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  • 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

  • Oahu Faces a Future With Far Fewer Beaches

    · By Sophie Cocke

    Editor’s Note: Do you have beach erosion pics you’d like to share, old or new? Tweet them to @civilbeat, using the hashtag #civilbeach or via Facebook

    On a typical Saturday, surfers precariously scale a seawall at Kewalo Basin and propel themselves into the ocean, sunbathers squeeze onto a narrow ribbon of sand along Kahala Beach that only exists at low tide, and tourists pack a shrinking plot of sand fronting the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki held in place only by an artificial groin.

    Oahu has lost one-fourth of its beaches and of those remaining, about 70 percent are eroding. If state and county officials don’t start working to conserve what’s left of the sandy shoreline, most of the island’s beaches could disappear by the end of the century, say scientists. 

    “I think by mid-century we are looking at a future where we are down to just a handful of healthy beaches and by the end of the century those will be disappearing, or gone already,” said Chip Fletcher, a coastal geologist and associate dean at the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science Technology, who is one of the state’s leading experts on beach erosion. 

    Slide the red button at the the bottom left of the photo to watch the disappearance of Lanikai Beach between 1967 and the present. The 1967 photo is from the city’s archives; Civil Beat used a drone to photograph the same exact location 48 years later. 

    Beachfront property owners erected illegal seawalls in

  • Curt Sanburn: Going Vertical and Green in Kakaako

    · By Curt Sanburn

    Wave after wave of glittering, gargantuan condo towers wash ashore in Kakaako — they’re the talk of the town, the cyborgs of central Honolulu, surrounded by all those other, older Honolulu high-rise homes.

    The sad difference is that the old ones are mostly breezy, trade wind-ventilated lanai stacks, and the new ones, presumably harbingers of Honolulu’s future, are hermetic glass boxes where you can barely open the windows and the mechanical refrigerant hums 24/7.

    And it’s not just in Kakaako: The city’s transit-oriented development policy is currently in the midst of recalibrating much of urban south Oahu onto a transit matrix, wherein residential development is coaxed into high-density population nodes corresponding to the 21 station stops along HART’s elevated 20-mile commuter line from Kapolei to Ala Moana.

    The Newton Suites in Singapore, a project of WOHA Architects.

    Patrick Bingham-Hall

    If all goes according to city planners, within 25 years there will be new clusters of high-rise apartments at Pearlridge mauka of Kamehameha Highway; in Kalihi, where Dillingham bridges Kapalama stream; and in Iwilei, on the irregular blocks around the intersection of Dillingham, North King and Liliha.

    If Oahu is, indeed, saving its rural purlieus and ag lands and going up, up, up instead, maybe we should ask our developers and architects to start thinking harder about the kinds of high-rises we — and our keiki — might actually want to live in.

    Architects used to have to account for climate when they designed buildings, environmental engineer Patrick Bellew tells me on

  • Pod Squad: A Visit with Denby Fawcett About Chinatown Brothels

    · By Mike Webb

    Civil Beat columnist Denby Fawcett recently took a tour that acquaints visitors with the history of Chinatown’s brothels. Readers reacted quickly. Some loved what they saw as a “touching” history lesson. Other were not so kind, accusing Fawcett of ignoring the dark side of prostitution.

    In this installment of the Pod Squad, she shares her thoughts with host Chad Blair in a discussion of revitalization of this historic district.

    Listen to this week’s show here or subscribe to the Civil Beat Pod Squad on iTunes or Stitcher. Mahalo for listening.

    The Pod Squad is produced by Mike Webb, Civil Beat’s sales and marketing director.

  • D.R. Horton Agrees to Provide Cheaper Housing in Hoopili

    · By Anita Hofschneider

    Representatives from homebuilder D.R. Horton said Thursday that the company is willing to lower the prices of the affordable housing that it must provide if the city approves its rezoning application for Hoopili, a 11,750-home proposed development in West Oahu.

    But the company rejected an amendment that would limit the number of homes it can sell before certain transportation infrastructure is in place.

    The City Council Zoning and Planning discussed the project Thursday at Honolulu Hale.

    The panel plans to reconvene April 30 to vote on whether to rezone farmland to make way for the development. If the committee agrees, the proposal will go to the full Council for a final vote.

    City Councilman Ikaika Anderson listens to testimony on Hoopili on March 5 at Honolulu Hale.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Honolulu’s current affordable housing rules require that large projects that receive rezoning approval must set aside 30 percent of the units as affordable to certain income groups.

    In Hoopili, that’s about 3,525 homes. Under the current rules, some 2,820 of those homes could be sold to people earning 140 percent of area median income or less. That’s $134,140 for a family of four or $93,980 for an individual, according to the city’s 2014 affordable housing rules.

    But Cameron Nekota, a vice president at the company, told City Council members Thursday that the developer would be willing to decrease that upper limit to 120 percent of area median income, which was $114,980 for a family of four or $80,560 for an individual in 2014.


  • Why Did the City Approve a New Seawall for a Kahala Property After the State Ordered It Removed?

    · By Sophie Cocke

    A wealthy South Korean businessman who bought two Kahala beachfront properties was required to tear out an illegal seawall that was encroaching on the public beach. But the city has since given Lee Kun-hee, the billionaire chairman of South Korea’s Samsung Group, permission to erect a new wall just mauka of the state’s certified shoreline, which scientists say will exacerbate beach erosion.

