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Friday, July 24, 2020
July 24, 2020 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 7:00 PM :: 1055 Views

Cat 3: Hurricane Douglas Aiming at Big Island Saturday Night

VIDEO: Rep Gene Ward Hosts Honolulu Mayoral Candidates Forum

Recommendations Sought for 2021 DHHL Legislative Package

OHA urges BOE to delay reopening of schools

UH Manoa COVID-19 plan for fall

Women’s Legislative Caucus Bills Sent to Governor Ige

Mayor Victorino urges Maui County Council to reopen for public testimony

Cesspools: EPA Hits DLNR, Hawaii County with Big Fines

COVID Count: 60 new cases out of 1499 tests

Rail Running out of Money—May have to Slow Construction

CB: … A top executive with the Honolulu rail authority is projecting the collapse of state tax collections during the pandemic could cause the huge train project to take a $450 million hit as Hawaii’s economic shutdown and gradual reopening wipe out excise and hotel tax revenue that the city has been counting on to help finance rail.

The near-term cash shortage is so severe that Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Chief Financial Officer Ruth Lohr on Thursday raised the possibility the city might have to deliberately slow the progress of rail construction in the months ahead to ensure that HART has the cash it needs to pay its bills as they come due.

Both Lohr and HART Executive Director Andrew Robbins described Lohr’s projections as “conservative,” but they may also be an early warning of more financial problems ahead for the $9.2 billion project.….

HART has been collecting $65 million to $70 million every three months from a half-percent general excise tax surcharge levied on Oahu to help fund the project. HART was projecting last fall it would also receive about $18 million each quarter in hotel room taxes.

But Lohr’s latest projections presented to the HART board on Thursday suggest HART may actually collect only $32 million to $51 million per quarter in excise taxes in the year ahead, and just $3.6 million to $9 million in hotel room taxes per quarter.

If those new projections are accurate, HART would collect something on the order of $160 million less this fiscal year than would have been anticipated based on its projections last fall.

Adding to the rail project’s financial troubles is a decision by the FTA to withhold $744 million in federal funding until HART demonstrates it can actually complete the project. The FTA has been waiting to see the outcome of the bidding process for a public-private partnership, or P3, contract that HART plans to award later this year.

That contract will involve an estimated $1.4 billion for construction of the last four-mile segment of the elevated rail line through the city center, and involve billions of dollars in city funding to maintain and operate the rail line for the next 30 years.

The deadline for the P3 bidders to submit their proposals to the city was Thursday, but the city will not release details of those  proposals or identify the bidders until it has finished evaluating the submittals, which is expected to take about a month.

The FTA is waiting to see the outcome of that bidding because the agency wants to be sure the bids are affordable for HART and the city.

read … HART: COVID-19 Could Cost Rail $450 Million

Hawaii Officials Warn Shelter Space Is Limited as Hurricane Douglas Approaches

WC: … Hawaii’s residents are being told to shelter at home or with a friend rather than relying on public shelters as Hurricane Douglas churns toward the island chain.

(This could be a disaster if the hurricane were to hit an island full-force.)

With social distancing requirements in play because of the COVID-19 pandemic, shelter space is limited.

To have 6 feet of distance between people, a shelter must allow 60 square feet of space for each person or family, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell told the Associated Press. Before the threat of the coronavirus, he said, the city set aside 10 square feet per person at shelters.

"We need more shelter space. And with more shelter space, we need more people to staff those shelters. And we’re working on that right now," Caldwell said.

Maui Emergency Management Agency administrator Herman Andaya told Hawaii News Now, "We have limited shelter space due to COVID-19 guidelines, so we are urging the public to make preparations now to possibly shelter in place at your home, or a family or friend’s home."

John Cummings, public information officer for Honolulu's Department of Emergency Management, told the Star-Advertiser people who live in older homes or those in areas prone to severe flooding or high winds should go to a public shelter.

Cummings said wellness checks will be made at the shelters to look for any signs of COVID-19.

On the island of Hawaii, County Mayor Harry Kim said officials are looking at vacant hotels as backup shelters.

"We have one additional resource that we did not have before and that’s because the hotels are empty," Kim told Hawaii News Now. "And that would be, for the most part, the strongest buildings on the island of Hawaii."

Caldwell said officials on Oahu have also considered using hotels that are empty because of the pandemic, but that option won't be ready in time for this weekend.

