Hawaii residents seeking to earn some extra cash have been renting out their own vehicles at hourly, daily and even long-term rates.
Call it the informal economy or underground marketplace. But it’s in synch with a growing trend in which people are renting out everything from their lawnmower to salad spinner.
Web sites like Craigslist and RelayRides are helping cultivate the marketplace for personal car-sharing services. A quick search of the sites, shows a cream Volkswagon Beetle offered for $89 a day. For those strapped for cash, there’s a Haleiwa cruiser, with “cosmetic problems,” that rents for just $20 a day or $120 for the week.
However, the state’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs is warning both those that rent their cars, as well as the renters themselves, that they should be cautious and check with their auto insurance policies first.
Either party could find themselves on the hook for major damages or costs associated with injuries if there is an accident.
"Companies or individuals who are not in compliance with state motor vehicle insurance laws or with Hawaii’s Motor Vehicle Rental Industry law may run significant risks if that vehicle is involved in an accident," Office of Consumer Protection Executive Director Bruce Kim said in a press release. "They could suffer significant adverse financial consequences as a result."
DCCA stressed that the consumer warning applies to car-sharing programs where people rent out their own vehicles, and not to car rental companies such as Avis or Zipcar.
Photo: random car (Flickr: JoshBerglund19)
— Sophie Cocke
Now’s your chance to weigh in on an affordable housing strategy for Oahu.
The city’s Department of Planning and Permitting and Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s housing office are conducting an online survey that gives residents a chance to share their views on local housing needs, according to a city press release.
Developing better housing solutions for Oahu — which has some of the highest rents and housing prices in the nation — is all the more pressing as transit-oriented development gets underway with construction of the Honolulu rail line.
You can take the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Honolulu_Housing
"The Affordable Housing Strategy will prioritize city resources in the construction and maintenance of affordable housing," according to the press release. "The plan also will be used to revise land use regulations, financial policies, and affordable housing programs. The city’s partners in this effort include the state, housing advocates and developers."
Photo: Honolulu housing (PF Bentley/Civil Beat)
— Sophie Cocke
The Honolulu City Council unanimously approved a zoning change Wednesday for the Live, Work Play Aiea development, a $766 million project that includes five towers and up to 1,500 residential units.
Bill 68 now goes to Mayor Kirk Caldwell for consideration.
The developer, Los Angeles-based Robertson Property Group, plans to build on a 14-acre parcel that used to host the Kamehameha Drive-In Theater.
Councilman Breene Harimoto praised the project, which has been in the works for more than four years, as the “wave of the future” and a model in transit-oriented development.
“It is really important to our district to have this kind of project coming up,” he said. “It is a model project for livable, walkable communities. There are wonderful open spaces, green spaces, gathering spaces.”
However, the project has attracted controversy from some residents who say the development will increase traffic congestion, tax sewer capacity, add noise and potentially reduce trade winds for area homes.
Councilman Ron Menor, who ultimately voted in favor of the project, also raised reservations Wednesday about how much affordable housing the development would actually create — one of the project’s key selling points.
He said the community had been misled to believe that much of the 1,500 units would be developed as affordable housing.
“A careful review of the development agreement indicates that the actual number of affordable (units) could be much fewer than what people expected,” he said.
Menor noted that the developer has the discretion to develop commercial, retail and office space in at least two of the towers. Furthermore, up to 50 percent of the affordable housing can be built off-site.
John Manavian, an executive vice president at Robertson Properties, told Civil Beat after the hearing that three of the towers will be strictly residential. He said that while not all of the affordable housing has to be built in the towers it must remain in a half-mile vicinity of the project.
The zoning change, which still must be approved by the mayor, allows the developer to exceed current height limits.
Photo: Planned Aiea development (Robertson Properties Group)
— Sophie Cocke
The city is seeking public comments on a new law that requires food truck operators to obtain a permit in order to operate in the Hawaii Capital Special District.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell allowed the City Council bill to become law last month without his signature. He expressed concerns that the measure passed without hearing any input from food truck operators.
Food vendors have since raised concerns about the measure.
From the mayor’s office:
The Department of Transportation Services (DTS), with the assistance of the Department of Enterprise Services (DES), will hold a public meeting to receive comments and concerns regarding the implementation of Bill 1 on Thursday, April 24, 2014, at 6 p.m. in the Mission Memorial Hearings Room.
