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Wednesday, August 23, 2023
August 23, 2023 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 4:25 PM :: 3089 Views

DLNR Faked 'Reassignment' of Official Who Withheld Firefighting Water

Senate Special Session Confirms Four Judicial Appointments

HHFDC: 900 Housing Options for Fire Victims

DBEDT Releases 2022 Hawaii Data Book

30 Years later--Varona Village Redevelopment Begins

Sen Gil-Keith-Agaran Seeking Personal Profit from Lahaina Fires  

CB: … A key state senator and lawyer who likely will be a major player in the Maui recovery effort is also positioning himself to play a role in what are expected to be epic court fights over who will be held liable for the devastating Maui fires.

Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, who represents Wailuku, Kalului and Waihee, appeared Friday in an online “Maui Wildfire Impact Community Discussion,” an event hosted by his law firm and a major mainland firm, Morgan & Morgan.

Morgan & Morgan, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Injury Law Firm,” has already filed a lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric and Maui Electric Co. over the Maui fires. Keith-Agaran’s firm is Takitani Agaran Jorgensen & Wildman….

… concern raised by some lawmakers is that Keith-Agaran might gather information in his role as a lawmaker that would make it easier for him and his associates to sue the state.

But Harris said the ethics code in HRS 84-12 prohibits state employees including lawmakers from using confidential information they have obtained through their official duties for their “own personal gain or for the benefit of anyone.”

“That would be an ethics violation if a state employee or legislator had access to information and then tried to use it” outside the scope of their official duties, he said.

The ethics code would also come into play in the event that a lawmaker stands to gain from a settlement or judgment against the state.

‘Well-Positioned To Attract Clients’

Large settlements or judgments in lawsuits against the state are submitted to the Legislature for votes each year, and the ethics commission issued an advisory opinion in 1984 warning lawmakers they cannot vote on those appropriations if they were involved in the litigation.

Keith-Agaran said he has dealt with that issue before. He declined to vote on Senate Bill 1277 this year to fund the various settlements and judgments because his law firm represented a plaintiff in one of the cases.

read … A Key Maui Lawmaker's Likely Role In Wildfire Litigation Raises Questions - Honolulu Civil Beat

As Maui burned, Hawaii’s top emergency management officials were at a Waikiki conference

HNN: … As the wildfire in Lahaina spread, the Pacific’s top disaster management leaders were together with many of Hawaii’s emergency officials at a meeting on Oahu educating them about how to respond in crisis situations, FEMA confirms to HNN.

The revelation is the latest twist in the ongoing effort to determine how Maui emergency management officials responded to the wildfires on Aug. 8, as thousands were in the crosshairs of an inferno that claimed the town of Lahaina and more than 100 lives….

HNN Investigates has learned that on Aug. 8, the day of the wildfire, several of the nation’s top emergency management officials were in Hawaii hosting an annual conference. Those attending were quite literally the who’s who of disaster response locally and across the Pacific.

They were gathered in Waikiki for an annual FEMA disaster meeting, a half-hour plane ride away from a wildfire that would become the deadliest in the United States in more than a century.

The agenda listed 74 attendees at this year’s Pacific Partnership Meeting including FEMA leadership and several members of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

HNN confirmed the now-former head of Maui Emergency Management Agency — Herman Andaya — was also on hand along with as many as six state emergency management leaders, including Director Kenneth Hara, administrator James Barros and executive officer Don Aweau.

In an email, a state emergency management spokesperson said those officials were part of a “coordinating call about 11 a.m.” to discuss multiple wildfires that had sparked on Big Island and Maui. That spokesperson went on to say that HIEMA personnel were updated throughout the day.

FEMA confirmed the fires were part of discussions during the conference.

“There were consultations about the fires among local, state and FEMA participants,” said FEMA spokesperson John Mills….

read … As Maui burned, Hawaii’s top emergency management officials were at a Waikiki conference

NYT: Lahaina inferno began after firefighters departed ‘contained’ scene

NYT: … More than eight hours before a deadly fire swept through the town of Lahaina on Aug. 8, a small brush fire broke out on the edge of a residential neighborhood located a little more than 1 mile away from the town’s historic waterfront.

