Latest Articles

  • Neal Milner: ‘Shady Characters’ Tell a Spicy History of Hawaii

    · By Neal Milner

    Ronald Ching, the first and only hit man Hawaii’s long-time investigative reporter James Dooley ever interviewed, was not your average professional killer.

    Dooley writes about Ching and many other Hawaii crime and corruption stories, all of which he first brought to light as a news reporter, in his new book “Sunny Skies, Shady Characters: Cops, Killers, and Corruption in the Aloha State.”

    Ching wasn’t a loner protecting his anonymity by living quietly and staying in the shadows. In his day job he was a Teamster TV and movie production truck driver who regularly appeared on the set of “Magnum, P.I.”

    James Dooley’s new book

    Ronnie, as his friends called him, was also different because he was not interested in murder contract offers from some anonymous person thousands of miles away. No flying first class with a thin valise concealing who knows what to bump off a stranger.

    Instead, Ching liked to do his killing close to his home. Really close to his house.

    Among other murders, Ching was convicted of a kidnapping and killing that took place in the parking lot of his Kapiolani Boulevard apartment. He also admitted to a hit that took place in a bar just a block from that same building.

    In fact, less than an hour after that bar killing and while the cops were still there, Ching strolled back to the bar to see how things were going down there.

    Have gun, will travel — between Chinatown and Ala Moana.

    As Dooley

  • Will Honolulu Ethics Commission Take the Gag Off its Director?

    · By Anita Hofschneider

    The Honolulu Ethics Commission may backtrack on its recently adopted news media policy that prohibited Executive Director Chuck Totto and other staff members from interpreting or commenting on the commission’s decisions and advisory opinions.

    But contradictory statements in a new proposed policy drafted by Vice Chair Michael Lilly raise questions about whether Totto would still have to seek approval before talking to the media.

    Chair Katy Chen, Lilly and commissioners Stephen Silva and Stanford Yuen are backing a motion to discard the restrictive news media policy adopted last month.

    Honolulu Ethics Commission Executive Director Chuck Totto

    Nick Grube/Civil Beat

    The seven-member commission plans to meet 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Standard Financial Plaza to consider whether to replace it with another one drafted by Lilly. Also on the agenda is Totto’s performance evaluation.

    Lilly and Commissioner Riki May Amano requested that the commission consider the new draft media policy that would allow Totto to respond to media inquiries “in normal course.”

    Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, said he’s glad the commission is reconsidering its news media policy.

    “The June policy was a heavy-handed way to address any dissatisfaction that the commission had with the executive director and statements he may have made in the past,” Black said. “And that policy was stifling in a way that is counterproductive to the commission’s education mission.”

    But Black pointed out that while the third paragraph of the proposed new policy gives the executive director the ability to respond

  • Denby Fawcett: Saving Ala Moana Beach Park for the People

    · By Denby Fawcett

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell says he is moving ahead with nine key projects to renovate and improve sections of Ala Moana Beach Park.

    The mayor says the city’s plans do not involve commercializing the park.

    “We have heard loud and clear that people do not want the park commercialized,” the mayor said at a news conference Wednesday.

    He says the nine projects will be done in phases, with the last work expected to finished by May 2017.

    Caldwell says the goal is to fix what’s broken at Ala Moana Beach Park, better maintain what’s working, and provide new enhancements for residents, including clean, safe bathrooms and food concessions serving plate lunches.

    “It is the people’s park but it is showing its age. It is 81 years old. The changes will not be massive, but they will make the park better,” says Caldwell.

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell shows how the city plans to improve Ala Moana Beach Park.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The mayor took a huge political hit from concerned residents in March when he announced he had hired a mainland consulting firm for $1.2 million to create plans to renovate Ala Moana Beach Park. He said then that everything was on the table, including possible new commercial features in the park.

    Critics worried that meant the city was moving ahead to gentrify Ala Moana Park for out-of-state investors who are now snapping up the multi-million dollar condominiums under construction in Kakaako and Ala Moana Center.

