Storm Drain Report – Niu Valley & Aina Haina

Last Thursday I had the privilege of presenting a Storm Drain Report to Kuliouou-Kalani Iki Neighborhood Board members and residents. The report has also been given to city representatives.

One of my main concerns was the way the roadways had been repaved in Aina Haina. Specifically, gutters were paved over, and access to storm drains has been reduced. According to a resident, she had checked with the city several years ago when crews were working and was told the repaving project was designed that way.

At a minimum, the standard that allows repaving to be done in this manner should be looked at, and unless there is a very good reason for almost blocking off access to storm drains, the practice should be disallowed.

Here’s an example of a drain that has been almost blocked off. This one is near Diamond Head. I will post a report about Kahala storm drains next week.

Diamon Head almost closed 7-1-18

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HART Meeting Tomorrow: More Broken Promises and Lack of Transparency

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART) board of directors will meet at 8 a.m. tomorrow, and there are several things we should all be concerned about:

• a resolution requesting that the Honolulu City Council approve a bond float for the much-talked-about $44 million for HART marketing and personnel costs;

• the potential that the board “may” go into Executive Session regarding several issues that should be discussed in public; and

• the lack of a discussion item regarding the state auditor’s concern about HART management recording employees during interviews.

When I read the agenda, I was shocked to see a resolution requesting that the Honolulu City Council approve the issuance of bonds to cover the $44 million. This $44 million was initially put into the city’s capital improvement (CIP) budget by the mayor and then moved to HART’s CIP budget by the council.

During two months of budget discussions, we were told several times that HART had the money to pay these costs. We were reassured that no bonds would be needed for next fiscal year. Even as recently as the June 6 full council meeting, the $44 million was referred to as just “a placeholder,” similar to having a line of credit available.

Who knew that this was not correct? When did they know it? When will we be given accurate and complete information?

It’s also important to note that this resolution calls for the $44 million to be repaid with city funds, which breaks another promise that was made to us with respect to the rail project, i.e., that no city money (read “real property taxes”) would be used for rail construction.

If that isn’t enough for people to be concerned about rail finances, the HART board may go into “Executive Session” on five items including approval of the budgets that the council just passed, the bond approval requests (there’s another one for $450 million), a change order and the discussion on public-private partnerships. (This last one is a biggie, because it will cover the City Center Guideway and Stations – the last major piece of the rail project to be contracted.) All of these issues should be discussed in the open. Executive sessions are closed to the public, however.

What are they trying to hide? Have costs gone up yet again?

And finally, it’s notable that there is no discussion slated regarding management’s policy of recording employees during state audit interviews. During the last HART board meeting, Les Kondo, the state auditor, expressed serious concerns about this practice and asked that it be stopped. A former state attorney general has said it is illegal to record employees in this manner, and at least two board members had questions about the issue. No discussion took place, because corporation counsel stated it wasn’t allowed due to sunshine law restrictions. (Thank you to Tom Yamachika for the reminder that the board could have voted to sunshine the item onto the agenda.) Most employees will likely not feel free to openly discuss their concerns in this type of environment, yet there appears to be no follow up by the board.

I agree with HART board member John Henry Felix -– it’s time for a “forensic audit.” We cannot afford to continue the way we have.

The HART board meeting will be broadcast live on Olelo 53.

It’s Not About the Tree – How a Process was Subverted and a Community Divided

The November 2017 meeting of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board was the toughest public meeting I’ve ever been to, with emotions running high.  Members of the community who attended the meeting spoke passionately about their desire to support a lighted tree at Maunalua Bay, except the item on the agenda that evening was not about a tree . . . it was about a process that did not follow the law or include proper disclosures.

Following is a timeline of events related to the city’s acceptance of a gift of a lighted tree at Maunalua Bay:

  • April 26, 2017 – First reading of Bill 40 to create an adopt-a-tree-program to be administered by the city Department of Parks and Recreation is passed by council.
  • May 2, 2017 – Bill 40 discussed in Committee of Parks, Community and Customer Services. The director of DPR opposed the resolution.
  • May 10, 2017 – Bill 40 passed second reading by full council.
  • May 30, 2017 – At the meeting of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, Councilmember Ozawa announced that a bill was introduced to adopt the tree at Joe Lukela Beach Park.  I was asked by a board member to monitor the progress of Bill 40.
  • August 22, 2017 – Bill 40 was placed on the agenda of the council’s parks committee, but it was cancelled prior to the meeting.
  • October 24, 2017 (morning) – Resolution 17-278, which is for approval of acceptance of a gift of a trellis system and solar powered panels to power lights for a tree, was discussed in the parks committee.  The gift was valued at $58,000, but there was no mention of the location of this gift.  (Edit for clarification — there was no mention of the location of the gift in the resolution.)
  • October 24, 2017 (evening) – Resolution 17-278 was not mentioned during Councilmember Ozawa’s report at the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board meeting.
  • November 1, 2017 – Resolution 17-278, CD1, was not on the agenda that was posted prior to the meeting, but it was “sunshined” onto the agenda unanimously by councilmembers near the end of the meeting, after most members of the public had left.  The CD1 version of the resolution stated a value of $40,000.
  • November 6, 2017 – Two requests were received for agenda items for the November 28, 2017, meeting of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board:  1) A local nonprofit organization requested to have a discussion about the process of acceptance of the gift of a lighted tree, and 2) Councilmember Ozawa, through his staff, requested to have a discussion about the lighting of the tree at Maunalua Bay. The board voted to support more openness and discussion regarding issues of this type in the future