Firefighters spent hours dousing the blaze with water and carving boundaries around the burning fields with heavy machinery. They managed to keep the fire away from nearby homes, containing it to some empty plots of land.

Then came what could prove to be one of the key turning points in a disaster that became the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century. With hurricane-force gusts still blowing over the fire site and the surrounding arid shrubbery, crews left the neighborhood. They were needed, officials said, at other locations.

Within an hour, residents and Maui County authorities said, the initial brush fire flared up again and roared down the hillside toward the ocean, destroying nearly everything in its path. This time, the fire swiftly grew out of control. The death toll has reached at least 115, and more than 2,000 structures were destroyed.

In interviews this week, several residents of the area near the original brush fire said they had worried about its return when the fire trucks left their neighborhood. The fire, driven by the wind, had thrown off copious amounts of embers into the dry grasses, some of them said.

“I was angry because they were leaving the area unattended,” said Juan Advincula, 58, who watched the initial efforts to put the fire out. “It was the winds, the dryness and the embers I was afraid of. Someone should have stayed.”…

DC: Hawaii Officials Pulled Firefighters Away Right Before Blaze Ramped Up: REPORT | The Daily Caller

read … Lahaina inferno began after firefighters departed ‘contained’ scene

Lahaina: Deadly Gridlock Caused by Bumbled Road Closures

SA: … As flames tore through a West Maui neighborhood, car after car of fleeing residents headed for the only paved road out of town in a desperate race for safety.

And car after car was turned back toward the rapidly spreading wildfire by a barricade blocking access to Highway 30.

One family swerved around the barricade and was safe in a nearby town 48 minutes later, another drove their 4-wheel-drive car down a dirt road to escape. One man took a dirt road uphill, climbing above the fire and watching as Lahaina burned. He later picked his way through the flames, smoke and rubble to pull survivors to safety.

But dozens of others found themselves caught in a hellscape, their cars jammed together on a narrow road, surrounded by flames on three sides and the rocky ocean waves on the fourth. Some died in their cars, while others tried to run for safety….

The road closures — some because of the fire, some because of downed power lines — contributed to making historic Lahaina the site of the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century….

Around 3:20 p.m., Lahaina resident Kevin Eliason is watching the black smoke from a vantage point closer to downtown when passersby tell him a power pole has been knocked onto the tar roof of a gas station two blocks away, creating fireballs that are being blown in the wind, he said.

Eliason said the fire knocked the power out in the area soon after.

Ten minutes later, Hawaiian Electric sends a news release asking Maui residents to prepare for extended outages. The utility says more than 30 power poles are down in West Maui, including along the Honoapiilani Highway at the south end of Lahaina. At the same time, the fire department closes the Lahaina Bypass road because of the fire.

The closures block the only route out of Lahaina to the south. Two weeks later, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier says during a news conference that officers never stopped people from leaving Lahaina that day but did try to prevent them from driving over live power lines….

By the time the family piles into the car with their dog and Baird’s mother and joins a caravan of evacuating residents, parts of the subdivision are beginning to burn. A telephone pole falls behind their car, causing an accident and blocking a side street.

Meanwhile, police officers knock down a fence to help others escape, the police chief says later. Firefighters in the area nearly become trapped themselves, losing a truck to the flames, Pelletier says.

When Baird and his family turn south to drive out of town, the way is blocked by cones and a crew working on downed electric poles. The workers were motioning for everyone to turn back toward Lahaina.

They decide they don’t care what the crew wants, swerving around the cones and heading south. They make it to a neighboring town by 4:18 p.m. and begin texting people to see who else has made it out.

“Nobody realized how little time we really had,” Baird said. “Like even us being from the heart of the fire, we did not comprehend. Like we literally had minutes and one wrong turn. We would all be dead right now.”…

Jonelle Santos said her daughter, Ronelle Santos-Adrian, managed to escape her Lahaina affordable housing apartment with her 3-year-old daughter and partner by turning their four-wheel-drive vehicle away from the standstill traffic and onto a dirt road, eventually finding their way to a friend’s house in Napili….