    Park goers were worried that new commercial restaurants would spring up in the

  • The Projector: A Week of Celebrations and Protests

    · By Cory Lum

    Ready to Ride The Pa’u Queen and attendants on horseback, representing the island of Lanai, stage behind Iolani Palace for the start of the annual Kamehameha floral parade Saturday.

    Pride and Protest The Pa’u Queen encounters a ‘Free Hawaii’ demonstrator during the Kamehameha floral parade.

    Rail Keeps Rising Honolulu rail supports are worked on near Waipahu on Wednesday, a day after bids were opened for the construction of three more rail stations.

    A Destination Tree Japanese visitors take photographs under the canopy of the monkeypod tree at Moanalua Gardens on Tuesday. Known as the Hitachi tree, it has been featured in an iconic advertisement for decades and many Japanese seek it out during their Hawaiian visits.

    Hoisting a Big One Members of the Yosakoi Mai Friends carry a large red koi down Kalakaua Avenue during the Pan-Pacific Festival Parade on Sunday.

    Dancing in the Street Performers from the Okigeidai Ryukyugeinou Senkou OB Kai dance along the Waikiki parade route.

    Bring Out the Lions Chinese lion dancers from Lung Kong Kung Shaw march in the Pan-Pacific Festival Parade.

    Not On Board Demonstrators hold signs along Punchbowl Street as state Board of Education members meet Tuesday to approve a policy requiring schools to offer sex education.

    Leaving the Board Board of Education Chairman Don Horner and outgoing BOE member Cheryl Lupenui share a honi at the meeting.

    Waikiki Sunset Saturday ends

  • Nestor Garcia Resigns From KHON2 News

    · By Patti Epler

    Embattled TV news reporter Nestor Garcia says he has resigned his position at KHON2 News.

    Garcia, who recently agreed to pay thousands of dollars in fines related to ethics violations from his service as a Honolulu City Council member before he joined KHON last year, tells Civil Beat he resigned from the station, effective as of Friday.

    “I thought it was best for all that I move on,” he said.

    KHON news director Lori Silva did not return a message seeking comment.

    On Saturday morning, Garcia’s portrait and a written bio had been taken down from the station’s website.

    Reporter Nestor Garcia’s official portrait was missing from KHON’s website on Saturday morning.


    Two weeks ago, Garcia agreed to pay $8,100 in fines for 72 incidents in which he accepted golf games, free meals and others gifts from lobbyists and failed to disclose them before voting on matters related to those lobbyists. Most of the lobbying related to companies involved with the controversial $6 billion Honolulu rail project.

    Garcia was on the City Council from 2003 until 2013. From 1994 until 2002 he was a state legislator. In 2006, he finished eighth out of a field of 10 in the Democratic primary for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District seat.

    While on the Council Garcia also worked as executive director of the Kapolei Chamber of Commerce, an area that has a huge interest in the rail project, which is being built from East Kapolei to the Ala Moana Shopping Center.

    Garcia had worked as a news reporter at KHON

  • Honolulu City Council Overrides Caldwell, Expands Sit-Lie

    · By Nick Grube

    The Honolulu City Council voted 6-3 Wednesday to override Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s veto of a controversial measure that works to shoo the homeless off sidewalks and away from businesses.

    Bill 6 will expand the city’s “sit-lie” ban beyond the business districts of Waikiki, Chinatown, Kaneohe and Kailua to include areas around McCully, Aala and Punchbowl, as well as along the Kapalama Canal where dozens of homeless people have set up tents.

    Caldwell warned the council that an expansion of the city law banning sitting and lying on sidewalks and in pedestrian malls could lead to legal challenges and even result in the entire ordinance being overturned. City attorneys refused to sign off on the bill when it was originally proposed, calling it “illegal.”

    Tents line the sidewalks at Ohe Street near Waterfront Park in Kakaako.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    But several council members disagreed with that assessment, saying that the courts should be allowed to decide just how far the city can go when it comes to keeping public spaces clear of homeless people.

    “Mayor Caldwell seems to think that if the law gets challenged the sky is going to fall on Honolulu and all of our sit-lie ordinances. I disagree,” Councilman Joey Manahan said. “I recognize that the law may be challenged, but the sky is not going to fall.”

