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November 2020 Email Update

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The Oahu median price in October for single-family homes was $865,000 (10.9% higher than October 2019) and for condos was $439,000 (0.3% lower than October 2019).  The number of single-family homes that sold in October fell slightly because there were simply not enough single-family homes on the market.  Over 40% of the single-family homes sold for over asking driving prices higher.  There are only 1.8 months of single-family home inventory while the supply of condos continues to creep up at 4.0 month of inventory.

Howard Hughes Corp. announced plans to build two more towers in its Ward Village master-planned community.  Ulana Ward Village consists of 697 moderately priced condos that will satisfy the Hawaii Community Development Authority’s (HCDA) requirement that 20% of the condos in the community meet federal affordability standards for moderate-income Hawaii households.  The tower will sit next to a 30,000 square foot public park and a 40,000 square foot private park for Ulana residents.  Parking for residents and retail will be housed in a separate building next to the tower.  The Park on Ward consists of 546 higher priced condos with retail space on the ground floor.  The Park will be located on the former Sports Authority site and will include an entrance to a 90,000 square foot public park.  This building phase includes an elevated walkway over Ala Moana Blvd. from Ward Village to Kewalo Harbor.  Residents started moving into Ward Village with the completion of Waiea in 2016, followed by Anaha, Ae’o, and Ke Kilohana.  Howard Hughes Corp has the scheduled completion of A’ali’i at the end of 2021, Koula in the fall of 2022, and Victoria Place at the end of 2022.

People arriving on trans-Pacific flights could bypass the 14-day quarantine requirement by providing a negative COVID-19 test administered within 72 hours of the final leg of their departure on October 15th.  Total passenger arrival numbers jumped to over 7,000 per day the first weekend and leveled off to around 5,000 per day the following week.  Hawaii’s pre-arrival testing program got off to a slower start for those visitors who did not receive their negative test result by the time they arrived.  Roughly 3,700 visitors whose test results uploaded after they arrived had to remain in quarantine until the results had been manually reviewed.  The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that Hawaii officials were unprepared for the influx of visitors despite having weeks to get ready and the program was not properly staffed to manually review the tests that were uploaded late.  One traveler reportedly had to wait 3 days to be released from quarantine even though his negative test arrived three hours after his arrival.  Domestic travelers starting beyond the West Coast have reported trouble finding Hawaii’s trusted testing partners and some airlines, like Hawaiian Airlines, did not have their testing program set up on October 15th.  The Honolulu Police Department (HPD) issued 4,500 warnings, 470 citations to visitors and arrested several people for violating Mayor Caldwell’s emergency orders in the first five days that visitors could participate in the pre-testing program.  An October 30th article in the Honolulu Star Advertiser highlighted that Hawaii is getting a reputation for levying strict consequences on visitors that fail to heed the state’s confusing and inconsistent social distancing rules.  Hawaii’s tourism numbers the first week point to a lengthy recovery since posted passenger arrivals were roughly one-sixth the numbers that arrived the same period in 2019.

University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) recently gave the House Select Committee on COVID-19 some sobering news.  UHERO reported that only 85% of Hawaii’s tenants were caught up on rent by the middle of August and roughly 9,000 tenants have fallen more than one month behind in rent.  Property owners and property managers report that 40% of their tenants have lost jobs.  Officials expect jammed courts with thousands of eviction hearings once Governor Ige’s emergency proclamations expire.  The likelihood of landlords and tenants reaching an out-of-court agreement becomes less likely as landlords’ frustration with not receiving rent mounts and tenants’ financial stress continues.  Hawaii’s economy was the worst in the nation during the second quarter with a 42.2% loss of gross domestic product during the second quarter.  Hawaii’s 15.1% unemployment rate was worst in the country and 2.5% higher than #2 Nevada.  The state has qualified for an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits, up to 52 weeks for individuals who qualify, because of Hawaii’s dismal employment figures.

