We Are More Than A Tourist Playground

Re-opening Hawaii to it’s tourism golden egg is going to send cheers through those who own hotels restaurants, shops and tour operations.

It’s going to be a tough sell for Gov. David Ige among those not connected directly to the tourist dollar and have grown disenchanted with 35,000 outsiders on our beaches and roads every month.

On one side, people need their jobs back. On the other, they’d like to regain some of the pre-statehood charm and be more like Fiji than Hong Kong.

There’s a resurgence of longing for “Old Hawaii” —  fantasizing about the 1920s and 1930s, two hotels in Waikiki and visitors arriving by sea rather than air. The song Aloha ‘Oe by Queen Lili‘uokalani was heard around the world. 

But of course longing for that period is also to acknowledge the bad working conditions for Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos in sugar or pineapple fields, racial injustice, an overwhelming haole culture, and the land and the prime businesses owned by the master families.

Tourism was in its infancy. The wealthy came to see the 1927 Royal Hawaiian Hotel in all its early splendor and maybe play golf at the then-seaside course at Waialae. Most stayed in Waikiki and were not yet a substantial element in our economy.

We had a bump in visitors after WWII and then a really big one when we became a state. Mainlanders were more comfortable coming here then. Before that, we were considered “foreign.”

Then came the wave. The radio show Hawaii Calls helped draw people here. So did Arthur Godfrey. We were exotic. Eventually, sugar and pineapple would fail. We did have the military bases. But mainly we had tourism as our bread and butter. Rich tourists. Some even brought their cars with them on the Matson ocean liner. Airlines brought most by the many hundreds daily.

We went from the few and the rich to the masses and the cut rate crowd looking for cheap stays, cheap rental cars. We had the birth of the “transient visitor unit”. Crowded Waikiki sidewalks. Crowded roads. Crowded beaches. High revenue only by constantly upping the number of cheap-spending tourists.

And now, even as residents chafe over those 10 million that were coming the year before the virus, the chief of our business and tourism department is saying we have to live with tourism as our only economic winner.

I suspect a sizable number of residents are going to push back and say “no, we don’t, not if our leaders start developing other winners.”

That would be technology, our Cancer Center at the UH, the Thirty Meter Telescope, and innovative businesses yet to be imagined.

Alas, the leaders keep talking tourism. Now they’re suggesting we go for fewer but those who spend more and are willing to pay more for admission to things that are free for kamaaina.

That’s mostly a pipe dream.

Societies and businesses that fail to change as times change, fail to innovate, fail to reinvent themselves have always been doomed — and that will not be avoided here.

You need to think about that this November as you vote for Honolulu mayor and legislators, and especially 2024 when you vote for a new governor.

This Property Owner Can Afford $83.33 A Month

There’s a bill under consideration in the Honolulu City Council that should be a shoo-in in this time of dangerously low public revenue and trying to spread property taxes across the ownership spectrum, based on assessment and ability to pay.

I look at it as very similar to others to charge a higher property tax rate for those million dollar plus homes, especially those not owner occupied.

This one is CB28 and it’s very simple, no hidden issues.

It would raise the annual property tax on a property with a Historic Residence exemption from $300 to $1,000.

That means all of us with such an exemption would have to pay — $83.33 a month!

Hello! Who has a Historic Residence and cannot afford $83.33 a month while others are easily paying three or four times that?

So I find it unpersuasive to have had heavily-against-it testimony at a recent council hearing, and for the Historic Hawaii Foundation (HHF) to mount a full court press against it.

If there were a Historic Residence owner at destitution’s door, the bill could be tweaked to include an appeal process. But all the properties I’ve been surfing through seem to have well-heeled owners.

I am definitely not so well-heeled (retired, laid off from MidWeek and on Social Security plus my wife’s modest Civil Beat earnings, yet we cannot groan about $83.33 a month for a house that would sell today for well over a million dollars.

You probably don’t remember, but in 2015 the Council considered another approach: Council Bill 28 would have set the exemption at 50% of the assessed value, rather than the full exemption currently provided. So I’d not be getting away with $300 a year!

The HHF argues with some obvious truth that an exemption “allows owners to have financial relief in the face of economic pressure to demolish, subdivide, redevelop or otherwise destroy historic properties.”

I’m for that. It preserved beautiful properties at least 50 years old, of unique architecture, and/or connected to some historic event in Hawaii.

The owner does not have to admit the public, just make sure the property is visible, either from the street or by way of access up a driveway on the 2nd Saturday of each month.

There’s periodic checks for enforcement on that latter requirement and you lose your exemption if you break the rule.

The 6-bedroom Good residence at 2334 Ferdinand Avenue

The 2014 reports on real property exemptions and valuation[i] indicate that the program includes 266 historic residences on Oahu, with a total exemption of about $3.6 million. As a program to help preserve Oahu’s historic neighborhoods and residences, the program is very cost effective, helping to perpetuate the characteristics and sense of place that are unique to each district.

I say $300 a year is ridiculously low and discriminatory.

The HHF counter-argues that “the exemption represents about 0.7% of the value of the combined property tax exemptions and about 0.017% of the City’s annual operating budget of $2.1 billion. As a revenue-enhancement measure, increasing taxes on historic homes would have an insignificant impact on the City’s operating budget, but would certainly impact the ability of the property owners to continue to preserve and maintain historic properties.”

I’ll agree the lost revenue isn’t humungous. I do not agree that the owners of these exempt properties are so poverty-stricken that they’d have to let the properties fall apart. They would not even notice a scheduled payment of $83.33 a month. Joe Blow’s non-historic house is hit for the full Monty!