    RelatedCan Honolulu’s Sit-Lie Ban Pass Constitutional Muster?May 20How Can ‘Housing First’ Work When the Housing Isn’t There?May 12

    Manahan said a legal challenge could help clarify city ordinances to ensure that there

  • Want to Fill Up Your Homeless Shelter? Ditch Some of the Rules

    · By Rui Kaneya

    The first thing to know about the Next Step homeless shelter is that it’s hard to find.

    Tucked inside a nondescript warehouse on a far end of Pier 1, sandwiched between stacks of steel shipping containers and a tall fence separating the pier from Kakaako Waterfront Park, it’s easy to miss if you don’t already know it’s there.

    But plenty of people do know. On any given night, scores of homeless people arrive at Next Step, looking for a spot in one of the 174 “cubicles” — each 4 feet by 6 feet.

    Run by Waikiki Health, the shelter often attracts more people than it can handle.

    “We sometimes have 10, 15 people outside wanting to get in,” said Richard Kaai, Next Step’s shelter services supervisor. “We have to turn them away because we don’t have any room.”

    Richard Kaai, shelter services supervisor, says homeless people are not subjected to strict rules at Next Step.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    On the face of it, it’s not surprising that the shelter has been operating at its full capacity. Oahu, after all, is home to hundreds of homeless people who could use its services. The latest count in January found that the island had more than 1,900 unsheltered homeless people — an increase of 62.5 percent since 2009.

    But Next Step is bucking a curious trend.

    All around the island, a number of homeless shelters have been operating at well below their capacity, according to the homeless advocacy group PHOCUSED, which has been tracking the shelters’

  • Antiquated Law Spares Lobbyists in Honolulu Ethics Scandal

    · By Nick Grube

    An ongoing ethics probe that so far has resulted in fines for two former Honolulu City Council members accused of accepting illegal gifts from lobbyists has raised serious questions about corruption in local government, particularly as it relates to a controversial $6 billion commuter rail project.

    Despite that, little attention has been paid to those who were doing the courting.

    Nestor Garcia, a KHON news reporter who served on the council from 2003 to 2013, agreed last week to pay an $8,100 fine after the Honolulu Ethics Commission found evidence that he accepted free meals and golf from lobbyists in amounts that exceeded city guidelines and failed to report conflicts of interest while voting on measures related to the rail project and other issues associated with it.

    His settlement stems from a larger investigation that has already forced state Rep. Romy Cachola to pay a $50,000 fine for similar conduct while he was on the council.

    A growing ethics scandal at Honolulu Hale could put rail votes at risk.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The commission is still looking into allegations that other current and former council members, including Ann Kobayashi, Ikaika Anderson, Donovan Dela Cruz and Todd Apo, also received inappropriate gifts from lobbyists. Dela Cruz is currently a state senator and Apo is the director of public affairs at the Disney Aulani resort in Ko Olina. Kobayashi and Anderson are sitting council members.

    But amid the growing scandal — which includes debate about whether key rail votes should be invalidated —

  • Curt Sanburn: Errant Towers or the Oahu That Never Was

    · By Curt Sanburn

    Those two tall and skinny gray towers, planted alone in the narrow ahupuaa of Manana, rising high above Pearl City’s suburban expanse. You know the ones.

    Strange and astray like aliens when I first laid eyes on them in 1984. But, then again, they looked exactly like a building type popping up all over in Honolulu at the time. Maybe they were refugees. I worried these uglies were harbingers of some grim future for the rest of Oahu.

    Two stacks of 43 floors, of stacked households, far from the city out on Kam Highway. But then I got used to them, and when they didn’t reproduce but remained singular and anomalous, they became just another Honolulu idiosyncrasy, like Salt Lake’s bleak landscape or that sidewalk-free tract in Moiliili — the permanent remains of one more sleazy, land-and-power episode in the ongoing construction of Oahu.

    “What kind of planning is that?!” an outraged Gov. George Ariyoshi remarked to a reporter when the towers, called Century Park Plaza, suddenly sprouted in 1983.

    The 43-story Century Park Towers stand out in the suburban expanse of Pearl City.