Input from the public, particularly from food truck owners and operators, is greatly appreciated and will be helpful to DTS and DES in developing rules for the implementation of the bill. A public hearing will be held once rules have been drafted.
Bill 1, relating to parking, proposed a 2-year pilot project to grand operating permits to mobile food units, or food trucks, within the Hawaii Capital Special District. Mayor Caldwell returned the bill to Council, unsigned, due to the complete absence of testimony from food truck operators, who will be directly affected by the bill, during the hearing process. Bill 1 automatically became law on March 28, 2014.
Food truck in Waikiki (Flickr: yortlabs)
— Sophie Cocke
Hawaii has once again received top honors for solar energy.
Honolulu has ranked first among major U.S. cities for the amount of solar installed per person — 265 watts.
This dwarfs other cities. San Jose came in second with 97 watts installed per capita, followed by Wilmington with 96 watts and San Diego with 81 watts.
Honolulu ranked fifth in the total amount of installed solar, with 91 megawatts, slightly below San Jose and Phoenix. Los Angeles came in first with 132 megawatts of installed solar.
The rankings were compiled by Environment America, Research and Policy Center.
However, Honolulu’s ranking likely won’t stem the tide of disgruntled solar companies and customers who are facing increased constraints in hooking their solar systems up to Hawaiian Electric Co.’s isolated grid.
The electric utility says that all the solar threatens to destabilize its grid.
Former U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently called HECO’s grid stability claims “another bullshit argument,” in a Forbes article.
Chu said solar installations don’t threaten grid stability until they reach 20 percent of the customer base.
On Oahu, about 11 percent of customers currently have solar, according to HECO.
The recent solar “saturation issue” has not only depressed the solar market, but is also spurring a move toward battery storage which allows a customer to go completely off-grid. (PV and battery systems can also remain hooked up to the grid.)
ProVision Solar exec, Marco Mangelsdorf, has recent numbers on Oahu’s significant solar decline:
— Sophie Cocke
The cost overruns for the city’s Waialae Avenue repaving project are mounting.
The project was supposed to cost $9.36 million and be completed last December. But the new estimated total cost to complete the project is now $12.5 million and the work is expected to last through mid to late summer, according to information from the city’s Department of Design and Construction that was forwarded to a constituent on Thursday.
That’s significantly more than what Civil Beat was told last month. DDC pegged the projected cost overruns at $1 million, in addition to a 10 percent contingency built into the contract.
The road work, which includes repaving Waialae as well as about a dozen side streets, has dragged on for almost two years now. The work, overseen by contractor, Jas W. Glover, has frustrated local residents who have been dealing with nighttime construction noise, as well as drivers left navigating poor lane markings, uneven asphalt and potholes.
(You can read Civil Beat’s The Real Costs of Waialae Avenue’s Rocky Roadwork here.)
The city says the difficult road conditions are due to “soft spots,” or excessive moisture beneath the pavement.
Civil Beat’s PF Bentley recently took this Go-Pro video of Waialae Avenue:
Above photo: Waialae Avenue (PF Bentley)
— Sophie Cocke
The City of Honolulu has agreed to continue remediation efforts at the old Waipahu landfill, where garbage was burned from 1972 until the site was closed in 1991.
Under an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the city will embark on a second cleanup phase, which will include assessing human health and ecological risks from residual contamination, evaluating cleanup alternatives and studying the extent of the ash remaining in the soil.
The city may also install more monitoring wells to test for groundwater contamination.
"The main cleanup concerns at the landfill are dioxins and heavy metals in the landfill sediments and the risks posed to wetland areas near Pearl Harbor," according to a EPA press release.
From the EPA press release:
The landfill is located on the Waipio Peninsula on Oahu and was an ash landfill for the City’s Waipahu Incinerator that burned municipal solid waste from 1972 until the incinerator was closed in 1991. The site encompasses about 54 acres on U.S. Navy, State of Hawaii and City and County of Honolulu property adjacent to the West Loch of Pearl Harbor.
This settlement was reached under the authority of the federal Superfund law as part of the site lies within the Pearl Harbor Superfund site, and came after a public comment period. In the last fiscal year, EPA reached agreements with responsible parties to commit an estimated $1.2 billion toward Superfund site studies and cleanups nationwide.