Take a look at HHF’s website listing of existing historic properties. How many are maintained by people or corporations on the edge of poverty?

$1,000 a year is so unobtrusive in those owners’ budgets that we should not even be discussing it, just doing it.

Really?

Well, maybe the Continental Congress meant those “created equal” words in a scientific rather than a sociological sense. At the moment of “creation” — either when the single sperm penetrates an egg in the Fallopian tube or when a child is born — there’s equality.

Inequality quickly sets in. The better off mother gets the better birthing and after birth medical care in the best hospital with the best nurses and doctors. The better off mother has better nutrition and the child — yet unborn or just born — gets the benefit.  The newborn child goes home to middle class or wealthy living conditions. Or to near-ghetto housing with lead-paint walls and vermin.

From then on, class and color will play a huge role in the child’s life. The white, middle-class to wealthy class child is likely to have the most advantages. For the black, it will be a life pockmarked by big and small acts of discrimination.

So I’m not sure “created equal”  belonged in our Declaration of Independence, but then I came to realize that Thomas Jefferson obviously was not talking about slaves. He only meant that the colonists had the right to run their own lives and not take orders from England. Slaves would still take orders from their owners.

No women, no blacks, no foreigners, no Jews

In an 1832 editorial, Judge John O’Neill of the South Carolina Court of Appeals wrote:

“Free negroes belong to a degraded caste of society; they are in no respect on an equality with a white man. According to their condition they ought by law to be compelled to demean themselves as inferiors, from whom submission and respect to the whites, in all their intercourse in society, is demanded; I have always thought and while on the circuit ruled that words of impertinence and insolence addressed by a free negro to a white man, would justify an assault and battery.”

That sense of our country would persist. When Judge Stephen Douglas was running against Abe Lincoln for the presidency in 1858 he said “I do not regard the Negro as my equal, and positively deny that he is my brother, or any kin to me whatever. ”

Jefferson was ambivalent and torn between the political rights of white and blacks. “The blacks…are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind… but whatever be their degree of talent, it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the person or property of others.”

That ambivalent continues to haunt us. Americans want to be good and tolerant people but many of them still flee to the suburbs rather than remain in inner cities that include many black residents.

One of the most ridiculous recent public-official statements is from Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s chief economic adviser: “There is no systemic racism in the United States.”

Yes there is, and it was there from Day 1. We just refused to admit it until Martin Luther King came along and put it in our faces:

“We, the black people, the most displaced, the poorest, the most maligned and scourged. We, the most hated. We, the most feared and apprehensive.  We, who die daily in large and small ways, must take the demon death and turn it into life.”

Whenever that happens, we should scrap the old Independence Day and adopt a new one.

Maybe the 1920 one that never made it through Congress: It was entitled  the

Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World

A Book For Gov. David Ige

There’s a faint smell of animosity toward Gov. David Age out there among the citizenry. Nothing like the odoriferousness that attached itself to Neil Abercrombie in his first (and only) term or Linda Lingle in her second.

This one is similar to the case of Jeremy Harris when he moved from his mayor’s assistant office to the Honolulu mayor’s office.

Harris and Ige were perceived by the voters as technicians rather than politicians and that’s partly what carried them into office. Harris was primarily a scientist who took a “let’s look at the facts” approach to governance. Ige was a bookkeeper and money manager at the Senate Ways & Means Committee, where facts needed infinite studying.

We saw them both as methodical, fact-based handlers of social problems normally approached with vote counts in mind and how much political capital to spend.

 

 

 

 

 

They would solve things methodically and with hard facts, not some willy-nilly play to powerful community forces. More like Dr. Anthony Fauci than Donald Trump.

Alas, methodical means time consuming. The scientific approach means “don’t rush me, I’m still gathering facts.” You ask a scientist a question, you won’t get an immediate answer. Things must be studied.

So the biologist Harris and the electrical engineer Ige tackled Honolulu politics like  laboratory projects. Take it slow. Make no mistakes. Have patience. Don’t deal in half-ready cures.

But while we appreciate the Dr. Faucis among us, we have come to expect answers from our civic leaders — right now!

Where’s the money for the train and to build the new stadium? How many tourists will you let in this year? When can theaters and playhouses open? What happens when the federal $600 unemployment top-off expires July 31st? What if we have to shut down bars and restaurants again and hold off tourists?

But Ige’s an electrical engineer. Something’s wrong with our electrical power. This needs some studying, not just trying stuff to see if something works. More thinking about it so he doesn’t get it wrong.

“Don’t rush me on moving ahead with the TMT. I’m thinking. There’s a solution for the train’s money drain. I’m thinking about it. Bill 285 about police? That’s complicated and needs some thinking. You rush things you might make the problem worse,

“I’ll get the electricity flowing again. Just give me a little time to think.”

I’m reminded of Mayor Jeremy Harris. He was so busy thinking about pressing issues that all we remember of him is that he put those nice flowers up in pots along Kalakaua Avenue.

But it doesn’t regularly rain in Waikiki, so they have to be hand-watered periodically. Maybe he forgot to think about that.

By contrast we have Mayor Kirk Caldwell — action man (Ala Moana Park playground, Sherwood Forest ballfields) — who had to reverse himself and his projects.

And Mayor Frank Fasi (The Bus, the greening of City Hall, halting Waikiki street hawkers), who got it done, stuck with it and it stuck with us. Those who disliked it be damned!

Which style do you prefer?

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