    D Coetzee via Flickr

    As it turns out, in 1980 the City of Honolulu was itself eyeing the land where the towers now stand as a site to develop some federally funded affordable homes. This is according to veteran planner John P. Whalen, who was, back then, working for the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development, trying to get its poorly managed Community Development Block

  • Curt Sanburn: Looking for Music at the Waikiki Shell

    · By Curt Sanburn

    I was in Honolulu in April and wanted to do something really local, something I couldn’t do anywhere else: listen to music, any kine, at the city’s own Waikiki Shell. Maybe, if I was lucky, there’d be soft trade winds blowing and some silver moonlight, or a light rain blessing blown down from Palolo. Even if I wasn’t lucky, Diamond Head and a recumbent crowd of friendly people would surely be there, on the lawn, having a good time. Maybe I’d wear a lei.

    So I checked the calendar on the Shell’s website, but there was nothing on the schedule for the entire month of April.

    Hmm. Strange.

    The Waikiki Shell was built in 1956. City officials are trying to figure out out to improve a business plan that has been in place for decades.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    I clicked the calendar’s forward button to May. Two commencements — Honolulu Community College and Kaimuki High School — but no music.

    I kept clicking. June has zero events listed. July has two shows: Christopher Cross with Little River Band and Kalapana playing Saturday the 11th, and the MayJah RayJah two-day island/reggae fest going off the weekend of the 24th. August has Augie Tulba hosting his friends for the first annual “Laugh Under the Stars” show on the 1st but nothing else. Zip in September.

    What’s going on? Is the cash-strapped city winding down Shell operations? Or is the aging venue, built in 1956 with a capacity of 8,400, with its cheap lawn “seats,” sound

  • A New Approach to the Homeless Problem in Waikiki

    · By Carla Herreria

    One nonprofit is working to change the way we treat homeless people on private property, and they’re starting one security guard at a time.

    The Institute for Human Services, a nonprofit shelter and aid organization in Hawaii, has partnered with the Outrigger Hotel and Resorts security department to train security guards as brand ambassadors for homeless shelters.

    “It’s a very simple thing,” Jerry Dolak, Outrigger security director, told The Huffington Post. “Instead of being the bad guy and just saying, ‘Get out of here,’ now, it’s more like, ‘You can’t stay here, but here is some help if you need it, if you’re even aware of it.’”

    The program, which launched in late April, is sorely needed in Hawaii. According to a new headcount from the City and County of Honolulu, the percentage of Oahu homeless people who are not in a shelter is at its highest since 2009.

    A tarp covers a man as he rests along Kalakaua Avenue.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Changing the Approach

    When Outrigger security guards come across homeless people sleeping or loitering on one of Outrigger’s 10 Waikiki properties, they now engage these individuals, instead of simply kicking them off the property. The security guards give them information about IHS, direct them to the agency’s free shuttle bus to a shelter for a hot meal and a shower, or offer to call an outreach specialist to come out and help the individual.

    Even with a more compassionate approach, it’s not always easy.

    Some homeless people simply refuse the

  • Honolulu City Council Must Stop the Sit-Lie Expansion

    · By The Civil Beat Editorial Board

    The annual homeless head count released recently by the City and County of Honolulu was a damning indictment of the half-baked efforts of city and state leaders to address what has become one of Oahu’s most pressing problems.

    The “point-in-time” count showed that 4,903 homeless people were living on the streets or in the shelters of Oahu when the census was conducted in late January — an increase of nearly 200 individuals over the previous year.

    Despite very public initiatives to address this issue, over the past six years, Oahu’s homeless population has steadily increased, year over year, by a cumulative total of 35 percent. Nearly 1,300 more people are homeless in Honolulu now than in 2009, and most experts feel even this historically high count doesn’t reflect the total population.

    Despite calling homelessness a priority, Mayor Kirk Caldwell has promoted efforts that simply shuffle the problem from one area of the city to another.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    State of Hawaii officials inexplicably greeted this news with optimism, pushing out a news release with a headline proclaiming, “Results Show State is Making Progress.” The actual release text then drew attention to the share of homeless who lack shelter  — 40 percent — being the highest since data were first collected six years ago, and the proportion of sheltered homeless — 60 percent — being the lowest yet recorded.