— Sophie Cocke
The City of Honolulu is warning swimmers, surfers, boaters and beach goers to stay out of the water following a magnitude 8.2 earthquake that struck off the coast of Chile on Tuesday:
From the mayor’s office:
“Stay out of the ocean overnight and tomorrow morning,” said Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “Thankfully there is no destructive tsunami and it appears there will be no major threat to land on Oahu, but the earthquake in Chile may create dangerous ocean currents from 3 a.m. through the morning. Safety first. We are partially activating our Emergency Operations Center with our first responders including police, fire, EMS and Ocean Safety but a full activation is not necessary at this time.”
At 5:45 p.m. the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued the Tsunami Advisory based on data which indicated that no destructive tsunami had been generated, but that waves were dangerous enough to issue the advisory.
The possibility remains that the Chile earthquake will generate unusual currents and wave heights along Oahu shores from 3 a.m. to at least 8 a.m. tomorrow morning. These wave fluctuations could be hazardous to swimmers, surfers, beach goers and boaters.
The Department of Emergency Management is coordinating with Public Safety officials and leaders in the visitor industry to alert residents and visitors to stay out of the ocean and away from immediate shorelines during this period. In addition, everyone should stay away from the immediate vicinity of streams and canals that feed directly into the ocean. Boaters should exercise caution when entering or exiting harbors.
— Sophie Cocke
UPDATE: The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has issued a tsunami advisory for Hawaii. The public is being advised to stay out of the water and away from shores between the hours of 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Wednesday.
A major tsunami is not expected to strike Hawaii, but waves could create strong currents and changes in sea levels.
From PTWC, 5:46 p.m.:BASED ON ALL AVAILABLE DATA A MAJOR TSUNAMI IS NOT EXPECTED TO STRIKE THE STATE OF HAWAII. HOWEVER...SEA LEVEL CHANGES AND STRONG CURRENTS MAY OCCUR ALONG ALL COASTS THAT COULD BE A HAZARD TO SWIMMERS AND BOATERS AS WELL AS TO PERSONS NEAR THE SHORE AT BEACHES AND IN HARBORS AND MARINAS. THE THREAT MAY CONTINUE FOR SEVERAL HOURS AFTER THE INITIAL WAVE ARRIVAL. THE ESTIMATED TIME OF ARRIVAL OF THE INITIAL WAVE IS 0324 AM HST WED 02 APR 2014
Hawaii News Now is providing live updates of the potential threat to Hawaii on its live blog.
A magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck off the northern coast of Chile on Tuesday at 1:47 p.m., Hawaii Standard Time.
The threat of a tsunami to the Pacific region, including Hawaii, is currently being evaluated by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
If a tsunami were to hit Hawaii, the estimated earliest arrival time is 3:24 a.m. on Wednesday.
From PTWC:THE PACIFIC TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER HAS ISSUED AN EXPANDING REGIONAL TSUNAMI WARNING AND WATCH FOR PARTS OF THE PACIFIC LOCATED CLOSER TO THE EARTHQUAKE. AN EVALUATION OF THE PACIFIC WIDE TSUNAMI THREAT IS UNDERWAY AND THERE IS A POSSIBILITY THAT HAWAII COULD BE ELEVATED TO A WATCH OR WARNING STATUS. IF TSUNAMI WAVES IMPACT HAWAII THEIR ESTIMATED EARLIEST ARRIVAL TIME IS 0324 AM HST WED 02 APR 2014 FURTHER STATEMENTS WILL BE ISSUED HOURLY OR SOONER AS CONDITIONS WARRANT UNTIL THE THREAT TO HAWAII HAS PASSED.
A tsunami warning has been issued for Chile, Peru and Ecuador. A tsunami watch is in effect for Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Photo: Location of the earthquake off Chile (NOAA’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center)
— Sophie Cocke
Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed three bills into law on Friday relating to publication dispensing racks in Waikiki, alarm systems and increased fees for services administered by the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting.
Two other bills he returned to the City Council unsigned with letters expressing his reservations about the measures. The bills — related to food trucks and native plants — become law without his signature.
Caldwell chose not to veto the bills because such power “should be used sparingly,” he said in a press release.
“Though I have concerns about these bills, they are concerns we can deal with administratively or with legislation therefore I am returning them unsigned,” he said.
Bill 1 requires food truck operators to obtain a permit in order to operate within the Hawaii Capital Special District.
