October 2021 Email Update
The Honolulu Planning Commission voted on September 29th to recommend new short-term rental rules proposed by the city Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) to the Honolulu City Council. The proposal would increase the minimum lease period without a special permit to 180 days from the current 30 days. The commission split the proposal between residential and resort neighborhoods with the new rules only applying to residential neighborhoods. The proponents of the new rules claim it will help provide residents with affordable rentals. Opponents claim it will limit housing to temporary health care employees helping local facilities, full-time students, remote workers, and homeowners in transition. Some homeowners testified they could not afford their mortgage if the new rules were put in place because renting to long-term tenants was not a desired option and business advocates criticize the “moving of goalposts” when DPP has not even implemented the changes from new rules passed in 2019.
The surge of COVID-19 cases in July and August temporarily set back Hawaii’s tourism industry just as federal stimulus support expired in September. Visitors from the mainland reached an all-time high in July as pent-up demand led to a strong resurgence. The July visitor numbers approached 10% of the record numbers experience in 2019 before falling back to levels 30% below 2019 in late September. Initial unemployment claims grew about 8% in late August as some recently returning service industry employees were laid off again in response to lower demand. The University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) expects visitor numbers to start recovering during Thanksgiving as the number of cases from the Delta Variant have begun easing. UHERO does not expect job numbers will match pre-pandemic levels for several years.
Governor Ige’s recent request that tourists stay away has cost the tourism industry millions of dollars in lost revenue and has also financially hurt the very visitors that heeded his request. Numerous reports have surfaced that those visitors who cancelled or postponed trips received refunds from their airfare yet are out thousands of dollars because sites like VRBO have failed to issue refunds. The state of Hawaii’s Landlord Tenant Code prohibits a landlord from holding on to rent from a tenant that has broken a contract if the same rental is then rented again during the same period. Tim has spoken to one individual who did not receive a refund from a Maui landlord even though the space was later rented during the same timeframe. Tim recommended the individual call the Landlord/Tenant hotline at 808-586-2634. When pressed with questions concerning the money lost, Ige weakly responded that he only “requested” visitors delay the trips and did not order the trips delayed or cancelled. There is some truth to the comment no good deed goes unpunished.
Ige extended his emergency proclamation another 60 days on October 1st until November 30th, keeping both travel restrictions and the mask mandate in place. The Maui Jim Maui Invitational college basketball tournament announced that the Thanksgiving tournament will be moved out of Hawaii for the second year in a row, this time to Las Vegas. An organizer stated, “Maui is our tournament home, which is why we are disappointed that the state COVID-19 restrictions will not allow us to host the Maui Jim Maui Invitational there this year.” In related news, The University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are the only NCAA football team to play in empty stands with artificial crowd noise. It’s unfortunate that Hawaii small businesses continue to suffer under arbitrary social distancing restrictions while the rest of the country is successfully and safely holding sporting events attended by fans.
Boat rides to the USS Arizona Memorial were suspended in early September for two weeks when crews noticed a safety issue with one of the shoreside docks at the visitor center. The steel collar that connects the gangway to the dock severed. Boat tours resumed when the National Park Service and the Navy completed the initial phase of repairs. To check on updates on the dock status and reopening, please click the link below:
Major Hawaii hospitals are once again resuming elective surgeries as the number of COVID-19 cases from the Delta variant ease. The latest pandemic surge severely stretched Hawaii’s healthcare capacity of personnel, space, and oxygen. Governor David Ige is using the state’s latest experience to walk back his commitment to lift all social distancing restrictions once 70% of state residents are fully vaccinated. He recently extended his emergency proclamations for another 60 days keeping the mask mandate in place.
While restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, museums, and arcades had to scramble to implement new vaccination and testing requirements for staff and customers, the state has given the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airlines more time to implement the governor’s latest Executive Order requiring employees to be fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Some organizations have quickly pointed out the double standard concerning government’s lack of urgency when private businesses are threatened with shutdowns for failing to comply. A Honolulu Star-Advertiser article highlighted 160 businesses were warned, cited, or arrested over two weeks following mayor’s and governor’s emergency orders. A social media post from a local restaurant owner highlighted in the article describes the “three birthday parties, one anniversary, and one special date” that had to be cancelled because a customer called the police when an employee failed to ask for proof of vaccination before sitting the customer down and the city shut down the restaurant for a day as punishment. The article goes on to explain that most small businesses did not suffer any violations but that is small comfort to the customers, employees, and owners that were visited by the Honolulu Police Department (HPD).
The state Department of Transportation rescinded its previously announced December 31, 2021, closure of Dillingham Airfield in a letter to the Army providing the local skydiving and glider industry a temporary reprieve. The current lease expires on July 5, 2024, and the state is in talks toward a new lease lasting twenty years. Dillingham Airfield is the only place on Oahu where skydive and glider companies can operate, and it is an important component in rural North Shore’s economy. Issues concerning aging infrastructure remain before the state and U.S. Army will execute a new lease. Click the link below to see some pictures of the airfield:
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) has no answers to problems with the train’s wheels being too thin for a track that is too wide, a passenger door that was observed open while a train was moving, and $3 billion budget gap. The wheel and track problem is a major issue because it forces the trains to slow down from 55 miles per hour to 5 miles per hour to navigate the “X” shaped track intersections called frogs that are too wide for the current wheels by ½ inch. Forcing the trains to slow down will prevent the system from having a train arrive at each station every four to five minutes per the currently designed schedule. No contractor has bid on the proposed contract by the September 24thdeadline, 2 ½ months after the contract was opened for bids. On July 17th, a passenger door was open on at least one of the seven automated trains during testing. The trains are not supposed to be able to move if any of the 24 passenger doors are open. Apparently, the cause has not been identified or fixed and HART officials have declined to comment on solutions for either problem. HART has asked the Honolulu City Council to propose a bill to implement a city visitor tax and commit a percentage of the tax to benefit construction of the project as it scrambles to resolve the $3 billion budget gap.
All callers must dial the full ten-digit number including “808” to make local calls in Hawaii starting October 24th. The state recommends people update the contacts in their phones to reflect the new requirement.
A recent audit of Young Brothers interisland ocean cargo rates once again points out the glaring inefficiencies associated with the state’s preference to try to tightly regulate state authorized monopolies, versus reducing red tape and opening certain industries to increased competition. A recent audit reported the 46% rate hike the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted has generated profits of $2 million per month. The report noted the emergency rate hike was supposed to keep Young Brothers, LLC afloat and not become a mechanism to recoup losses from past management mistakes. The report applauded the company’s willingness to receive constructive feedback, documented the company’s financial troubles preceded the economic fallout COVID-19 pandemic, and stated the management team has not fully embraced the operational changes required to eliminate operational inefficiencies and related costs. The state ended up in this position because Young Brothers, LLC is the only licensed shipping company to serve smaller islands like Molokai and Lanai leaving those communities extremely vulnerable to inter-island shipping disruptions. Does anyone remember the Superferry?
Mayor Rick Blangiardi mandated restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, museums, arcades, and similar establishments require all employees, contractors, and volunteers show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test each week. Customers must show proof of full vaccination, or a negative test result taken within the last 48 hours to enter the establishment. Customers may still pick up takeout orders without meeting the requirements set by the mayor’s emergency order implementing Safe Access Oahu. The order is currently set to expire in 60 days on November 12, 2021. Please use the link below for additional information.
Residents and travelers to Hawaii may upload a copy of their vaccination card using the state’s Safe Travels Hawaii website to create and view your Hawaii SMART Health Card for a digital verification of your vaccination. You can follow this link to upload your card.