UHERO published some more granular statistics on their website based on data reported by landlords and property managers.  There is a time lag and the numbers report August figures.  The report showed that 42.75% of households that paid their rent on time, still suffered economic hardship as a result of the pandemic and almost 75% of landlords were willing to provide some form of temporary rent relief to help them through.  4.33% of rental units turned over (a change in tenants) and almost half of those were unplanned (tenants moved before the end of the lease due to financial hardship).  Roughly half of the tenants that moved left the islands.  Stott Property Management, LLC has seen those trends and November shows that the trends may be accelerating.  Close to 3% of the rentals under management will turn over in November and the departing tenants are either moving in with family and/or friends or leaving the state in search of better prospects.

Governor Ige enthusiastically announced the state’s new call center to help Hawaii’s unemployed yet once again those in need struggle to get through.  The call center has received about 150,000 calls per day as frustrated people seeking assistance call repeatedly when trying to get through.  People that do manage to get into the hold cue are spending several hours waiting to speak with a human being.  State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director (DLIR), Anne Eustaquio, acknowledged that the 200 operators working in the call center are insufficient for the estimated 8,000 individual callers seeking help every day since it takes an operator about 30 minutes to successfully help one caller.  Frustrated unemployed residents rallied in front of DLIR’s headquarters calling on the department to open its offices and answer questions in person to assist thousands of people who have not received their unemployment benefits.  The papered over glass doors behind the protestors read “Building Closed” and another taped up sign provided the phone number that people could not get a live person.  The office closures have hurt those that lack access to a computer most.  In early September, the governor announced a state rental assistance program that set aside $100 million to provide renters that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic related shutdowns up to $2,000 per month in benefits.  Two nonprofits were selected to administer the plan and then state employees gummed up the works by double-checking their work.  The state had only disbursed 2% of the funds six weeks after the programs announcement despite 20,000 people applying for benefits.  The program had to stop taking new applicants due to the backlog.  Only 2,810 of the 19,591 applications were currently being processed as of October 27th.  Governor Ige’s continued failures during the COVID-19 pandemic; unemployment benefit delays, contact tracing shortcomings, a major Coronavirus outbreak in the state prison, and weak economic reopening leadership has resulted in a 57% disapproval rating. 

Rick Blangiardi defeated Keith Amemiya in the runoff election for Honolulu Mayor winning roughly 60% of the vote. Mayor-elect Blangiardi worked at local television stations before leaving the islands to eventually become president of Telemundo Holdings Inc., one of the country’s leading Hispanic television networks before returning to Hawaii as an executive at KHON, KGMB, and Hawaii News Now.  Many voters who spoke to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser during the primaries stated that they were tired of seeing the same politicians on the ballot and wanted someone with new ideas to run city hall.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell continues to issue new threats aimed at Oahu residents growing weary of his over-the-top social distancing directives.  He highlighted a baby luau attended by 130 people and a Halloween party in Punchbowl in a recent news conference to announce that the Honolulu Police Department would be out in force to crack down on pandemic scofflaws.  Tim noticed a small gathering on Friday, October 30th, allowing children to enjoy themselves in someone’s front yard as residents adjusted their celebration plans.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) announced that the city’s most expensive construction project will now exceed $10 billion.  The continued increase in construction costs comes as the General Excise Tax revenue is expected to come up $450 million short due to the state shutting down tourism for seven months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  HART chief Andrew Robbins acknowledged that the project may now be halted short of Ala Moana or without the 21 stations originally envisioned.  HART is investigating a phased plan on finishing the project to help work through the financial issues.  The increased price tag and reduced revenue forecast has created a $1 billion budget hole that places $250 million federal funding in jeopardy.  New contracts would have to be worked out to implement a phased completion of the planned construction.

The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park reopened on 11/6/2020.  The USS Bowfin and gift shop will be open from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm daily but food service and some concessions will remain closed.  The museum will reopen in early 2021 after completing renovations that were started during the shutdown. 