Kim Cuevas-Reyes narrowly escapes with her 12- and 15-year-old by ignoring instructions to turn right on Front Street toward Lahaina’s Civic Center, which earlier in the day had been turned into a shelter for refugees. Instead, she takes a left, driving in the wrong lane to pass a stack of cars heading in the other direction.

“The gridlock would have left us there when the firestorm came,” said Cuevas-Reyes, 38. “I would have had to tell my children to jump into the ocean as well and be boiled alive by the flames or we would have just died from smoke inhalation and roasted in the car.”

At 5:20 p.m., Maui County shares another update on Facebook. The road leading south out of Lahaina has been cleared and is open for traffic, the county says.

But by then, some on Front Street have already died, according to survivor accounts. Others have jumped over the seawall and are treading water, dodging flaming debris and breathing overheated black smoke.

At some point, police begin directing people away from Front Street, Pelletier says, “because it had already gotten too late.” He does not say exactly when that point is reached.

A private ambulance company calls the U.S. Coast Guard at about 5:45 p.m., asking for help transporting 10 injured people from Lahaina to Maalaea because a fire is blocking road access to Lahaina. It is the Coast Guard’s first notification of the fire….

read … In deadly Maui fires, those who dodged barricades survived | Honolulu Star-Advertiser (staradvertiser.com)

Maui County Council Hears Grief And Rage From Fire Survivors Demanding Accountability

CB: … Amid stories of hardship, a fire battalion chief asks elected officials to make themselves more visible in devastated parts of the island….

Aimoku Chee, an attorney who said relatives and childhood friends of his in Lahaina lost homes, demanded answers to a range of questions swirling around the fire. These include why so many things went wrong on Aug. 8, from why people trying to flee the fire ran into road blocks, why firefighters lacked sufficient water to douse the flames, why warning sirens never sounded and so many other troubling questions.  “We need accountability,” Chee said, his voice shaking with anger….

Jen Mather urged the council to slow down and give the community time to grieve and organize before developing plans for recovery and resilience.

“I want you to pause,” Mather said.

Speaking through tears, Mather said residents of West Maui are living through incredibly challenging times. She urged council members “to come into the community and ask us what we need and then go forward.” ….

Many people who spoke on Tuesday were addressing Resolution 23-194 which spells out the council’s plan to develop a comprehensive recovery and resiliency plan in response to the fire.

Resident Shannon I‘i said she lost her home and belongings in the fire. She urged council members to hold meetings in the Lahaina area…

After the break, the council reconvened and referred the resolution to the council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee for further deliberation

LN: Maui Council’s Aug. 22nd hearing marks start of rebuilding dialog following Wildfire Disaster

MN: Maui Council’s Aug. 22nd hearing marks start of rebuilding dialog following Wildfire Disaster 

SA: Dozens of Maui residents express their frustration | Honolulu Star-Advertiser (staradvertiser.com)

MN: Residents call for more aid, accountability following fires

HNN: ‘They failed’: Maui residents vent fresh anger over government’s wildfire response

read … Maui County Council Hears Grief And Rage From Fire Survivors Demanding Accountability

All single-story residential structures searched in Lahaina

KITV: … All single-story residential properties in the Lahaina fire burn area has been searched, Maui County officials confirmed later Monday night. The death toll remains at 115.

Officials say search teams are now transitioning to searching in multi-story residences and commercial buildings.

The fire is 90% contained with approximately 2,170 acres of land burned. According to the Maui Fire Department, the fire is no longer advancing and there no active threats.

The names of 13 fire victims have been released publicly after their families were notified. Officials say 22 other people have been identified but their families have not yet been notified. Those names will not be released until that happens.

Nearly all residents Maui residents who were staying in emergency shelters have transitioned to hotels. As of Monday night, only three residents remained in one of the large public facilities that were opened shortly after the disaster began.