Caldwell noted in a letter to council members that his administration initially supported the measure as a way to attract more food trucks to the area.
“We also wanted to provide a more structured, fair and competitive business environment for food trucks to operate within while using city parking stalls,” wrote the mayor.
But food truck operators, who didn’t weigh in on the measure while it was moving through the City Council, have recently expressed concerns that the ordinance will hurt their business.
“Given this reaction, I have asked the Department of Transportation Services to conduct public hearings, as part of the rulemaking process, to address the complaints and determine whether the issues can be resolved via rulemaking,” he told council members.
Caldwell also said that the food cart permit program, which is in place as a two-year pilot project, amounts to an unfunded mandate. The City Council didn’t allocate any staff or funding to administer the program.
Caldwell also allowed Bill 4 to become law without his signature.
The measure requires the city to use indigenous and Polynesian introduced plants in public landscaping wherever possible.
He told council members that state procurement law preempts the city measure. He also said the language of the measure is vague and that other factors should be considered when making landscaping decisions.
The “use of certain plants for landscaping of city parks, streets, and facilities requires other considerations, such as of cost, availability, suitability, ease of maintenance, soil and climate conditions in which the plant can thrive, the intended purpose of the plant, aesthetics, and most importantly public safety,” he wrote in a separate letter to council members.
He said it will be particularly difficult to implement the ordinance when it comes to turf grass and street trees.
As for the bills Caldwell signed, you can read them here:
Photo: Komodo Food Truck in Los Angeles (Flickr: Ricardo Diaz)
— Sophie Cocke
More than 500 people have signed a petition to U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service to fire Christopher Deedy, a federal agent accused of murdering a Native Hawaiian man three years ago.
The petition on Change.org also asks for reparations for the family of the victim, Kollin Elderts.
Deedy shot Elderts in a McDonald’s in Honolulu late at night on Nov. 5, 2011. Deedy said he was acting in self-defense.
Deedy was tried for second-degree murder last year but the highly publicized trial ended in a hung jury.
The incident highlighted racial tensions between whites and Native Hawaiians in Hawaii.
Read Civil Beat’s past coverage of the issue:
— Anita Hofschneider
City government offices will be closed Wednesday, March 26, in observance of Kuhio Day.
Here’s a rundown of other services that will and will not be affected, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.
· Emergency ambulance, fire, lifeguard and police services will be available.
· Refuse will be collected. The landfills and transfer stations will be open.
· Municipal golf courses, botanical gardens and the Honolulu Zoo will be open.
· The People’s Open Markets will not be held
· The Blaisdell Center box office will be closed.
· All Satellite City Halls and Driver License offices will be closed.
· Traffic lanes will not be coned.
— Sophie Cocke
The Ala Moana Wastewater Pump Station is getting two new force mains to handle the city’s sewage.
To mark the March 24th anniversary of the notorious Waikiki sewage spill —when city officials dumped 48 million gallons of raw sewage in the Ala Wai Canal eight years ago because a pipe broke in Waikiki — Mayor Kirk Caldwell is holding a groundbreaking for the new pipes at Sand Island State Recreation Area.
The new 60-inch force mains will transport the peak of wastewater during rainy days from the Ala Moana Wastewater Pump Station to the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. The project, which is being managed by Frank Coluccio Construction Co., is supposed to be finished late next year.
Comprehensive sewage upgrades, planned through 2035, are required under a major settlement the city reached with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010. The “consent decree” requires Honolulu to upgrade its aging wastewater system and address violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
Photo: City officials dumping sewage into Ala Wai Canal, 2006 (KITV screenshot)
— Sophie Cocke
Mayor Kirk Caldwell has allocated $1 million in his proposed 2015 fiscal year budget to implement enhanced bus service between Waikiki and Ala Moana Center where the most highly trafficked Honolulu rail station is expected to be located.
City officials estimate that 22,000 people will we wanting to get to and from the Ala Moana station daily, and nearly 80 percent of them will be traveling by bus.
Of course, there are already buses that go between Waikiki and Ala Moana Center. But statistics show they are slow, inefficient and often late.
Add the onslaught of bus riders once rail makes it to Ala Moana Center in 2019, and it could be a recipe for chaos.
To prepare, the Caldwell administration plans to create two new bus routes through Waikiki that replace Bus 8 and directly serve Ala Moana Center. The express-like buses will have fewer stops than current routes and circulate more frequently.
