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  • 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

  • Caldwell Vows Not to Run From Rail, Homeless Problems

    · By Sophie Cocke

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell stressed the need to move forward on the Honolulu rail project with an extension of the General Excise Tax during his 2015 State of the City address Tuesday while emphasizing the progress he has made since taking office two years ago on road repaving, park rejuvenation, bike lanes and the homelessness problem.

    With the rail project — the biggest public works project in the state’s history — facing a $900 million shortfall with only two miles of the 20-mile guideway built, Caldwell vowed not to run from the political quagmire.

    “Rail is the big elephant in this very big, outdoor room and we need to talk about it,” Caldwell told an audience of about 150 invited guests who convened on a grassy plot at Foster Botanical Garden in downtown Honolulu. “As a politician, I’m not going to run from it, I’m not going to blame anyone, I’m not going to look backwards and say, ‘Why didn’t you do this or that?’ I accept that this is happening under my watch.”

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell delivers the 2015 State of the City address at Foster Botanical Garden on Tuesday.

    Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat

    Caldwell’s remarks came after criticism last month that he was dodging the problem and trying to hand off responsibility to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director Dan Grabauskas, a political appointee.

    Caldwell has been lobbying the Legislature and top state officials to extend the half percent surcharge

  • Large Rail Contractors Dump $1.3 Million into Local Campaign Coffers

    · By Nick Grube

    Editor’s Note: “Off Track,” our investigative series examining what’s happening to $6 billion in taxpayer money that is going into the biggest public works project in Hawaii history, continues today with a look at campaign contributions from contractors to local politicians. That may seem like an obvious political story but our larger question remains: Is the Honolulu rail project boosting the economy — as Oahu voters were promised — or just fattening the campaign treasuries of politicians in a position to hand out lucrative contracts? We need your help to figure out who’s really benefitting from the rail project. Check out the list of companies posted at the end of this story. Who are these companies and are they really locally owned and operated? Have you or anyone you know gotten a job with any of them? Do you own or work for a business that has benefitted from rail money? Increased sales? Better salaries? What are some of the economic indicators you’ve seen that would suggest rail is having an impact on our economy? Help us tell this important story through crowdsourcing. Post your thoughts in the comments section below or send a note to Nick Grube at Continue the conversation in our Facebook Group, Honolulu Rail Talk, or through Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #railtalk.

    Many of the companies snatching up contracts as part of Honolulu’s $6 billion rail project are also the same ones plumping up the campaign coffers of local politicians.

    A handful of Hawaii-based businesses alone

  • Potential Contamination at Proposed Homeless Camp to be Studied

    · By Sophie Cocke

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration is hiring a consultant to help assess whether it’s safe to relocate some 100 homeless people to a vacant lot on Sand Island after reports surfaced in September that the soil could contain high levels of contaminants left over from ash and solid waste dumps.

    The consultant is expected to work with state health officials to compile the industrial history of the proposed 5-acre site and develop a plan to sample the soil for contaminants such as lead, according to Gary Gill, deputy director for environmental health at the state health department.

    Exposure to high levels of lead, a heavy metal associated with incinerator ash, is linked to kidney and brain damage, as well as mental retardation in children, birth defects, miscarriage and infertility, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    This is the Sand Island site that the city is proposing as a camp for the homeless.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    The environmental assessment could delay the city’s plans to renovate the site to accommodate homeless individuals and families. The Caldwell administration had hoped to have the lot ready by the end of this month, paving a portion of it to contain any chemical contamination, and providing portable toilets, showers and lockers for homeless to use. The homeless would be required to bring their own tents.

    However, Gill said that sampling alone would likely take longer than a month.

    Proposal Was Key to Sit-Lie Ban

  • The City Reaches Out to Locals About Sand Island Homeless Camp

    · By Sophie Cocke

    Dozens of people crowded into a small cafeteria at Puuhale Elementary School in Kalihi Wednesday evening to hear city officials discuss recently announced plans to relocate as many as 100 of the city’s most troubled homeless people to a vacant parcel of land on Sand Island. 

    The meeting was called primarily to address community concerns about the proposal to place a homeless encampment close to residents of Kalihi.

    From the elementary school, it is a nearly two-mile drive to the proposed site. To reach the encampment, people must cross the bridge to Sand Island, a heavily industrial area where there are many Matson shipping containers, municipal recycling operations, the city’s sewage treatment plant and dozens of other businesses and warehouses. 

    Ember Shinn, the city’s managing director, left, and Pam Witty-Oakland, director of the Department of Community Services, right, speak to a crowd at the Puuhale Elementary School about the proposed Sand Island homeless center.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    Only a small number of area residents attended the meeting. The majority of the audience was comprised of politically engaged residents from outside the neighborhood, homeless advocates and elected officials, including Sen. Will Espero, Rep. Romy Cachola and Honolulu council members Breene Harimoto and Joey Manahan.

    A few residents and Sand Island ocean users raised objections to the plan, saying homeless people at the camp might spread out into the Sand Island beach park and the Kalihi community, leading to concerns about increased drug use and safety in

  • Hawaii Candidates Need to Sign the ‘People’s Pledge’

    · By Barbara Polk

    With the primary elections behind us, forums and sign waving for candidates for the November elections are already underway.

    And many of us in the public are cringing at the expectation of being inundated by advertising for or against candidates, sponsored not by the candidates but by funds provided to Super PACs from secret donors operating “independently” of the candidates. (Remember all the negative ads in the 2010 Honolulu mayor’s race?)

    The Supreme Court 2010 rulings in Citizen’s United vs. the FEC and other cases opened the floodgates of money attempting to influence elections and gain influence with the politicians who are elected.