On Maui, county officials worry Douglas could bring torrential rain and damaging floods like those caused by Hurricane Olivia two years ago….

read … Hawaii Officials Warn Shelter Space Is Limited as Hurricane Douglas Approaches

COVID Begins to Spread Thru Downtown Homeless Population

HNN: … All staff and residents at a homeless shelter in Iwilei are being tested for coronavirus after two positive cases at the facility.

The Institute for Human Services confirmed one staff member and one child at the Kaaahi Street homeless shelter contracted the virus.

The child and the child’s family are now at the Temporary Quarantine and Isolation Center next door.

IHS also says a group of staff members in a different unnamed program have also tested positive. They are isolating at home….

read … 2 at Oahu homeless shelter test positive for coronavirus

State unemployment office riddled with "fires"—Emails shunted to dead server

KITV: … On Thursday, the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported to KITV4 one of its email servers was down.

It is unknown how long this problem has persisted, but multiple O'ahu residents have reported to KITV4 that they've gone more than a month without a response from the state, and without receiving a check.

Scott Strack told KITV4 the state asked him five weeks ago to verify his identity in order to keep receiving his Pandemic Unemployment Assistance money, and he responded with appropriate documentation the same day.

"I've been sending an email almost every day saying 'Hey I got bills to pay I gotta eat,'" Strack told KITV4. He said he hasn't received a response.

Ewa resident Leslie Clark reported the same problem to KITV4 last Friday.

DLIR Director Scott Murakami has been on leave for unknown reasons for more than a month.

The Acting Director, Anne Perreira-Eustaquio was not available to take questions Thursday.

The department's media liaison said she was "putting out fires" and overseeing department operations at the Hawaii Convention Center.

"One of [the fires] involves one of our email public addresses blocking any new messages," said media liaison William Kunstman. …

TGI: Relief lags for unemployed residents

read … State unemployment office riddled with "fires"

BOE votes to schedule emergency meeting to discuss possible change in new school year

KITV: … At the end of its July 23rd meeting, the Hawaii State Board of Education said it plans to hold a special public meeting next week to consider possible adjustments to the 2020-21 school calendar, which is currently scheduled to begin August 4th for students. A meeting date has not yet been set, according to officials.

The Hawaii State Department of Education released the following statement:

"This issue has divided our community amid these uncertain times and there are no perfect answers. We heard the voices of those who testified today and also keep in mind the impact the school start date has on students and their families. We look forward to continuing the discussion with the Board."….

Big Q: Should Hawaii’s public schools open on Aug. 4 for the 2020-21 school year?

read … BOE votes to schedule emergency meeting to discuss possible change in new school year

Decision pending on whether alleged Hawaii crime boss will face death penalty trial

HNN: … A decision is expected soon from US Attorney General William Barr on whether the government will pursue the death penalty against an alleged crime boss in Hawaii.

Barr will decide if Michael Miske should face the death penalty if convicted on several charges, including murder and kidnapping.

Prosecutors say Miske is the leader of an alleged criminal enterprise linked to a long list of violent crimes. Ten others have also been indicted in connection with the case.

Ashley Edwards, a spokesperson for the district of Hawaii office, said there is no exact timeline for Barr to make a decision but will be “well before the trial.”

Trial is currently scheduled for September….

ILind: Prosecutors allege the Miske Enterprise relied on a series of businesses

read … Decision pending on whether alleged Hawaii crime boss will face death penalty trial

Tupola Leads Fund Race for Council Dist One

CB: … Andria Tupola is the lone seasoned politician in the race to represent the district, which covers Ewa Beach, Kapolei, Ko Olina, Nanakuli and Waianae. The former Republican state lawmaker from Waianae made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018.

Three of the five candidates — Kathy Davenport, Naomi Hanohano and Galen Kerfoot — are political newcomers with ideas on how to boost government transparency and cut city expenses during a time of extraordinary economic upheaval.

Rounding out the field is Anthony Paris, 39, who has never held office. This marks his second political campaign following a unsuccessful bid in 2018 for an at-large seat on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees. …

Campaign finance reports show Tupola, who is not backed by any labor unions, has the most campaign cash. She brought in $105,453 during the first half of this year.

Paris raked in the second-highest campaign cash total with $43,800. He is backed by several labor unions, including the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers and the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

read … Race For Open Leeward Council Seat Focuses On Cost Of Living, City Services

Ala Wai Flood Control Project Looms Large In District 5 Council Race

CB: … A trio of candidates is vying to succeed Honolulu City Councilwoman Anne Kobayashi and represent District 5, a dense slice of town that includes Manoa, Palolo and most of the Ala Wai watershed.