The city is also working to create dedicated bus stops, outside ticket booths so riders can pay fares before boarding and buses in which passengers can board from both the front and back.
City officials and consultants briefed the Honolulu City Council’s Transportation Committee about the plan on Thursday. It’s based in large part on a $350,000 study initiated under former Mayor Peter Carlisle, titled the Waikiki Regional Circulator Study. The analysis was done by Weslin Consulting Services.
The bus plan is expected to reduce the anticipated cost of operating buses between Waikiki and the Ala Moana rail station by 14 percent due to increased efficiencies, Wes Frysztacki, the study’s author, told Civil Beat.
It’s also expected to speed up Waikiki buses, which currently crawl along at an average pace of 6.5 miles per hour. The improved buses are expected to travel at 9.5 miles per hour, said Frysztacki, with pick-ups every 3 to 10 minutes.
The city is also working to reduce overall congestion in Waikiki and make it a more pedestrian-friendly district, said Mike Formby, director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services.
He said residents can expect to see a reduction in the number of tourist trolleys.
Caldwell has also allocated $50,000 to make it easier to cross Kalakaua Avenue between the Hawaii Convention Center and Ala Wai Boulevard.
The improvement is part of goals outlined in the Waikiki Regional Circulator Study.
All of the upgrades outlined in the study, which includes a bike and pedestrian bridge that crosses the Ala Wai Canal, would cost about $100 million, said Frysztacki.
Currently, there is no comprehensive funding commitment for the plan.
You can read the study here.
Photo: Buses lined up outside Ala Moana Center (Waikiki Regional Circulator Study)
— Sophie Cocke
Arts and culture organizations are getting the shaft when it comes to more than $5 million in city funds slated to be doled out to Oahu nonprofits this year, according to arts advocates and concerned Honolulu City Council members.
The Grants-in-Aid Advisory Commission unveiled its recommended grantees to the City Council Budget Committee on Wednesday and not a single one of the 32 organizations falls into the arts and culture category.
It’s the second year in a row that such groups haven’t made the commission’s cut. And it’s stirring a new round of controversy for the grantmaking program formed just last year.
Council Chair Ernie Martin is already vowing to rejigger the list of awardees to create more diversity among recipients.
Some 113 nonprofits applied for the funding this year — nearly all of the 32 nonprofits that have been selected for funding fall into the public service category.
Groups that scored the highest in the commission’s ranking system include Lanakila Meals on Wheels, American National Red Cross, After-School All Stars Hawaii, Moiliili Community Center and Special Olympics Hawaii.
A.J. Halago, vice chair of the advisory commission, told council members that it wasn’t their intent to exclude arts and culture groups and maybe the ranking criteria needs to be revised.
“It’s not as if members were high-fiving,” he said. “We were quite disappointed it worked out that way.”
Some of the organizations that didn’t score high enough to receive funding include the Hawaii Academy of Performing Arts, Hawaii Alliance for Arts Education, Hawaii Opera Theatre, Hawaii Youth Symphony and Hawaii Theatre Center.
Aaron Kibota, associate director of Hawaii Arts Alliance, testified that the ranking system seemed to be skewed toward public service groups that could show they were providing an immediate need, such as feeding the homeless. But he said that other organizations have similar public service goals, they just take a longer-term approach.
“Does the council want to put out fires today or invest a little more in the future and possibly have less fires in the future or at least smaller fires?” he said.
Council members also noted that environmental groups were conspicuously missing from the commission’s list of awardees.
Martin, who introduced the resolution that created the Grants-in-Aid program, stoked controversy last year when he increased the number of organizations receiving grants.
The move, criticized by the Caldwell administration and nonprofit executives, meant that a number of groups selected for grants by the commission ended up receiving less money.
But he told council members that he will likely do the same this year, noting that it’s ultimately up to the City Council and not the advisory commission to decide who gets funding.
“I know I will be criticized for it, but I know I won’t lose any more hair over it,” said Martin, who is bald, during a Wednesday hearing.
He said that the Caldwell administration had only allocated $200,000 in the fiscal year 2015 budget for arts and culture funding — compounding the need to level the playing field in the Grants-in-Aid program.
You can read the full rankings of the advisory commission here.
Photo: Dancers perform for the Dalai Lama (Civil Beat)
— Sophie Cocke