    The Supreme Court’s decision on the Citizens United case open the door to virtually limitless campaign donations by funding groups as long as they don’t coordinate with candidates’ campaigns.

    Flickr: DonkeyHotey

    This year, as Republicans work to hold the U.S. House of Representatives and gain control of the Senate, as well as capture as many governorships as possible, and as Democrats are equally committed to preventing this, we may expect to see a much greater influx of money into Hawaii elections than we have previously seen.

    Is there no way to stop this?

    Perhaps there is. In 2012, Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown, running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, pioneered what has come to be called “The People’s Pledge.” They agreed to make charitable donations from their campaign funds equal to half of any money spent for advertising on their behalf by “independent” outside groups. Their

  • Cashing In: Caldwell Stocking Up For A Showdown

    · By Nick Grube

    Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s first term isn’t up until 2016, but that hasn’t stopped him from padding his campaign reserves.

    Caldwell reported more than $1.4 million in campaign contributions during the current election cycle, which began Nov. 7, 2012, the day after he beat former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano in the general election.

    What’s striking is Caldwell only raised $1.7 million for the entire 2012 election cycle, which included a $50,000 loan.

    Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has raised almost as much money in the current election cycle as he did during his entire 2012 campaign.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    If Caldwell’s current fundraising trends continue, the mayor could have more than $3 million in the bank to help fend off any potential challengers.

    And it’s entirely possible he’ll need every penny.

    Former Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle — who Caldwell and Cayetano pushed out during the 2012 primary — has said he would like to run again.

    Another viable candidate is Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin, who won re-election Saturday to his seat in District 2, which includes Wahiawa, the North Shore and much of Windward Oahu.

    Martin has said before that he wants to be mayor. He’s also been in the middle of some public feuds with Caldwell and his administration, over everything from budgetary earmarks to combating homelessness.

    While Hawaii Campaign Spending data shows Carlisle has been relatively inactive ever since losing the 2012 election, Martin’s latest financial report shows that as of July 25 he had $327,000 in cash on hand.

    He easily

  • Stormy Weather: Hurricane Iselle Is About to Rock Hawaii

    · By Alia Wong

    Hurricane Iselle, the first hurricane that could hit the Big island in more than 20 years, was steadily churning toward Hilo and expected to make landfall Thursday.

    Meanwhile, Hurricane Julio is advancing toward the islands and could strike the Big Island as soon as Sunday. On Wednesday evening, Julio was 1,450 miles east of Hilo, about 1,000 miles behind Iselle. 

    On Wednesday, Iselle was considered a category 1 hurricane. On Tuesday evening it appeared as though the cyclone was weakening, but then it started to strengthen Wednesday. It’s expected to make its way across the rest of the state on Friday. 

    “Because it’s maintaining its strength right now, it’s minimizing the likelihood that it’s going to weaken,” National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Cantin said Wednesday afternoon. “It’ll be a rough end of the week for us.”

    Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell speaks to media at the Department of Emergency Management about city plans for dealing with Hurricane Iselle. August 6, 2014

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    Officials are saying little about Julio at this point, noting that it’s still too far away from the archipelago to speculate about its impact on the islands.

    A hurricane warning has been issued for the Big Island — the first such advisory to be issued for the island in more than a decade — while a flash flood watch is in effect across the entire state through Saturday morning. As of Wednesday afternoon, tropical storm warnings had been issued for most

  • Honolulu Mayor’s ‘Compassionate Disruption’ Campaign Disrupted

    · By Sophie Cocke

    Two measures proposed by Mayor Kirk Caldwell that would ban public urination and defecation in Waikiki, as well as sitting and lying on sidewalks in the tourist district, were deferred indefinitely by the Honolulu City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee on Thursday. 

    The bills are part of a larger so-called “compassionate disruption” campaign aimed at prodding homeless into shelters. But councilmembers said that the city hasn’t moved fast enough to make housing available to homeless living on the streets and that for now they have nowhere to go. 

    Caldwell has made reducing homelessness on Oahu a top priority of his administration and the City Council has appropriated more than $47 million this fiscal year for that effort. But it will likely take the city several years to create much of the needed housing. 

    Man sleeping on sidewalk on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    At first, the bills introduced by the mayor last month seemed to be getting good traction in the City Council. Chair Ernie Martin even fast tracked them, noting that “homelessness has reached a crisis stage in Honolulu.”

    Other council members seemed to agree that they were necessary, though they also worried that the Waikiki bills would push the homeless not into shelters, but into their own districts. 

    To that end, Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga introduced a bill that would extend the sidewalk prohibitions to Chinatown. And on Thursday morning, Councilman Ron Menor introduced a measure that would expand the sit-lie ban to areas

  • The Mayor’s Money: Caldwell Expands Office Budget in Tight Times

    · By Nick Grube

    Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell wants to boost his budget by 70 percent, which is more than any other city department.

  • Hele On: Courts Rule in Favor of Honolulu Rail

    · By Nick Grube

    The rail project is on track now that legal wrangling is complete, but will there be more unexpected costs?

  • Last-Ditch Effort: Honolulu Offers Cash to Save $142M Housing Deal

    · By Nick Grube

    Public money is at heart of bid to save affordable housing sale.

  • A New Era in Ethics in Honolulu? Time Will Tell

    · By Nick Grube

    Ethics Commission and Caldwell administration resolve some differences, but there’s a long way to go.

  • Did Honolulu’s $142M Housing Deal Collapse?

    · By Nick Grube

    Questions by Honolulu City Council members raise doubts about developers’ ability to seal deal before 2014 deadline.

  • Caldwell Fears For Honolulu Homeless If City Housing Deal Collapses

    · By Nick Grube

    UPDATED Honolulu City Council is considering killing $142 million plan to sell 12 affordable housing complexes.