Thursday, March 05, 2015         

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The development of a thriving high-technology sector in Hawaii has been long on promise, short on results. Those who want to increase technology's tiny share of Hawaii's economy bemoan the difficulty in hiring and keeping qualified employees.

It's good fiscal planning, when tax collections are high, to set aside money for a rainy day, when there might not be enough to cover even the essential needs.

The past few years have left a blot on the reputation of police departments in this state and, on Oahu, the last several months has proven especially damaging. And in all of the drama, the general public has lacked a voice to raise a protest or demand improvements.

There's plenty to like in Mayor Kirk Caldwell's E Paka Kakou initiative, which commits to spending more to improve Honolulu's public parks, and, dovetailing with a bill before the City Council, encourages community members to also spruce up the facilities.

The Hawaii visitor industry has done better than merely weather the economic storms of the last six years, and the people marketing this destination seem to be bullish on its future potential.

Hawaii's grand ethanol experiment has come to naught. It is time to pull the plug. Mandating the use of ethanol as a transportation fuel, as the state has done since April 1, 2006, was supposed to revive the local sugar industry — ethanol is an alcohol-based fuel that can be made from sugar or corn — and reduce energy imports.

If "Keep the Country Country" is to be more than a mere slogan, more than a wistful aspiration expressed by the popular bumper stickers, Oahu's elected officials must be prepared to make very tough decisions about development, decisions that may dismay as many voters as they delight.

Hawaiian Electric Co. asserts it is in the best interest of the company and all of its customers to halt approval of rooftop solar systems in certain neighborhoods until the state Public Utilities Commission rules on HECO's request to pay less for the excess energy it buys from those so-called distributed producers.

What a difference a year makes — a $910 million difference, which is now the estimated shortfall for Oahu's 20-mile rail project.

Senate Bill 637, seeking to reverse a state constitutional provision for semi-autonomy of the University of Hawaii, should be received as a wakeup call by the UH Board of Regents and administrators, a signal of public dissatisfaction with the way they've been fulfilling the mission of higher education.

An ecological treasure and engineering feat may soon be lost to history, and that would be a real shame. The Board of Water Supply should not move ahead with a plan that could result in dismantling the Haiku Stairs.

The state Public Utilities Commission is embarking on what has to be its most consequential year to 18 months. That's the time span its new chairman said it will take to clear the deck on a string of key dockets, or proposals, affecting the regulation and operation of the islands' principal electric company.

The shameful spectacle of government regulatory failure is on full display on the 854 acres that comprise the dubiously named Kunia Loa Ridge Farmlands.

It's become nearly a cliche for young students to complain about school cafeteria fare being inedible or, at the very least, unpalatable. The truth is, schools in Hawaii, and elsewhere across the country have found ways to improve the operations and win over more of the young clientele.

The discussions arising from a proposal to encourage the purchase of "body-mounted video cameras" for law enforcement officers have drawn wide support — deservedly so — and from organizations generally suspicious of most forms of surveillance.

Some ideas are worth pursuing, even if there's a cost attached. The feasibility study for a land swap aimed at relocating the state's overcrowded Dillingham Boulevard prison and preserving agricultural land is one such proposal deserving of legislators' support.

By settling on a compromise that further restricts aquarium fishing in Hawaiian waters but does not ban the practice, a state House committee has made headway on a contentious issue of significant interest this legislative session.

The mission of the Department of Land and Natural Resources is to "enhance, protect, conserve and manage Hawaii's unique and limited natural, cultural and historic resources held in public trust for current and future generations of the people of Hawaii nei, and its visitors, in partnership with others from the public and private sectors."

After last year's tumultuous, unsuccessful attempts to upzone some of its Kakaako lands to allow residential condos, the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs has regrouped with a new strategy.

Rather than looking to regulate ride-booking companies such as Uber and Lyft like conventional taxi companies, state lawmakers should be trying to lift some of the rules that help make driving a regular cab such a tough way to make a living.

Critics of the "affirmative consent" movement sweeping U.S. colleges, including in Hawaii, claim that what amounts to a redefinition of consensual sex could turn the romantic trysts of even willing, loving couples into grounds for a rape accusation.

When the Legislature in 1995 granted police an exemption from a disciplinary disclosure rule that applies to all other government employees in Hawaii, some lawmakers at the time speculated that the special treatment was warranted.

A spike in the number of measles cases in Hawaii last year, coupled with the fact that the percentage of unvaccinated kindergartners has doubled over the past decade, serves as an urgent warning that the islands are not immune to the kind of outbreaks that have sickened hundreds of people in the continental United States.