Members of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools and Hawaii Catholic Schools experienced a surge in student enrollment this fall after losing about 6,000 students last year to home schooling. Many private schools showed the ability to navigate nimbly and effectively the quickly evolving pandemic restrictions while providing quality education to their students including some in-person instruction once allowed to do so. Various reports showed that Hawaii public school students essentially lost a year of instruction, and many public schools are still struggling with disruptions to in-person learning. The Interscholastic League of Honolulu, a league catering to private school sports, has started up the after-school sports programs while public schools have kept sports programs indefinitely shuttered.
A draft master plan for the University of Hawaii managed lands on Mauna Kea reduces the number of observatories at the summit from thirteen to nine and proposes repurposing portions of lower-level areas to educational programs and field research beyond astronomy. The plan allows for construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) that is vehemently opposed by some Native Hawaiian groups who consider Mauna Kea sacred and other conservationist groups. A fifth observatory would have to be removed to make room for TMT. There have not been currently any comments from TMT’s opponents regarding the draft master plan.
After a slow start, the UH Rainbow Warriors football team and the UH Rainbow Wahine volleyball team have gained their footing and appear to have some momentum. The UH football team started off the year 1-3 with bruising losses to Pac-10 teams UCLA and Oregon State and a disappointing loss to Mountain West Conference (MSC) rival San Jose State. UH has won its last two games against New Mexico State and #18 ranked Fresno State to even their record to 3-3. The UH women’s volleyball team also started off slowly starting the season 3-5 against nonconference foes before opening the Big West Conference 4-0 and improving their record to 7-5.
Hawaii’s Carissa Moore captured her fifth World Surfing League (WSL) title about seven weeks after capturing a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Japan. Moore, Hawaii’s most successful surfer, won her previous titles in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2019. Since there was no season in 2020 due to the pandemic, Moore, successfully defended her 2019 title for back-to-back victories.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finalized a rule that prohibits swimming with, approaching, or remaining within 50 yards of spinner dolphins in Hawaii waters. The Marine Mammal Protection Act already prohibits harassing dolphins and the new rule further specifies activities considered harassment. The dolphins hunt for food at night and swim in sandy bottom areas closer to shore during the day to rest and nurture their young. The rules were put in place to stop the human interactions with the dolphins disturbing their restful routines on the Big Island and along Oahu’s Waianae cost. Once documented incident described 13 boats and 60 swimmers surrounding a pod of dolphins and some swimmers grabbing and riding the dolphins. Ocean swimmers will not be cited if a pod of dolphins inadvertently approaches within 50 yards provided that the swimmers don’t disturb the dolphins and actively swim away from the pod.
Kilauea started erupting again on Wednesday afternoon, September 29th, about four months after lava ceased filling the Halemaumau crater this Spring. The current eruption is once again limited to the lava lake in the crater with crowds witnessing lava fountains as high as 100 feet the following day. Park officials say that park visitors can currently safely watch the eruption and caution against wandering into closed areas. The activity is not currently threatening surrounding neighborhoods, but continuing earthquake swarms have scientists carefully watching for eruptions signs along Kiluaea’s East Rift Zone. Scientists predict the smaller eruptions currently occurring could happen for years. The head scientist at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory stated, “the magma keeps coming into Kilauea at a pretty constant rate and so it’s either filling the inside of the volcano … or it’s coming out to the surface.” Webcam images of the Halemaumau crater are available at:
Ocean swimming has been something that Tracey has been doing for years. Tim joined her last year during the pandemic social distancing lockdowns and it has become a regular weekly activity. Both Tracey and Tim are always fascinated by the reefs and tropical fish during the swims and the live stream below provides a spectacular example of the activity that they are fortunate to witness on a regular basis. Tim and Tracey have added this live stream as an option on their smart TV.
Kekoa, the 19-year-old Hawaiian monk seal that was once scheduled for euthanization, has made his first public appearance at Sea Life Park Hawaii. Kekoa killed two seal pups and injured seven more in 2011 and found a temporary home at the University of California at Santa Cruz marine facility where he showed a docile temperament around the researchers. He has remained a mellow resident in his new home responding well to the veterinary staff at Sea Life Park Hawaii.
Take a look at our Another Day in Paradise's Video