This Is Going To Be Strange, But Safe!

Did you get the message? No in-person classes for the first month at Oahu’s public schools. No restrictions for Neighbor Island schools.

But the Big Q is: how are Oahu parents who both work just to keep the family heads barely above water going to handle their very young school-age children remaining at home? And the older ones — will this be an invitation to mischief?

New York’s governor has ordered all public schools there to start face-to-face classroom instruction. We’ll be class-less until at least mid September, meaning students will not get to know their new school year teachers close up and personal. That’s considered a bummer in education circles but our infection rate has zoomed from 2% of those tested to more than 7% and when you start having 200+ daily cases contact-tracing becomes worthless. We’re in an exponential spiral. Obviously re-opened and loosened up too early.

Here’s the announcement:

Governor’s Office 

Governor and Superintendent Announce O‘ahu Public Schools Will Go Online for First Four Weeks

At a news briefing Friday, Gov. David Ige and Supt. Christina Kishimoto announced public schools on O‘ahu would be doing complete distance learning for the first four weeks of the new school year, which starts on Aug. 17. This comes a day after new rules were announced to curb the growing spread of COVID-19 on O‘ahu. Gov Ige said, “I have heard a great deal of concern from parents and teachers regarding the start of the school year… This is a challenging time. And I know that parents, teachers and students are worried. I also realize that keeping students at home is going to be an additional burden on working parents, but because of the recent surge on O‘ahu, I agree that this is the right approach. I know you’re frustrated with all of these measures. Everyone wants our lives to return to normal. But we still need to be vigilant, and taking personal responsibility is still the best way to fight COVID-19.” The plan does not affect schools on neighbor islands. Additional details about the plan are listed in the DOE section of this Daily News Digest.


Goodbye Dear YMCA Pool

I had my last swim this afternoon at the Waialae-Kaimuki YMCA five-lane lap pool. It was caught in the City’s broad-brush effort to tamp down our Covid infections.

The new order effective at midnight closes “all private pools” — that means my Y,, all condominium pools, the Waialae Country Club, Oahu C.C. and Pacific Club. I guess it means the pool at your home, too, although you’d only get busted if your neighbor ratted you out for having a large pool party!

The Kaimuki Y didn’t deserve this sanction. Its pool is carefully sanitized. I’d say much safer than the weight machines that are allowed to continue. I’m more at risk using a machine after another user has just half-assed wiped it down, while the virus isn’t going to live two seconds in the chemically-treated pool water.

Here’s how the pool use worked. There were hourly 45-minute sessions and you reserved one online. Five people each hour in five corded lanes with six-feet centerline separation. The five showed up 10 minutes before swim time for a temperature check. All must be masked and keep their distance. Masks come off only when you enter the water.

At the end of the 45-minute swim, a lifeguard sanitizes everything a swimmer might have touched. A new batch of 5 arrives.

There should have been an exemption for private pools that meet all CDC safety recommendations. But the City has its hands full already. It cannot inspect every facility.

Will I switch to the weight machines? Probably not. It’s my concern about who with God-know-what has just handled the parts immediately before me.

I will greatly miss the pool, but this, too, shall pass.

Meanwhile, the Barefoot Beach Cafe remains open, even thought Kapiolani Park where it’s situated is closed.

So not all is lost!


Picking Your Candidates? Don’t Forget The Train, The Train, The Train, The Train

Covid-19 is, understandably, #1 on the news cycle in Honolulu these days. But we have a Primary election coming Saturday and I wonder if everyone will forget and forgive about the train cost and delay.

The local gadfly Panos Prevadouros — who’s probably a much better civil engineer and professor than a would-be politician — got some of it strikingly right in his long fight against the elevated train project.

When the cost was just $5 billion, he showed that even if it served 7% of Oahu travelers (the City figure) it would be an irresponsible expenditure.

Little did we guess that the final cost might be $10 billion and the finish date so far in the future that we might all be traveling by air cars or rocket packs by then!

And to think that we embarked on this project with just 50.6% of those who voted saying yes to it. Not exactly a resounding huzzah.

Yes, I supported it. Large cities need such mass transit. But I foolishly thought it would be $5 billion, much paid by the feds, and open while we still hadn’t built out Kapolei. We’d have affordable housing projects — not developers’ retail stores — by the stations. And a main station in Kapolei center, not in a field far, far away.

What happened? Everything that was not thought out, like the cost of relocating utility lines and what it would cost and how long it would take to acquire by condemnation the pass-through land coming into west Honolulu town.

Then there were the messed up contracts, the additional archeological surveys, the lawsuits, the arguments with contractors and the realization that the train could not possibly go through the airport to pick up some of our 10 million  (at that time) visitors.