More than 1,900 people were reportedly sheltered at six hotel locations around Maui, in coordination with the American Red Cross. To qualify for these hotel shelters, you must first register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)….

CB: Lack Of DNA Complicates Search For People Still Missing After Maui Fires - Honolulu Civil Beat

MN: Police release names of 8 more Lahaina fire victims

SA: 8 more victims of Lahaina fire identified; death toll remains 115

SA: FBI estimates 1,000 to 1,100 people remain unaccounted in Lahaina

read … All single-story residential structures searched in Lahaina

As tourism drops officials worry about rest of Maui

KHON: … Officials said Maui tourism is down 20% compared to last year.

Hotel occupancy is down to 57% while the rest of the state is about 80%.

While helping survivors is still the top priority, tourism officials said there’s the danger of not having enough jobs for Maui residents.

“The balance has to be struck that we cannot shut down the rest of Maui. Maui is the most dependent county on tourism and without tourism, they are in a world of hurt because there are no short term economic alternatives,” said Mufi Hannemann, president of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association….

Y: Some Hawaii locals want tourists to stay away for good. Do they have a point? (yahoo.com)

SA Editorial: Tourism can help disaster recovery | Honolulu Star-Advertiser (staradvertiser.com)

SA: Cancellations outpace bookings for Maui hotels | Honolulu Star-Advertiser (staradvertiser.com)

read … As tourism drops officials worry about rest of Maui | KHON2

LOL! Ken Lawson Kicked off UH Manoa Campus

CB: …A prominent instructor at the University of Hawaii’s law school has sued the school, alleging the dean, unnamed faculty and a university provost retaliated against him by banning him from the law school campus after he criticized and organized a boycott against a Black History Month event that did not include any Black person as a panelist, facilitator or organizer.

Kenneth Lawson’s complaint, filed Monday in federal court in Honolulu, names as defendants the University of Hawaii, William S. Richardson School of Law; law school Dean Camille Nelson; Michael Bruno, provost of the University of Hawaii Manoa, and other unnamed faculty members….

According to Lawson’s suit, a February 2023 event was hosted by the law school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. Billed as a Black History Month event, the DEI committee’s gathering included a lunchtime discussion of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” but the event involved no Black people as organizers or speakers, the complaint asserts. 

According to the complaint, Lawson raised concerns about the event at a Feb. 17 faculty meeting, where he “explained that failing to include anyone of Black ancestry in the event was an example of unconscious racial bias.”

The complaint says Nelson repeatedly interrupted Lawson as he tried to explain why the DEI committee’s exclusion of a Black panelist or organizer from the Black History event was an example of what Lawson said some scholars call “nice racism.”

At one point, according to the complaint, Nelson — who is Black, born in Jamaica and educated in Canada – said, “as a Black woman, I can understand (discrimination and racism).”

According to the suit, Lawson responded that Nelson’s life experience did not give her personal understanding of aspects of the U.S. Black civil rights movement, as well things like Jim Crow segregation or forced desegregation in which Black students were bussed to hostile, majority-white schools….

PDF: COMPLAINT

FLASHBACK: UH: Ken Lawson Admits his “Innocence Project” Brought Alleged Pimp to Hawaii

CB: In Defense Of The UH Law School Dean - Honolulu Civil Beat

FLASHBACK: UH: Convicted Felon Paid to Get Other Convicts Released

read … UH Law School Instructor Says He Was Banned For Criticizing 'Nice Racism' - Honolulu Civil Beat

Child-‘Oriented’: Drag show set for Honokaa

HTH: … Tickets are selling fast as Honokaa prepares for the second annual Mauka Makai Drag Show fundraiser on Saturday.

The Honokaa Business Association is putting on a large drag show at the Honokaa People’s Theatre as a fundraiser for HBA, with a percentage of funds going toward disaster recovery and relief on Maui.

The drag show sold out last year, and this year’s event will feature five drag queens from Hawaii Island and Oahu.

