Information hidden from Public

HECO, the PUC and the consumer advocate have consistently hidden critical information from those who will be most affected - HECO/Maui Electric Co. ratepayers. Many of the studies for which HECO is requesting the $4 million payback have been withheld from public view, as have the documents outlining the HECO/C&C/First Wind/Pattern Energy deals. Big Wind has not exactly been an open and transparent process.

Mayor Alan Arakawa and Doug McLeod, Maui County's energy coordinator, are to be commended for standing up for Maui County citizens.

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Maui County Targets Low-Income Homeowners for Tax Hike

data released by the county Finance Department show that an increasing number pay the minimum tax of just $150 per year.

Almost a third of all homeowners today pay the minimum, compared to only 5 percent eight years ago. In total, the number of homeowners who pay the lowest amount of property taxes possible has increased by 800 percent since 2003, to 8,461 households this year.

The Maui County Council is now considering a proposal to lower the exemption to $200,000.

A separate proposal being considered would tighten restrictions on who can qualify for the homeowner exemption and give finance officials more ways to catch people claiming the exemption illegally.

The homeowner exemption and low homeowner rate apply to people who use their property as their primary residence. Homeowners also can qualify for the "circuit breaker" tax credit, which allows them to cap the amount of taxes they pay, based on their income.

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KGI Joins Luddites to Kill Hydro Power on Kauai

The leadership of our island’s electric co-op has overstepped its bounds with a broad campaign to influence how members vote on the reconsideration of a recent board action.

Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative has misrepresented the facts in its ongoing effort to sway the outcome of a vote on the Board of Directors’ May 9 decision approving a Development Services Agreement and an LLC Assignment Agreement that KIUC staff negotiated with Free Flow Power Corporation.

Despite the onslaught of radio spots, ads and propaganda online, members are not deciding the future of renewable energy for the island.

KIUC’s website incredulously accurately states that a “yes” vote means, in part, “You believe KIUC should continue its careful, inclusive process of exploring new hydropower for Kaua‘i” and “You believe that after 80 years of failed attempts, your utility should not delay further in creating a responsible hydropower legacy for your children and grandchildren.”

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Most Fired, Suspended TSA Officers Will Appeal

Glen Kajiyama, TSA Honolulu’s federal security director, was fired June 3. His second in command, Assistant Federal Security Director for screening William Gulledge, was also terminated. Both are former Honolulu Police Department officer, Kajiyama having served as the deputy police chief and Gulledge was a major.

A third TSA manager, Deputy Assistant Federal Security Director for Screening Adam Myers, was also dismissed, a source said. Two supervisors also lost their jobs, according to people familiar with the situation.

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Police union contract negotiations underway

The clock is ticking for the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers contract.

It expires at the end of this month.

SHOPO's President says he's fighting to keep Honolulu Police officers salaries the same.

The union's President says he's worried that many police officers will retire if their pay is cut.

"There's no way we're going to accept a 5% pay cut." says Tenari Ma'afala, President of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.

That's what the city is asking Honolulu police officers to take.

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37 Priors and he’s out on Probation

"On June 2, 2007 at 8:45 p.m. two undercover officers working in the area of Paoakalani and Kaneloa Street doing surveillance on reports of thefts from vehicles. They observe a male exiting a Toyota carrying several plastic bags, they drive around the block come back and he's rummaging through the bags. So they stop talk to him and find there's numerous passports, IDs, credit cards in this plastic bag," said Kim Buffett of CrimeStoppers.

Martin was arrested for theft. Police also found drugs and drug paraphernalia on him.

He's now wanted on a $20,000 warrant in connection with that case for not complying with the terms of HOPE probation.

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1,525 cited in seat-belt enforcement spree

Honolulu police gave out 35 percent fewer tickets for seat-belt violations during the just-concluded Click It or Ticket enforcement campaign, the third consecutive year citations have declined.

"The awareness is out there and it seems that we're getting through to people," said Dan Meisenzahl, state Department of Transportation spokesman.