Then people started favoring stopping at Middle Street. In other words, Kapolei riders would come halfway to town on a train they caught by driving their cars to “Kapolei station” and then taking a bus into downtown.

Mufi Hannemann, who wants to be mayor again , was interviewed earlier this year by the Wall Street Journal and said: “I thought it was prudent to move quickly,” partly to show the Federal Transit Administration, which would provide part of the funding, that Honolulu was committed. “We needed to send a very strong positive message that the project was good to go.”

None of us understands why about 100 contracts for the project had to be redone. Why the design put the elevated guideway too close to power lines and required relocation of those lines.

The cost overruns are among the largest that transportation experts say they’ve ever seen. The cost has led to an extra excise tax on businesses, which can affect the price of goods and services, and it has hit tourists through an expanded hotel tax. Now, we don’t have that many businesses left in operation and only a handful of tourists. So away goes the excise and tourist accommodation tax.

Just the landscaping, moving those utility lines and grading some access roads cost $2.5 billion. It began to seem that many smart contractors were soaking in our excise tax and tourist tax dollars.

Even the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office apparently wonder if there was some illegal collusion with politicians or city projects chiefs, and we’re waiting for that shoe to fall.

Project supporters such as Hannemann, Neil Abercrombie and Mayor Kirk Caldwell put some of the blame on people who got a federal judge to halt the work for 13 months while more archeological work was done. But I’d ask why those burial concerns weren’t more of a red flag when this whole thing was still on a drawing board?

And with so many unanswered questions and “what ifs”, why did the Federal Transit Authority officials so quickly pledge us money for the train? Don’t they read blueprints and projections?

Why didn’t anybody here think to ask Hawaiian Electric about those power lines that would dangle dangerously close to the elevated guideway and have to be moved?

HART’s executive director, Andrew Robbins, vows to complete the project by the end of 2025. He said costs won’t exceed the current projection of $9.02 billion.

I don’t believe him. Not a single projection so far has been on target and a lot of invoices for work and expenditures seem to be missing. So the feds project only a 65% chance of the 2025 opening date.

And what former project chief planner Toru Hamayasu told the Wall Street Journal intrigues me:

“If we were out of step, you’d think the FTA would stop us, or the legal advisers within the city would stop us. And that never happened. Every step we made [was] with the acceptance and approval of the agencies who were watching over the project.”

Now the state wants to build a new stadium complex in conjunction with some private operators.

Watch for somebody to assure us this will be “on budget and on time.”

What Will Tomorrow Bring?

Friday is usually the day-of-choice for everyone from financial markets to government agencies to announce big things that will affect us. That gives us Saturday and Sunday to consider the consequences before they hit us on Monday. But, change-up pitch today. The governor and Mayor Caldwell decided on a Thursday afternoon announcement of new Friday midnight restrictions.

What’s the biggest one?  All parks (state and county) and beaches closed. You can swim but you can’t “sun.” Cops will, they said, issue fewer warnings and more citations. They are shutting down private gyms and pools, too. Restaurants get a pass. They’ve not been infection spots like nursing homes, group exercise classes and those continuing large gatherings. Bars will remain closed.. Quarantine for inter-island travel is re-instated.  Mask use may become mandatory at some point, not merely recommended.

My question remains: what took us so damn long to take this thing seriously enough to cite and arrest people unmasked in public, gathered in groups at parks and beaches (regardless of familial connections) and generally gathering on public streets — like the large gangs of kids who arrive at my beach-street, 5 to a car, loudly laughing and shouting as they walk down to Kulamanu Beach, and jamming into the one small sand area that also has water without coral. Of course, nobody ever wears a mask.

What happened to the cops we used to have on ATVs cruising parks and beaches? Why aren’t they out there with bullhorns and warning of heavy fines for those caught maskless and not social distancing?

Draconian? Yes. But obviously we aren’t getting the virus under control by asking people to be on their most-virus-free behavior. They’ve ignored that because there are no penalties except for violating quarantine — and even then I doubt we are catching even 10% of the violators.

$200 fines do get ordinary people’s attention. Lots of cops on street patrols get ordinary people’s attention. Do you think we’d have all that restroom vandalism if every park was patrolled and the fine for vandalism was $500?

In wartime, governments get draconian. This is a kind of war. It can escalate and kill us just as bombs and missiles can. During WWII in London did people say “it’s my right to leave my lights on at night if I want to”? Hell no!

Emergency orders and citations and heavy fines for ignoring them should have been the first command out of the Governor’s Office. It wasn’t. We’re paying the price for that neglect.

I strongly suggest you (and the governor!) read this link from New Zealand.


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