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Tuesday, June 27, 2023
June 27, 2023 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 4:59 PM :: 2467 Views

How Does $10B Disappear? 

Grassroot Institute urges Maui Council to reject higher tax burden

“Pandemic in Paradise: An Insider’s View of COVID Corruption in Hawai‘i”

SA: … A former COVID-19-era epidemiological specialist who was fired from the state Health Department after saying “contact tracers” were woefully understaffed and overworked under dangerous conditions faces an arbitration hearing in July, followed by a possible trial over her lawsuit alleging wrongful dismissal.

Jennifer Smith, who is asserting whistleblower protection, sued the state after she was fired in 2021 after the Health Department claimed she posted inappropriate messages on social media and released confidential information, which Smith denies….

Smith said the Attorney General’s Office last week sent her an “insulting” settlement offer….

Smith told the Star-­Advertiser in a telephone interview that contact tracers — including five colleagues she worked with at the Department of Health — quickly became overwhelmed and were constantly exposed to potential COVID-19 carriers while collecting samples from cruise ships and people living in overcrowded conditions.

One contact tracer collected samples from 20 people living in a single apartment, Smith said.

Smith said her colleagues also risked exposure by regularly leaving the Health Department office on Punchbowl and Beretania streets to deliver food to COVID-19 patients isolated in hotel rooms and to drive them to and from their hotels before and after isolation.

There was no plan who would resume the work if one of the contact tracers returned to the Health Department and exposed everyone else, Smith claims….

“I emailed. We asked for meetings. We asked for daily briefings. Nothing. Crickets.”

At one point, Smith claims, she was told by her direct supervisor, “If you don’t like it, find another job.”

Smith has published a book titled “Pandemic in Paradise: An Insider’s View of COVID Corruption in Hawai‘i,” published in November by Ballast Books.

Smith said her intention was to write “a historic document” of a bungled response to a global pandemic.

In the middle of the pandemic — with a vaccine still months away — then-Health Director Bruce Anderson in September 2020 abruptly announced his retirement. Four days later Park was placed on leave after being blamed for failing to build an appropriate COVID-19 testing and contract tracing program.

After speaking out about her concerns to the Honolulu media, Smith initially was suspended with pay, also in September 2020.

After being reinstated, Smith was then fired in May 2021 after supervisors accused her of inappropriate social media posts and releasing confidential information.

“It sends a very chilling message to people who see corruption happening,” Smith said. “Their willingness to come forward in the future will definitely be hampered.”…

read … COVID ‘whistleblower’s’ firing headed to arbitration

Rail Station a Money Spinner for KSBE

SA: … City officials project that transit-oriented development zones within a half-mile radius around the Pouhala station and another station on the Ewa edge of Waipahu a little over a mile away will serve as a long-term magnet for 2,370 new homes.

Contemplated projects include redeveloping 326 senior housing units at two Hawaii Public Housing Authority properties in the area with up to 1,000 new affordable homes.

Kamehameha Schools, which owns 3.5 acres near the Pouhala station including land under a Times Supermarket, is advancing a plan to develop about 530 affordable-housing units on the site along with about 50,000 square feet of commercial space.

“This is truly transit-oriented development,” said trust spokesperson Aron Dote. “We’re expecting people to use rail and the bus line.”

Construction of the two-tower project named Keawalau at Waipahu is projected to begin in 2025.

The city has encouraged more dense development in the area by rezoning 114 acres around the Pouhala station mainly for mixed use in place of zoning that had been restricted largely to either business, industrial or residential use….

HNN: Promise of new housing construction around rail line caught up in contentious height debate

read … Skyline: Waipahu station stands out amid automobile businesses

Rail eminent domain dispute heads to Hawaii high court

SA: … Aspects of a years-long eminent domain dispute over the construction of a rail station within real estate developer Howard Hughes Corp.’s property in Kakaako will face a higher level of judicial scrutiny this week.

The Hawaii State Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments involving the Texas- based developer, doing business here as Victoria Ward Ltd., and the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s 2018 condemnation of about 2 acres containing roughly 25 parcels owned by the developer — from Cooke to Kamakee streets. The property was originally slated for mixed-use development within Ward Village, but sought by the rail agency for the planned rail line’s Kakaako Station near Ward Avenue.