According to Hawaii Revised Statutes Sec. 92-7, the council is not allowed to change an agenda once it has been filed if an item is of “reasonably major importance” and will “affect a significant number of persons.”  The state Office of Information Practices has also stated that agenda items must include “sufficient detail and specificity,” so that members of the public understand what is to be discussed without having to look elsewhere.  The council did not follow the Sunshine Law with respect to this gift, and that was the main concern of members of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board.

Council Bill 40 – status and communications

Council Resolution 17-278 status and communications

Testimony of Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board 12-6-17

Testimony of Natalie Iwasa 12-6-17

Video recording of Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board Meeting November 28, 2017

RFP Posted for Honolulu Ethics Commission Audit

Earlier this week, the request for proposals (RFP) for the audit of the Honolulu Ethics Commission was posted.  The RFP outlines several important issues the auditors should cover, but I have a couple of concerns.

Two inspectors and prior commissioners who recently left the commission are not listed as interviewees.  These people likely have important information that should be considered by the auditor.

The other part is just something that I really don’t understand.  What the heck is “an internal self-control assessment of improvements needed”?  And why is the current executive director supposed to perform this assessment?  If anyone has any clues about this, please shed some light by leaving a comment.

Requests for bid clarification are due December 2, and deadline to bid is December 30.

The RFP is posted on the city’s website.  It’s also available here.

Update November 28.  I found out that the intention of the section on the assessment is to have the executive director perform a “control self-assessment” rather than a “self-control assessment.”  Hopefully that clarification will come out with the addenda on December 16.

Honolulu Charter Amendments – Blank vs. “No” Vote

Some people are recommending “no” votes on all 20 Honolulu charter amendments.  The questions may seem overwhelming, but a straight “no” without understanding each question is irresponsible in my opinion.

The first thing to understand about voting on the charter amendments is that a blank vote doesn’t mean “no” or “yes.”  Here’s what the charter says about voting on amendments:

Section 15-103. Approval of Amendment or Revision -- 

No amendment or revision of this charter shall be effective 
unless approved by a majority of the voters voting thereon.

A blank vote is just blank and doesn’t count.  (Note that the state has different rules.  For state constitutional amendments to pass, a majority of the votes have to be “yes,” excluding blank and over votes, and more than 50% of the voters have to vote “yes” including blanks and over votes.  If more than 50% of the voters leave a state question blank, it acts as a “no” vote.)

Next it’s important to realize and acknowledge that these questions deserve thoughtful consideration.  If the majority of votes are “no,” opportunities for improvement in some areas of our city government will be missed.

For example, question 3 would allow salaries of staff attorneys of the Honolulu Ethics Commission (EC) to be set at a rate comparable to that of other attorneys within the city.  A “no” vote keeps the status quo, which makes it difficult for the EC to hire and retain a good attorney.  (They currently only have one on-staff counsel that this would apply to.)

Some people have pointed out that many of the issues behind these questions should not even be in the charter, and that is a valid point.  The Honolulu Charter Commission did consider rewriting the entire charter and putting just one massive question on the ballot.  I can understand why they didn’t do that, but we should look at simplifying our charter.  That would likely cut down on amendments as well as misunderstandings of what each amendment would do.

One other thing to consider regarding blank votes is that they do make a statement.  If the blanks outnumber the “yes” and “no” votes, perhaps it’s time to rethink the manner in which we make amendments.

Please also note that this process is not done after the election.  The Honolulu Charter Commission will have at least one more meeting prior to the end of the year.  At that time, they will prepare a final report that will be given to the next commission.  Testimony will be taken, and I encourage people to submit comments.  You can sign up for commission updates by sending an email to cclcharter@honolulu.gov.

Correction:  this post originally incorrectly stated the second part of the test required for passage of state constitutional amendments.

20 Charter Amendments – Recommendations and Further Research

For some people, the election can’t come soon enough.  For others, such as voters who are still trying to decipher the 20 charter amendment ballot questions, the question is:  Will I have enough time to do research and make an informed decision?

I attended many of the Honolulu Charter Commission meetings and have put together what I consider to be important points about each question along with my suggestions on how to vote for each one.  That list is available at Hawaii Advocates For Consumer Rights.  (Thank you to Scott Foster for helping me to get this information out.)

For people who are interested in doing their own extended research, the following list may help guide you as you go through the Charter Commission’s website.  For each question, I’ve listed the proposal(s) upon which the questions were based and who introduced them.  You’ll need these numbers to trace through the minutes and testimonies.