What's a round of golf worth? It depends on who's buying. Nine current and former state employees agreed to pay $35,800 in penalties for allegedly accepting free golf from at least 26 companies that did business with the state, according to a Feb. 2 report by the state Ethics Commission.

Though it's not obvious looking at the many tented encampments around Oahu, action on the complex problem of homelessness is finally galvanizing, holding out the promise of real progress.

The University of Hawaii Cancer Center deserves a chance to succeed. Most Hawaii residents have or will have a family connection to cancer at some point, so there's a wellspring of public sympathy for the mission of fighting the disease.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa has been deficit spending, with expenditures outpacing regular tuition revenues this year by about $31 million.

The Honolulu Police Department holds the dubious distinction of being the only major city or county law-enforcement agency in the country that has failed to report recent crime statistics to the national Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program.

One of the big selling points of replacing an elected Board of Education with one appointed by the governor was that the change would clarify the lines of accountability for Hawaii's sprawling public school system. The governor would appoint the board, which in turn would hire the superintendent, who would oversee the Department of Education.

Senate President Donna Mercado Kim believes it's time for the counties to take over most of what the state Land Use Commission does and has sponsored a measure to eliminate it.

The best that can be said about the blistering report from the NCAA on Friday, citing former top University of Hawaii men's basketball officials with seven rule violations, is that UH may have hit bottom and already be on the road to recovery, given its prompt move to correct course last fall.

It's been nine months since the University of Hawaii-Manoa was named as one of 55 schools under federal review for its handling of sexual harassment and sexual violence, raising flags about the severity of these problems on campus.

As thorough as it is, the damning report about the Hawaii Health Connector, issued last week by the state auditor, should not mark the end of public inquiry into how taxpayer-funded grants, totalling $204.4 million, were spent establishing the online health-insurance exchange.

Several bills introduced in the Legislature this session would restore to Hawaii journalists special legal protections that expired in 2013. It's reasonable to ask why.

In this era of rising demands on the public educational system, officials are duty-bound to make the most of its limited resources, cutting waste where possible so that those funds can be plowed back into delivering service to the students.

Hawaii's vibrant network of nonprofit social service agencies plays a huge role in improving the lives of the state's most vulnerable, disenfranchised people. When it comes to tackling complex social problems, these nonprofits can be most effective when they work in sync, targeting their individual resources and expertise toward common goals.

Educational technology is no longer a luxury in elementary and secondary schools. It is an essential 21st century learning tool, in private and public schools alike.

There are lots of lessons Gov. David Ige undoubtedly took away from his decisive victory over his predecessor, Neil Abercrombie, as to what mistakes he would not repeat. Judging by his first State of the State address delivered Monday at the state Capitol, one of the takeaways must have been: Don't overpromise.

We build schools, hospitals, community centers, and places to work and play. And we safeguard the things that are important to us: our families, our freedoms, our environment and our future — because this is our home.

Nothing spells impending disaster the way this does: an aging population in need of health care with an existing shortage of doctors growing worse, day by day.

State lawmakers pledge to cast a critical eye as Honolulu's over-budget rail-transit project seeks to extend a tax surcharge financing the project. But legislators must also aim that laser focus at themselves, for allowing an exorbitant 10 percent state "skim" of intended rail funding to persist beyond all justification.

A bustling airport that has "international" in its official name must attain standards that befit the moniker and should continually strive to serve its global clientele well.

For the Hawaii population most in need of the social safety net, the state Department of Human Services is a critical conduit to health and other services. Where medical care is concerned, however, the web of clinics and providers is the real delivery mechanism, the extension of DHS services into the community.

Critics and pundits were quick to dismiss Democratic President Barack Obama's State of the Union address as dead on arrival, delivered as it was to a Congress controlled by an unfriendly GOP. This conventional view, however, overlooks that some of the president's goals resonate in blue states and red states alike.

Tourists are much more likely than local residents to suffer spinal-cord injuries in Hawaiian waters, and are doing so at rising rates.

The path to abundance for those who rely on fish for sustenance is through a route of some restraint. That restraint — which must apply to all users of the resource in equal measure — is what the Molokai fishing community seeks, to protect an important food source for the rural island.

Money -- where to get it and how to spend it -- is shaping up as the predominant issue as the 2015 Legislature prepares to convene on Wednesday.

Among all the priorities that will weigh down lawmakers when they convene on Wednesday, few have the urgency of narrowing the gap between the demand for affordable housing and the state's paltry supply.

The 269-acre Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park is, without a doubt, one of the most heavily used sites within the city's parks system.

A task force's failure to agree that hospitals should do more to ensure that patients go home with capable caregivers must not spell the end of this issue.