Projected cost to taxpayers to acquire the property has been reported to be as much as $200 million, with HART by 2021 having spent nearly $23.3 million in legal fees over the planned Kakaako station….

read … Rail eminent domain dispute heads to Hawaii high court

Family waits years for building permit after neglecting to pay bribes, DPP blames victims

KITV: … "We moved to Hawai'i three years ago because three of my kids have a blood disorder. We came here for healing and I feel like we're kind of suffering," Bublik added.

(Translation: They have never heard of malasadas.)

The wait for the permit has been especially frustrating for the Bublik family because all seven of them have been cramped in a small rental in the meantime.

"What we thought was going to be four months is already 16 months of us living there," Bublik said.

However, DPP responded to Bublik's claims with the following:

The Department of Planning and Permitting has met with and communicated with the applicant on several occasions.  (And they never once offered us malasadas or anything of value.)

In April 2022, while the applicant’s building permit application for additions/alterations to the existing dwelling was being processed, the applicant illegally demolished the structure without a permit, and therefore received a notice of violation (NOV).  At that time, the application was deemed null and void because it was no longer an addition/alteration to an existing structure as the structure had been demolished.

Beginning in May 2022, the DPP received numerous complaints that construction on a new dwelling was being done without the required permits. In June 2022, the DPP issued an additional NOV and stop-work-order for the construction without a permit.  Follow-up inspections revealed that work was continuing and that the stop-work-order was ignored. The DPP issued a notice of order and began assessing civil fines ($200 initial, $200 daily; later increased to $500 a day).

In June 2022, the DPP received a building permit application for a new dwelling unit.  In March, 2023, we finally received an application for a demolition permit to correct the illegal demolition.  Both are under review. Until the permit applications are approved, the notices of violation and notices of order remain open and pending….

read … They didn’t pay a bribe

Hawaii Foster Kids Are Sleeping In Hotels And State Offices. They Have Nowhere Else To Go

CB: … It used to be a rare occurrence. 

But in recent months, more Hawaii foster children have been sleeping in Child Welfare Services offices and in hotels as the state struggles to find homes ready and willing to take them in.

At least a half dozen foster children in the last nine months have found themselves without anywhere else to go, state officials said. It’s a last-resort scenario that is nevertheless better than the street, they said. 

“We don’t like to do it, but that is the only option,” Social Services Division Administrator Daisy Hartsfield said.

… There was a monthly average of 1,555 in foster care but only 1,145 foster homes in fiscal year 2021, the most recent year for which data is publicly available….

HJ: Finding Their Forever Homes

read … Hawaii Foster Kids Are Sleeping In Hotels And State Offices. They Have Nowhere Else To Go

Special Interests Spent More To Lobby The Hawaii Legislature This Year

CB: … Recently filed reports show lobbying expenditures during the 2023 legislative session were higher than any of the past five years….Airbnb topped the list of big spenders, followed by tobacco giant Altria Client Services and its affiliates and then by shipping company Young Brothers. …

Altria’s $104,000 of lobbying expenditures were countered by $57,000 spent by Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund, part of the ongoing saga around electronic cigarettes….

Airbnb and Turo, which is like Airbnb but for cars – are ranked in the top six spenders, respectively reporting about $104,000 and about $79,000 in expenditures.  Both platforms are controversial in Hawaii. …

Hilton Grand Vacations, which deals in timeshare resorts, reported spending about $85,000 on lobbying in the hospitality sector this session, another hot topic. …

Other prominent spenders this session included Hawaii State Teachers Association and groups in the health care industry like Hawaii Medical Service Association….

Phantom Fireworks, ranked 14th in expenditures, reported spending $57,600.

FairVote, a national-level advocacy group leading the charge for ranked-choice voting, ranked 194th this session. It reported spending about $7,900.  …

Compensation paid to lobbyists amounted to about $5.2 million of the almost $5.6 million total….

read … Special Interests Spent More To Lobby The Hawaii Legislature This Year

EV drivers on Oahu will see a new road usage charge

KITV: … Senate Bill1534, passed out of the 2023 legislative session will create a mileage-based road usage charge that will impact all electric vehicles first. Drivers will pay based on how much they use the roadways.

The Road Usage Charge (RUC) program will eliminate the annual $50 surcharge for electric vehicles.

“Your average EV driver will not pay more than what they’re paying now, they can only possibly pay less. The money would go fixing potholes and maintaining the highways,” said Senator Chris Lee, district 25.

