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Billionaire's actions threaten city finances

By Richard Turbin

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:37 a.m. HST, Dec 22, 2010


The talk of East Honolulu is Genshiro Kawamoto's plan to build a lavish museum on Kahala Avenue, but given the eccentric billionaire's track record, I believe it is highly unlikely this endeavor will ever occur. Let's look beyond this distraction.

Instead of debating the existence of a Genshiro-inspired museum, we should examine how his actions threaten not only Kahala but the financial health of the entire city.

Here's my rationale: Real property taxes finance most of our important city services, such as police, fire, road repair, bus service, parks and beach maintenance, sanitation and waste disposal. East Honolulu pays approximately one-third of all real property taxes.

If Genshiro Kawamoto's efforts to degrade our East Honolulu neighborhoods continue, and real property values continue to plummet, we will all have to live with fewer city services. Coupled with the homeless problem, Kawamoto's form of real estate speculation also threatens the visitor industry in East Honolulu. Tourists who stream in great numbers into our neighborhood are stunned by what Kawamoto has done to Kahala.

It is extremely important that our city agencies and City Council take action to protect us from investors who degrade our neighborhoods. There are city ordinances that exist which should protect our neighborhoods. Honolulu's Housing Code Section 27-9.1(k) requires that houses and yards be adequately maintained.

City investigators from the Department of Planning and Permitting have cited the mega-billionaire 53 times up to October 2009, but he has gotten off the hook big time. The civil fines can range from $50 to $1,000 daily. For Kawamoto, the fines inexplicably have remained at $50, despite the fact that the requirements for the imposition of $1,000 fines have been met; namely that the violations have been recurring or are a threat to health and safety.

The leniency shown by the city's Department of Planning and Permitting to the offender has served as little deterrent to his unneighborly behavior.

Kawamoto hasn't even been required to pay the $50-per-day fine -- this, at a time when the city is in a financial crisis.

On the other hand, if the 53 violations were to cost him $1,000 a day, continuing for 30 days (a total of $1.59 million), even a mega-billionaire would sit up and take notice.

During meetings with neighbors, city officials expressed reluctance to assess higher fines, because of concerns that such action would discriminate against Kawamoto. But no other foreign investor has done so much to blight our beautiful neighborhoods.

We can take a lesson from the mainland to better protect ourselves from unneighborly investors. Municipalities in California and Colorado have made it a criminal misdemeanor for an investor to purchase multiple properties in a neighborhood and then allow them to become blighted and degraded. State Rep. Barbara Marumoto submitted such a bill to the state House during the 2009 session, but it was not passed. A similar bill introduced in the City Council went nowhere. If such a law were enacted in Honolulu, it would be a strong deterrent to investors who do not behave.

Honolulu's health is dependent upon the health of all of our neighborhoods. If Kahala is ruined by an irresponsible speculator, which Honolulu neighborhood will be next?

It is time for all of Honolulu to be concerned about what is happening in Kahala.






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