In a state like Hawaii, where costs for public utilities are high and the pressure to keep rates in check is even higher, it's never an opportune moment for a changing of the guard at the government agency in charge of managing all this.

State lawmakers have known for years that Hawaii's public hospital system is in perilous condition, but have resisted the obvious cure: public-private partnerships that could reduce labor costs and therefore lower the bill for state taxpayers, while restoring health care services that have shrunk in recent years due to the budget woes.

Honolulu taxpayers might well be pondering that very issue. And they ought to be asking the Honolulu City Council whether the new ordinance will accomplish its goal — to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment — when it takes effect July 1.

As construction of Oahu's rail-transit system progresses through urban Honolulu over the coming months and years, disruption and displacement are inevitable. There will be construction noise, traffic congestion and all the other inconveniences that go along with a major public-works project.

In a recent interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Gov. David Ige answered a question about Hawaii's prison system by saying he favors finding a private partner to invest in a new facility here.

A lawsuit over who is to blame for the death of an Oahu toddler has lasted far longer than the abused boy's short, painful life.

The Honolulu Zoo is a public asset the city should strive to keep and not allow to wither. And yet, unless officials start taking a hard look at the financial support for the zoo and find ways to make it more sustainable, its days as a Waikiki attraction probably are numbered.

The barbaric assassinations of 10 Parisian journalists and two police officers by suspected Islamist terrorists on Wednesday must fill the world with righteous rage and the resolve to challenge the use of brutality and intimidation to suppress free expression.

How to boost funding for Oahu's over-budget rail transit system — the largest public works project in state history — looms large as the Legislature prepares to convene later this month.

When city and state officials adopted the "Complete Streets" policy to guide the design of new roads and the rehabilitation of old ones, they took a necessary first step in the transition to a safer, more accessible transportation network.

An audit that found more than a quarter of the special, revolving and trust funds maintained by the University of Hawaii fail to meet legislative criteria once again illustrates the pitfalls of budgeting outside the general fund.

Whatever anyone's particular stance on vacation rentals might be, there ought to be agreement on the facts. And the facts reveal the abject failure of efforts to ban vacation rentals outright in the past, and the futility of such initiatives going forward.

The stoicism of folks in lower Puna is unquestioned, coping since June as they have with a slow-moving yet unpredictable lava flow that has disrupted daily routines in ways large and small.

The Florida-based energy giant that plans to buy Hawaiian Electric Industries makes no bones about wanting to exert its own economies of scale to provide reliable, affordable electricity to Hawaii customers who currently pay among the highest rates in the nation.

No expression becomes part of the lexicon without containing a large element of truth. This year, a title from the classic rock vaults seems to fit Hawaii’s current circumstances: You can’t always get what you want.

A cancer research center is an investment that can yield powerfully valuable dividends over time. A robust institution can attract the personnel and grants to underwrite research and produce clinical trials of new treatments — therapies to which Hawaii patients, isolated by geography, would have ready access.

It's natural as one year winds down to start thinking about the year ahead, focusing on self-improvement. Maintaining or improving one's health frequently tops the list of annual resolutions.

Trying to get a handle on the burgeoning problem — some say boon — of in-home vacation rentals will be a daunting task, but it's one that must be tackled.

Hawaii's natural beauty attracts investors who can capitalize on the development potential as well as others of means who simply want to purchase a piece of paradise — and in many cases, it's a pretty big piece.

Those who take stands in the defense of free speech usually frame it as a protection of substantive and important expressions and ideas. Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone, who sued to uphold the First Amendment on the University of Hawaii's Hilo campus, fall into this category.

For every vacation of his six years in office — and even the one before the inauguration — President Barack Obama has been warmly welcomed in Hawaii, his birthplace and still the place where much of his worldview originated.

Across the Hawaiian islands, today is Christmas Day. It's Christmas for our families and friends, gathered to celebrate with a sumptuous feast and gifts under a glittering tree.

After nearly a decade of fits and starts, the developer of Ka Makana Alii regional mall in Kapolei is wasting no time in making the right moves toward turning 67 acres of leased Department of Hawaiian Home Lands into Hawaii's third-largest shopping center.

It's been almost 15 years since the law was enacted, and Hawaii still doesn't know what to do with its medical marijuana program. It's actually less of a program than a policy, and that policy is: Hawaii residents can get a prescription for the drug, but filling it is another matter.

The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has begun long-awaited and welcome reforms to one of its most problematic land-management programs, one that recently has drawn fire for its unfairness to beneficiaries of the Native Hawaiian trust that is almost a century old.

The $6 billion question about Honolu-lu's rail project, now projected to carry a price tag close to that amount, is less about the cost than about this: What is Honolulu going to get as a result of an alarming projected overrun of anywhere from $500 million to $700 million?