Some residents believe this goes against the state's goal to go clean and drive electric.

They asked, “how did the state go from providing incentives to get people to purchase more expensive electric vehicles such as free parking at meters and at the airport to now being singled out for higher registration fees and the road usage charge?”…

read … EV drivers on Oahu will see a new road usage charge 

Honolulu couple arrested in connection with fatal mass overdose; fentanyl distribution ring exposed

HNN: … A Honolulu couple has been arrested in connection with a suspected mass overdose incident in Waikiki that left two people dead and three others hospitalized in early June, according to a federal criminal complaint filed today.

Avery Garrard and Keina Drageset were arrested on June 23 and were each charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute, resulting in death.

“They were the suppliers and part of the distribution chain of the fentanyl that resulted in the deaths,” Joshua Kent, special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, wrote in an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against the couple….

Kent said federal investigators found 500 grams of fentanyl, along with an undescribed amount of meth and $100,000 in cash, in a safe during a search of the Garrard’s and Drageset’s Symphony Honolulu apartment.

And when federal investigators arrested the couple in Drageset’s white Tesla, the feds alleged that the car also contained drugs.

According to Kent, a search of postal records and the couple’s laptop computer showed that Garrard and Drageset ordered the drugs from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Palm Desert, Calif., using encrypted communications on the Dark Web.

The feds said the case is also based on the testimony of confidential informants who acquired the drugs from the couple and later sold them to the victims….

(Its amazing what happens when the Feds work a drug case.)

read … Honolulu couple arrested in connection with fatal mass overdose; fentanyl distribution ring exposed

Honolulu Board of Water Supply will invest more than $43M for a new reservoir in Waiawa

HNN: … The Red Hill water crisis forced the Board of Water Supply to shut down its Halawa Shaft, which supplied about 20 percent of the water needs of residents from Moanalua to Hawaii Kai.

Right now, the Board of Water Supply says its stored water capacity for urban Honolulu is short by about 55 million gallons.

It says the planned reservoir in Waiawa — which will store water for use in urban Honolulu — could help offset a big chunk of that deficit.

The project — next to the H2 freeway — will store up to 8.5 million gallons of water drawn from nearby wells far away from the contaminated Red Hill well.

The project is currently in the environmental assessment process. It also needs state and county permits before construction can begin….

read … Honolulu Board of Water Supply will invest more than $43M for a new reservoir in Waiawa

Maui News for Sale

MN: …The Ogden Newspapers announced Monday that it is exploring options for the possible sale of their Maui Publishing group and is planning to accept offers from interested parties over the next few weeks….

(Next: Like all the other sister isle newspapers, Maui News will be sold to Black Press, Ltd, parent company of the Star-Adv.)

Contract negotiations between The Maui News and the Pacific Media Workers Guild, which represents Maui Publishing Group union members, have been in ongoing for several years. Recently signs have been appearing in the windows of local businesses calling for Ogden to “sell locally.” 

read … Ogden Newspapers exploring options for new ownership of The Maui News

Profitable Nonprofit: $40M for  Hauula ‘Resiliency Hub’

CB: … Residents in Hauula have been working for years to build Oahu’s first-ever resiliency hub, a storm-resistant center that could better protect their rural, isolated and vulnerable North Shore community after a hurricane, tsunami or other disaster.

So far, the community nonprofit Hui O Hauula has managed to raise about $3 million from city, state and private sources for a facility that is now estimated to cost more than $40 million, according to Dotty Kelly-Paddock, the executive director.

But Kelly-Paddock is hopeful that the city’s recent receipt of “direct technical assistance” from the federal government to help further the Hauula effort, plus develop a broader network of resiliency hubs around Hawaii’s most populous island, could get them closer to their goal.

read … $40M

Suicide Tourists Must Register to Vote in Hawaii to get death pills

SA: … Only Hawaii residents who are adults, mentally capable and medically confirmed to have six months or less to live may hasten their deaths under Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 327L, which is known as the “Our Care, Our Choice” Act.

According to HRS 327L-13, factors demonstrating state residency include but are not limited to possession of a Hawaii driver’s license or civil identification card, registration to vote in Hawaii, evidence that the patient owns or leases property in Hawaii, or filing of a Hawaii tax return for the most recent tax year….

read … Can tourists use ‘Our Care, Our Choice’ law?

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