Bar and night club owners have filed a lawsuit against the state of Hawaii, Governor David Ige, state Attorney General Claire Connors, the city and county of Honolulu, and Mayor Kirk Caldwell for shutting down their businesses for all but six weeks since March.  The plaintiffs seek $50 million in damages and requests class action status for several hundred bars and night clubs.  Attorney James DiPisquale has summarized the lawsuit by stating “It’s absolutely ridiculous.  There is nothing in the emergency orders or liquor commission rules and state law that says food must be served with alcohol.”

One public right in Hawaii is the right to access and visit any beach on state and county land.  Ko Olina resort learned the hard way when they tried to close three lagoons to residents and reserve them for resort occupants and quickly had to backtrack on those plans from overwhelming opposition.  All four lagoons and public parking were reopened to the public on October 16th.

Kauai residents are learning the limits of reliable renewable energy as two of its three largest electrical generating plants were off-line due to repairs. The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) had to warn of rolling blackouts due to cloudy weather limiting solar power generation and encouraging residents to conserve electricity.  The island’s warnings mirror the problems of rolling blackouts in California by rushing forward with renewable energy initiatives without sufficient backup generation capacity.

Divers from the state Division of Aquatic Resources planted five nursery grown corals in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve as part of a pilot reef restoration project.  The coral was grown in the Anuenue Coral Restoration Nursery using coral fragments collected from Leeward Oahu.  They have been grown for four years in a microorganism free environment. Researchers should soon know how the recently introduced coral fare and Hanauma Bay’s closure provides a great opportunity to measure the success of the project before visitors return.  Restoration supporters hope that the pilot projects success will lead to a larger scale restoration effort. 

Larry Ellison’s hydroponics greenhouses, Sensei Farms, on Lanai have started to bear fruit.  Sensei Farms announced that it has begun exporting its premium leafy greens to Foodland stores statewide.  The operation currently consists of six 20,000-square-foot greenhouses and the plan includes growing varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers in computer controlled nutrient infused water.  Sensei Farms claims that the warehouses can grow 10 times more produce per acre using 90% less water.

Kona Brewing Company’s Hawaii operations have returned to local ownership, Kona Brewery LLC, dba Kona Brewing Hawaii.  The company currently consists of a Kona pub and brewery and a Hawaii Kai restaurant.  A 30,000-barrel brewing facility is currently under construction in Kona that will supply beer throughout the state.  The company plans on opening the new brewery in stages and announced that it has already started test brews. 

Football fans finally got to see University of Hawaii (UH) football on October 24th and the UH Warriors did not disappoint by delivering a 34-19 victory over Fresno State.  UH is currently 2-1 with a 39-13 win over New Mexico and a 31-7 loss to Wyoming.

Alan Wong has closed his flagship Honolulu restaurant and turned over the keys to his landlord on November 2nd after 25 years in business.  His restaurant was nominated as best new restaurant in the nation a year after opening in 1995 and he received the award for the top chef in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii region.  His friend Roy Yamaguchi said, “it is especially sad that the closure is the result of circumstances Wong could not control.” To read the full article, click the button below.

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“Paws across the Pacific” delivered more than 600 cats and dogs from pet shelters statewide to shelters in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana where the animals have a much better chance of finding homes.  The mix of animals range from kittens to cats 3-years old and puppies and dogs 5-years old.  A chartered Hercules C-130 plane picked up the animals on Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island before departing to the mainland.  Some lucky pets already have new families already waiting to welcome them to their new homes.

The Cattle Egret was first introduced to Hawaii in 1959 and whose diet consists of insects and will eat ticks and biting flies directly of stock animals making it popular with cattle ranchers throughout the world.  You will likely see these striking white birds following lawn mowers and weed eating yard workers to eat the insects disturbed by the landscaping activities.  The birds are very common on all the populated islands and can often be found hunting at Hawaii’s many golf courses.

Squirt the giraffe defeated Rusti the orangutan in the election for mayor of Honolulu Zoo.  Both contestants ran a campaign focused on animal rights and preserving the environment.  Apparently Squirt won because of his natural ability to remain above the fray and did not monkey around.

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