  • Question 1 regarding the police commission – #18 (Senator Will Espero), #31 (Commissioner Kevin Mulligan), #159 (Senator Laura Thielen), C-1 and C-2 (Commissioner Mulligan)
  • Question 2 regarding staff attorney salaries for the Honolulu Ethics Commission – #39 (Honolulu Ethics Commission)
  • Question 3 regarding the Prosecuting Attorney’s budget #29 (Commissioner Donna Ikeda)
  • Question 4 regarding HART and rail – #76 and #76A (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)
  • Question 5 regarding the Affordable Housing Fund – #3 (Councilmember Elefante) and #122 (American Planning Association)
  • Question 6 regarding long-term plans – #38 and #120 (American Planning Association), #54 (Commissioner Cheryl Soon)
  • Question 7 regarding an Office of Climate Change – #48 (Commissioner Soon) and #73 (Maxine Burkett)
  • Question 8 regarding a new Department of Land Management – #C-5 (Commissioner Soon), #106 (Paulette Tam)
  • Question 9 regarding the zoo fund – letter from Council Chair Martin and C-3 (Commissioner Guy Fujimura)
  • Question 10 regarding executive and legislative powers – #78 (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)
  • Question 11 regarding the Clean Water and Natural Lands Fund – #116 (Trust for Public Land)
  • Question 12 regarding reviews of boards and commissions – #40 (Commissioner Rick Tsujimura)
  • Question 13 regarding the Grants in Aid Fund – #C-7 (Commissioner initiated)
  • Question 14 regarding special elections deadline – #2 (City Clerk Glen Takahashi)
  • Question 15 regarding term limits – #44 (Commissioner Paul Oshiro)
  • Question 16 regarding minor construction projects – #77 (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)
  • Question 17 regarding the mayor’s signature – #80 (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)
  • Question 18 regarding the Honolulu Fire Commission – #86 & #87 (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)
  • Question 19 regarding the reapportionment commission – #35 (Commissioner Oshiro)
  • Question 20 “housekeeping”
    • a – #23 (Civil Beat Law Center)
    • b – #34 (Commissioner Oshiro)
    • c – #36 (Commissioner Oshiro)
    • d – #79 (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)
    • e – #90 (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)

If you have questions on any of the proposed amendments, please leave a comment for me.  I’d be happy to try and help.

Update October 25, 2016, – correction and clarification.  It was noted that the description of Question 1 in the pamphlet provided by the Honolulu Charter Commission contains an error.  It indicates the chief can “only be removed for continuous maladministration.”  The charter actually makes it clear that this should not be construed as the only cause sufficient for removal of the chief.  I do not know what the impact of this error will have if this amendment passes, but I still recommend a “yes” vote.

Under Question 13 regarding the grants-in-aid process (GIA), certain city grants that currently have a process, e.g., the Clean Water and Natural Lands fund, would continue to go through that process.  Others, such as Leeward coast and Office of the Mayor on Economic Development, would be required to go through the GIA process.

Charter Amendment #4 on Rail – What’s Not in the Booklet

Voters should have received the 2016 Charter Amendments booklet this week.  There are 20 amendments for voters to read through and decipher.  Question 4 deals with the rail project and deserves much more discussion.

This ballot question is largely the result of a proposal submitted relatively late in the process.  During Honolulu Charter Commission meetings it was mentioned the charter amendment that created HART didn’t adequately consider how rail operations and maintenance (O&M) would work (or not) with TheBus and HandiVan, which are under the Honolulu Department of Transportation Services (DTS).

In addition, certain members of the HART board felt oversight of staff was too limited.  The proposal does make it clear the board sets the policies for the development of the rail system.

It would have been better to have a separate question regarding board powers, but the commission decided to combine these issues into this one question.

The question contains three parts:  1) replace the current Transportation Commission with a Rate Commission;  2) put rail O&M under DTS; and 3) clarify and increase the HART board responsibilities and authority.

Duties of a new Rate Commission would include creation of new sources of revenues.  The commission would also be authorized to collect and report transit data.  Discussions of this proposal did not address the issue of how riders’ personal information would be handled.

While it makes sense to have the rail fare system and route scheduling under the same agency as TheBus, we need to be careful how a transition between HART and DTS would be done.  In this case, everyone (employees, contractors and even vacant positions) who has primary responsibilities related to O&M would transfer to DTS on July 1, 2017.

Those transferred “shall suffer no loss of vacation allowance, sick leave, service credits, retirement benefits or other rights and privileges because of the transfer.”  So basically DTS will inherit HART’s liabilities without the capability of making any near-term changes.

Who are these people, specifically?  How much will this change cost?

With O&M out of the way, what shortcuts will be taken on the rest of the development of rail to meet budget and completion deadlines?  How much will this end up costing us more in the long run?

And how much consideration would DTS give to the quality of work prior to acceptance of the “completed” rail with pressures to simply get it going?

These questions should be answered before this amendment is passed.  Since the Honolulu City Council may introduce charter amendments for the next election, I urge everyone to vote “no” on this.