    Perhaps most troubling, the number of homeless veterans rose by 21 percent over last year to a total of 467. This despite

  • Peter Carlisle: Dropping a Dime on Ethics Scofflaws

    · By Peter Carlisle

    Any colloquial discussion of ethical conduct and government employees should commence with rats.

    To rat on another is to inform on or betray. It used to be to do so required no more effort than dropping a dime. For you youngsters under 40, the reference to a coin may be difficult to comprehend. These days with credit, debit and prepaid phone cards, the use of a coin is an archaic way to make a phone call and a dime is insufficient for either a call or a cup of coffee.

    In the hallowed place where I spent most of my life, the last century, the phrase “dropping a dime” was criminal underworld slang describing surreptitiously providing information to the police. The expression dates from a time when a public pay telephone call cost 10 cents and a dime was dropped into the slot. This facilitated a call to the police or other authority by an anonymous informer without fear of the call being traced.

    State Rep. Romy Cachola serves in the Legislature despite the ethics troubles he ran into stemming from his time as a Honolulu City Council member.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    In this century the dime-dropper has morphed into the wondrous whistleblower. Nowadays a person who truthfully blows the whistle by revealing corruption or wrongdoing in government is often admired and legally protected. So I want to claim some small level of recognition as a whistleblower on a pre-eminent role model of ethical behavior, former City Council member

  • Police Accreditation Committee Should Listen to Public’s Comments

    · By The Civil Beat Editorial Board

    The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies is conducting the Honolulu Police Department’s standard triennial review this spring and soliciting input from the public. But members of the visiting accreditation review committee might not have been prepared for the tenor of testimony they received from citizens and one lawmaker at an open forum on Tuesday night.

    Community members blasted HPD on matters ranging from recent high-profile cases of police brutality to a law that formerly allowed cops to have sex with prostitutes during investigations, according to a report from Civil Beat media partner KITV. The forum reportedly drew more commenters than CALEA reviewers are accustomed to see at such events, and the speakers didn’t hold back.

    Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha during a Honolulu Police Commission meeting.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    State Sen. Laura Thielen took particular aim at how the department has handled domestic violence allegations against its own officers. HPD was the subject of withering criticism last fall when no criminal charges were filed against a police sergeant who was caught on video repeatedly punching his girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant. A member of the Senate Judiciary and Labor committee and of the Women’s Legislative Caucus, Thielen questioned why the department doesn’t enforce its own policies on domestic violence.

    “We currently have a bill in the Legislature requiring those policies to be posted, but frankly I think it’s very sad that we have to get to the point of passing a state law on something where HPD could

  • Secret Subcontractors: What Honolulu Rail Officials Aren’t Telling You

    · By Nick Grube and Bob Porterfield

    Hundreds of contractors and consultants working on Honolulu’s $6 billion rail project are raking in tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, yet there’s little accounting of what they’re actually doing for the money.

    It’s a glaring oversight that state lawmakers and city council members are struggling to reconcile before approving an extension of a half-percent General Excise Tax surcharge that could last anywhere from five to 25 years depending on what shakes out at the Capitol.

    But even with calls for more transparency, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation has been reluctant to release information about how much these companies, which have been hired as subcontractors, are being paid.

    Subcontractors are companies or individuals who have separate contracts or other agreements with prime contractors to provide specific services or materials.

    For example, Glad’s Landscaping of Honolulu has a subcontract to perform tree work for Kiewit Infrastructure West Co., the prime contractor building the West Oahu Farrington Highway guideway section, while Ramtek Fabrication of Kapolei has a materials agreement with Kiewit to supply precast concrete structures.

    Construction equipment for Honolulu’s $6 billion rail project along Kualakai Parkway near Kapolei.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Dan Grabauskas, HART’s Executive Director and CEO says it’s not within his legal authority to know how much the project’s main – or prime — contractors are paying the subcontractors helping them complete work on the 20-mile rail line between East Kapolei and Ala Moana Center. Getting such information, he has said, would be based upon “voluntary” disclosure by