    Critics say the city approval also signals a destructive trend when it comes to allowing seawalls and other structures that harden the shoreline, effectively expanding a loophole in the law that allows property owners to claim hardship when arguing for a protective wall.

    Usually, property owners invoke the hardship clause when the ocean is threatening their homes. In this case, the plot is currently vacant.

    “It’s such a new precedent for environmental damage,” said Chip Fletcher, a coastal geologist and associate dean at the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science Technology, who has become one of the state’s leading experts on beach erosion.

    He called the decision, unanimously approved by the Honolulu City Council, “crazy.”

    Samsung Chair Lee Kun-hee’s new Kahala property where he plans to build a $20 million luxury compound.

    Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat

    Officials at the Department of Planning and Permitting, which recommended to the City Council that the seawall be approved, didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.

    Councilman Trevor Ozawa, who represents the area, didn’t return a call for comment.

    Luxury Kahala Compound

    Lee is planning to spend up to $20 million to build a 16,000-square-foot luxury home, staff and guest

  • Curt Sanburn: Kirk Caldwell’s Designs on the Blaisdell Center

    · By Curt Sanburn

    Editor’s note: Our exploration of urban design, planning and architecture in Hawaii is continuing with the addition of a familiar voice. Curt Sanburn grew up in Honolulu and graduated from Iolani School before venturing to the mainland and Yale. He later helped to found the Honolulu Weekly, becoming a regular contributor and editor. Curt often wrote critically about local architecture and land-use issues. “Hawaii deserves the best built environment in the world,” he says, “but it so often comes up short.” 

    “World class.”

    What a stupid, meaningless phrase, especially in Hawaii, where we’re pretty sure we’re already living in God’s own paradise and everything else isn’t relevant. The only people who use the term are politicians and bad travel writers, or those who are selling something, or in Philadelphia.

    Nevertheless, here we are in Honolulu, clucking about becoming world class even as we sink into third-world metrics, with a 20-mile elevated heavy-rail transit line, circa 1962, ready to mire us ever deeper into penury and ugliness.

    The Neal Blaisdell Center opened 50 years ago as the Honolulu International Center. The City of Honolulu is looking for input from the public on how best to transform the dated, three-venue campus into a new arts and culture center.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The city needs cash. It owns 22 acres of hot real estate, known to locals as the Blaisdell Center.

    Coincidentally, it’s just mauka of Kakaako, where big money and big construction unions are happily sloshing around building a mini-Hong Kong. The planned Kakaako transit stop

  • Denby Fawcett: The Brothels of Chinatown

    · By Denby Fawcett

    Many attractions for tourists on Oahu stultify visitors with their predictability: an “authentic” luau on the beach, a stroll through fake villages at the Polynesian Cultural Center or exhausting multi-stop bus rides around the island.

    But in Honolulu’s Chinatown each morning, adventurous visitors and local residents have a fascinating new option: a walking tour through one of the most successful entrepreneurial business districts ever launched in Hawaii — the red light district of World War II.

    The tour is a kind of wacky wildlife expedition; a chance to learn more about the wild life that flourished during the war: the tattoo parlors, bars and sex houses where a hard working prostitute could service up to 12 customers in an hour, up to a hundred men a day.

    Seattle transplant Carter Lee Churchfield created the historic stroll she calls “Honolulu Exposed: WW II Red Light District Tour.”

    Neon sign. Hubba Hubba.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Churchfield charges $30 per person for the mile-long guided walk to see former brothels called “boogie houses,” which made their owners small fortunes during the war. Amazingly, almost every building, which housed a Chinatown brothel more than 60 years ago, is still standing today.

    Churchfield, who is short and wiry with pierced eyebrows, her red hair tightly bound in braids, meets us in front of the Hawaii Theatre to begin the 90-minute stroll. Her website warns the attraction is not for everyone.

    “This is a tour of the booze, tattoos, and prostitution in WWII Hawaii, and F-Bombs do fly.

  • Denby Fawcett: Mayor Caldwell, Save Ala Moana Park for the Regular People

    · By Denby Fawcett

    Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is spending $1.2 million to hire consultants for a three-year plan to rejuvenate Honolulu’s deteriorating Ala Moana Beach Park.

    I want to be optimistic about the plan. I want to believe the mayor when he says Oahu’s people will have the ultimate say when it comes to the revitalization of that park. I’m hopeful yet wary.

    So were many of the other 350 citizens who showed up March 10 at McCoy Pavilion. Wary. They had been urged by the mayor to come to express their personal thoughts on how to improve the 81-year-old beach park that, since its opening, has been a haven for working people.

    A pathway on Magic Island that is to be resurfaced as part of improvements to Ala Moana Park.

    Bob Jones

    Ben Donsky of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures and Associates , a New York-based consulting firm the city has hired to help renew the park, repeatedly reassured the audience, “You guys will have the final say.”

    Biederman is famous for setting up a private-public partnership to transform New York’s filthy, crime-ridden Bryant Park into one of the most popular parks in the city.

    The mayor says everything is on the table for Ala Moana Beach Park. But that in itself is worrisome. It would be better if the mayor pointed out what is absolutely on the table as well as what is not on the table. People need a clearer idea of what could happen in the park so they don’t get hit