It’s the district most affected by the controversial Ala Wai flood control project, which met widespread community resistance last year. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that one of the project’s most outspoken opponents, Dave Watase, is in the race as a political newcomer.

Joining him is one of the state’s most seasoned political veterans — Rep. Calvin Say. The former House speaker has represented his Palolo-area legislative district for more than four decades. Now, he aims to make a switch to the council.

Longtime local legislative staffer and attorney Philmund “Phil” Lee rounds out the trio. Lee, a frequent candidate for higher office going back to the early 1990s….

read … Ala Wai Flood Control Project Looms Large In District 5 Council Race

MidWeek's Troubling Pay-To-Play Journalism

CB: … Political candidates have many ways of advertising but the latest way is to buy a cover story in the weekly publication MidWeek.

Mayoral candidate Keith Amemiya is the first Hawaii politician to take advantage of the opportunity, paying tens of thousands of dollars for a cover article that appears in this week’s MidWeek, just when primary election ballots arrived in people’s mailboxes….

MidWeek offered the cover story opportunity to the mayoral candidates last month touting it as a “priceless” opportunity available to whomever signed up first to be exclusively featured on the publication’s cover with accompanying article.

In the email sent last month, the offer was pitched as “worth over $70,000 as a total package.” The final cost to be negotiated.

Dennis Francis is the president of Oahu Publications, the parent company of both Honolulu Star-Advertiser and MidWeek.

Francis said MidWeek’s new venture of offering politicians a you-pay-for-it, you-write-it cover story should not be surprising.

“Midweek has never been a newspaper. It has always been a  vehicle for ads,” he said in a phone interview…. 

BJR: Perfectly Legal But Maybe Bad Juju?

read … MidWeek's Troubling Pay-To-Play Journalism

PRP Pushes Hawaii  County Council to Kill Low-Cost Factory-Built Housing with Obstructionist Regulations

HTH: … Window air conditioners will no longer need a building permit and stricter standards will be applied to factory-built homes under amendments to the building code considered Wednesday by the County Council.

Bill 179 has one more hearing, scheduled for Aug. 5, before heading to the mayor for approval or veto.

More problematic for the council was an appendix to the code regulating factory-built housing. The meeting was recessed as Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter worked for several hours with Building Division staff creating an amendment clarifying inspections within the factory, before the council approved the amendment Wednesday evening.

Factory-built housing has been in the building code since 2012 with few, if any, such homes being constructed. But plans by HPM Building Supply to make greater use of the structures to help increase the island’s affordable housing inventory concerned Poindexter. Her concerns increased when the deputy Building Division director said the department had been talking with HPM about the prospect for two years.

“I really think we owe it to these traditional home builders,” Poindexter said. “They’re feeling that we’re favoring the factory-built home buildings over theirs.”

Poindexter at first considered removing the regulations of factory-built homes entirely, but she settled for a last-minute amendment crafted on the fly.

But Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, who worked with the Building Division for years to craft the bill, said every other county in the state has the same requirements for factory-built housing.

“Hawaii County now becomes the anomaly when it comes to factory-built housing,” Lee Loy said, adding such changes should be made at the state level.

Christopher Delaunay, manager of government relations for Pacific Resource Partnership, which represents union carpenters and construction contractors, said factory-built housing should be kept to the same standards as more conventional house building….

“The proposed construction code must, first and foremost, protect public health and safety, safeguard property and promote the public welfare by establishing minimum standards applicable to all home builders within the county,” he said. “Codes should not be written to provide special policies for companies seeking to gain an advantage over their competitors.”

(Translation: PRP Is trying to block factory-built housing because it is cheaper and better quality than stick-built housing built by Carpenters Union members.)

Shirley David of Community Alliance Partners said members of the West Hawaii Faith Based Hui to End Family Homelessness have been studying options to house homeless families and increase affordable housing. Factory-built housing is one way to do that.

“Many families are only one paycheck away from losing their homes due to the high cost of housing, illness or job loss. The COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated the situation. We need more entry level and transitional housing,” she said. “Agriculture and livestock operations will be strengthened when families can live on site for easier access, lessening transportation difficulties within our large county.”…

(Translation:  Factory-built housing reduces the cost of housing.)

read … Council moves revamped building code forward; no permit needed for window AC

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