“Last year was amazing. It was a theater full of 500 people, and the joy and love could be felt everywhere,” said HBA treasurer Marysue Joyce. “We’re already selling quite fast, and I can almost positively say we will sell out this year.”

According to Joyce, the Mauka Makai Drag Show is the perfect show for drag lovers and newcomers alike. The show will be family-friendly, with radio-edited versions of songs, tame costumes and choreography, and a no-contact tipping policy.

The featured performers will be Aaries the Extra from Hilo, Tora Hamstring from Kailua-Kona, Eden Simon from Oahu and Melody Lucas, who is new to the islands. Candi Shell from Oahu will serve as the show’s emcee….

read … Family-friendly drag show set for Honokaa

Hawaiian Homes Report Eyes Geothermal On Maunakea, Kohala

BIVN: … Potential geothermal resources near Maunakea and Kohala mountains on Hawaiʻi island have the “highest probability of viable electricity generation” according to a new report provided to the Hawaiian Homes Commission.

The report (Item C-4 on the Hawaiian Homes Commission August 21, 2023 meeting agenda) was submitted by a Geothermal Permitted Interaction Group established by the Commission in March 2023. The report mentions the Humuʻula area on Maunakea, as well as Upper Kawaihae on Kohala, as locations for potential geothermal activity, with Humuʻula “being most roadway accessible.”…

HTH: Geothermal sites identified: Report favors energy development on DHHL property

read … Hawaiian Homes Report Eyes Geothermal On Maunakea, Kohala

Hilo jail expansion should be complete in December

HTH: … The $20.7 million project will add 48 new beds to the jail and will increase its total operational capacity from 226 inmates to 274….

But even with the additional space, it still won’t be enough to house the current number of inmates.

The latest population report released Aug. 14 confirmed that HCC has a total of 298 inmates, with a design capacity of 206 and an operational capacity of 226.

That gives HCCC an occupancy rate of 131.9%, making it the most overcrowded correctional facility in the state….

read … Hilo jail expansion should be complete in December - Hawaii Tribune-Herald

TheHandi-Van use recovers from COVID with less reliable service

SA: … In an informational meeting Tuesday during a Honolulu City Council meeting, the city’s Department of Transportation Services noted that TheHandi-Van, the City and County of Hono­lulu’s paratransit serv­ice, this year has grown to a ridership of 946,000, up from about 820,000 in 2022 and 670,000 in 2021.

But its ability to get to those riders early or on time has suffered, dropping to about 91.2% during this fiscal year from 96.2% during fiscal year 2021.

“About 90% of the riders that used to ride TheHandi-­Van are back now,” said DTS Director Roger Morton…

Donald Sakamoto, president of Citizens for a Fair Americans With Disabilities Act Ride and a longtime rider of TheHandi-Van, in written testimony said that the city needs to procure smaller vans instead of larger ones that cannot fit in the driveways of some people who need their service.

In Tuesday’s informational briefing, Sakamoto also mentioned missed or delayed pickups.

“We have blown runs where a driver either did not show up, a run was kicked back … and people are placed … on other vans, which delays people from being picked up,” Sakamoto told the Council.

The city’s availability to make reservations for TheHandi-Van has also been an issue. The U.S. Department of Justice sent a complaint to the city for the poor fiscal year 2021 and 2022 performance of its call center, which clients use to make reservations.

DTS said more employees have been hired to operate the call center and that some employees are allowed to work from home. The call center’s technology was improved following the DOJ’s complaint….

Some suggestions Morton provided to combat performance issues include outsourcing some services to private providers like TheCab taxi services, which can be cheaper than internal operation costs….

He also wants to start a Medicaid-related pilot program involving federally reimbursed TheHandi-Van trips; the expansion of a city-subsidized program called the Agency-Provided Trip Program; and a pilot taxi voucher program….

KHON: More Hawaiʻi Handi-Van riders denied pickup at home (khon2.com)

2018: Uber Caldwell: Level the Playing Field for Everybody Except HandiVan

read … TheHandi-Van use recovers from COVID with less reliable service | Honolulu Star-Advertiser (staradvertiser.com)

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