A tiny beetle from Central Africa threatens the health of Hawaii's $27 million coffee industry. But the beetle, known as the coffee berry borer, also provides a lesson in how the state can maintain and protect a strong diversified agriculture industry.

According to its mission statement, the Honolulu Police Commission aims to "enhance the public confidence, trust and support in the integrity, fairness and respect of the police department, its officers and employees."

Created by the 1978 state Constitutional Convention, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is a public trust and state agency — that's a fact, albeit one that might not sit well among a growing number of Hawaiian sovereigntists.

Change is hard, and in cases when it seeks to upend longstanding patterns of traffic, it can be hazardous. However, the change being sought with the new King Street cycle track ultimately is a good one.

There's lots to like in the latest Hawaii Youth Tobacco Survey. Cigarette smoking among middle-schoolers and high-schoolers continues to decline, fewer students report being exposed to secondhand smoke in vehicles and homes, and few smokers under 18 are able to purchase cigarettes at stores.

They're just conceptual images, but they spark the imagination about what's possible, and why the Barack Obama Presidential Center would be such a stellar addition to Honolulu's waterfront.

Low levels of contamination detected at two monitoring wells at the Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility make it all the more urgent that the Navy steps up now to protect Oahu's drinking supply.

Hawaii is routinely deemed among the healthiest states not solely by circumstance but also due to careful public policies that require continual reinforcement, lest the islands' natural advantages give way to woes that plague other states.

The just-finished Hawaii campaign season of 2014 may not yield a political template for the future. Any generalizations one might make are muddied by the circumstances specific to this particular case.

Six months after Ben Jay took the helm of the University of Hawaii-Manoa Athletics Department in December 2012, his department issued a 2014-18 strategic plan that emphasized the urgency of bolstering "a program in decline" amid a rapidly changing national landscape in intercollegiate athletics.

Waikiki Beach is about as valuable to Hawaii's economy as any single attraction could possibly be. So finding a way to help maintain it through a sustained funding source, one replenished by a new tax collected from a broad base, makes sense as a policy to be adopted by the Honolulu City Council.

It's a plain fact that inappropriate testimony by Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha caused a mistrial in a federal case involving his family. What is in question is whether the chief's lapse on the witness stand was inadvertent, or whether he intentionally sabotaged the proceedings.

The arrival of a new major player on the Hawaii electrical power scene could — and should — create new capacity to accelerate Hawaii's march toward renewable energy and cut customer costs.

Board of Education Chairman Don Horner neatly summed up the dilemma of Department of Education investigations that put employees accused of misconduct on paid leave for prolonged periods: Either the department is paying guilty people for months on end, or it is tarnishing the reputations of innocent ones who should be cleared to return to work.

The city has within its reach a way to expand the inventory of affordable units suited to the singles and smaller households that are increasingly typical would-be tenants in Oahu's rental market.

The University of Hawaii's "15 to Finish" initiative has become a national model since it launched in 2011, inspiring colleges in 20 states to adopt similar programs that encourage students to carry enough credits each semester to graduate in four years.

The new Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees — almost all of them familiar to the job — will pick up business where it left off before the election season ramped up.

Gov. David Ige struck just the right tone with the observation, about halfway through his inaugural address, that, contrary to conventional wisdom, Hawaii is not at a turning point just because we have a new governor and a new state administration.

The Hawaii Community Development Authority has a golden opportunity to achieve dual goals with its newest project: add affordable rental apartments to Kakaako and demon- strate to private landowners that even small urban parcels can be suitable for "micro unit" buildings that generate reliable income for landlords.

Some worry that the changing of the guard at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center will distract from the center's core function in the fight against cancer.

As we recover from our Thanksgiving feasting and prepare for Christmas, our thoughts turn to whether we eat too much. The federal Food and Drug Administration wants to encourage that thought.

Sometimes, the convergence of government blunders is so startling that it cannot pass unrebuked. So it was recently, when side-by-side news stories on one day revealed how "the system" is failing its citizens, from ongoing Handi-Van snafus to a mishandled negligent-homicide case, to an accused child-assaulting teacher being cleared to teach here.

In this world of struggle and confrontation, Thanksgiving Day offers respite, even an escape hatch. What's better than a sumptuous meal with relatives and friends (assuming those annual familial clashes can be avoided) to provide insulation from the noise?

The unpleasant business of balancing the University of Hawaii-Manoa's budget cost one chancellor his job and continues to bedevil his successor. UH's flagship campus, while not bleeding red ink, is drawing down on its financial reserves at an unsustainable rate.

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