Hawaii was No. 1 in the nation in seat-belt usage in 2010 at 97.6 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The state has been above 90 percent for the past eightyears. Wyoming drivers were the least buckled-in, at 67.6 percent. The national average in 2010 was 85 percent.

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Drug Court participants earn money, gain self-esteem working at Mililani farm

Wayne Ogasawara runs a farm in Mililani, and has hired Usuvale and two other Drug Court participants in the past month.

"Some people have asked me aren't you afraid. I say, gee, afraid of what," Ogasawara of Mililani Agricultural Park said. "These are just human beings like everybody else. I think if they're treated fairly and with respect, I think you'll get the same kind of respect and consideration from them."

Those in the program undergo regular drug testing, and must appear before Judge Steven Alm once a week to start. When Alm became the presiding Drug Court judge three months ago, he issued a challenge -- 100 percent employment for the offenders in the program.

"It's hard enough to find a job if you have a record on probation. It's worse if you come out of prison," Alm said. "Whether it's fair or not, people are going to think you're dangerous. Many people can be successfully supervised in the community."

Ogasawara has found that people who have served jail time are usually punctual, know how to take instructions, and respect authority. Usuvale works side by side with his other employees.

"The guys that are all working for a living, rub shoulders with them, have lunch with them," Ogasawara said. "That, itself, I think is therapeutic."

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Hope that the UH medical school would spark investment still remains unfulfilled

At the core of this vision is the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, which opened its campus in Kakaako in 2005 and was touted as the magnet to attract high-technology companies that would share research and lucrative ventures.

That critical mass was never established partly because of economic problems that prevented installation of costly laboratory and research space for companies that develop biotechnology, health therapies and medical devices….

Landowner Kamehameha Schools continues to evaluate the feasibility of a proposed $200 million Asia-Pacific Innovation Center adjacent to the medical school, initially envisioned to provide substantial research space, including wet labs that would be available to bioscience-related enterprises….

"The cost of building laboratory and supporting office space is considerably higher than typical office projects, and so our biggest challenge has been finding viable tenants with funding to support the project."

IN A first step in redeveloping Kakaako, Kamehameha is moving forward on a master-planned urban neighborhood with the first phase of apartments scheduled to open by the end of 2012. Kamehameha's vision for the project is to support scientists and other workers at a life sciences campus.

(Biotech is one of the most entrepreneurial business on Earth, but in Hawaii it is though of as a KSBE land-development issue and a UH spending program.  That is why bio-tech is failing in Hawaii.) 

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Internet tax still on Hawaii legislative agenda for next year

Bills are pending in Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Texas lawmakers passed such a measure, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it. Now legislators are trying to resurrect the bill by attaching it to a larger budget measure. The matter is now before a conference committee.

Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, J.C. Penney, Sears and other traditional retailers have formed The Alliance for Main Street Fairness to push for more stringent tax laws on Internet retailers. Brick-and-mortar stores saw sales plunge 9.1 percent between 2007-2009, while online merchants saw sales rise 4.8 percent, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau….

But local Internet marketers that link to major Internet retailers complain the laws would hurt them. In Illinois and other states where such laws have passed, Internet retailers cut their ties with local web sites.

Johnson, of Overstock, said the traditional retail giants are just getting a taste of their own medicine.

“Local retailers complained that the big-box stores were coming in and taking their business, and the Wal-Marts of the world said they had a better business model and the world has changed,” Johnson said. “Today, the business model has changed and we can take cost out of the supply chain by doing business the way we do on the Internet. And for Wal-Mart, of all people, to be saying it’s not fair that Amazon and Overstock can’t be forced to be tax collectors is ironic.”

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Military studies Waikane Valley bomb cleanup

Up a rutted road in jungly Waikane Valley, past the old Ka Mauna 'o 'Oliveta Church, through a locked gate and beyond a security fence is the former Kamaka family farm, the now-defunct military training range that replaced it, and the long-held hope -- going on decades now -- that the land can be returned to the agricultural and cultural place it used to be.

Waikane Valley is one of dozens of former military training sites in Hawaii undergoing the slow, arduous and sometimes painful process that goes along with demilitarization.

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