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September 2020 Email Update

Here is our 09/10/2020 e-mail update. The newsletter is sent after the statistics for the preceding month have been posted on the Board of Realtors website. You can find previous newsletters by visiting https://www.stott.com/blog/category/email-updates/

The August median sales price for single-family homes set a record of $839,000 (6.2% higher than August 2019) and the median price for condos was $430,000 (2.5% higher than August 2019).  The current market trends on Oahu are similar to those playing throughout the country.  Single-family homes sales in the suburbs are surging while condos in high-density cities are declining.  August single-family home demand in terms of August sales was up slightly, 2.8% higher than August 2019, and pending sales was up an astounding 24.2% higher than last year.  The supply of homes has dropped to 2.1 months of remaining inventory as the number of new single-family home listings fell 20%.  It was a different story for condos.  Total August sales dropped 20.1% and pending sales dropped 7.9%.  For the third time in four months, the number of pending single-family home sales was higher than the number of pending condo sales.  If you look at a graph spanning the last two years, the number of pending condo sales was typically 100 to 200 higher than the number of pending single-family home sales prior to the pandemic.  The supply of condos continues to creep up and now stands at 4.2 months of remaining inventory. 

The latest business survey conducted by the University of Hawaii Economics Research Organization (UHERO) found that one in six businesses do not expect to survive.  20% of the businesses that responded have not generated any revenue at all and another 20% reported July revenue less than half of their average monthly total.  The numbers are only slightly better than the first UHERO survey when 30% reported no revenue in April.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention filed an order effective September 4th that halts evictions until the end of the year if renters swear under penalty of perjury that the following five circumstances are met.  The individual has used best efforts to obtain all government assistance for rent or housing, expects to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for calendar year 2020 ($198,000 for those filing jointly), is unable to pay the full rent due to substantial loss of household income, is using best efforts to make timely partial payments as close to the full payment as possible, and the eviction would likely render the individual homeless.  The order does not apply to evictions for other than non-payment of rent and does not prevent charging late fees. To learn more about this article please click the link below:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/09/04/2020-19654/temporary-halt-in-residential-evictions-to-prevent-the-further-spread-of-covid-19

Consumer goods will get much pricier on the neighbor islands as the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved a 46% rate increase for Young Brothers, the only regulated interisland shipper in Hawaii.  The rate increase will allow Young Brothers to resume the shipping schedule it operated prior to the pandemic

A surge in COVID-19 cases on Oahu in July has resulted in a tightening of restrictions in August.  Mayor Kirk Caldwell shut down all city parks and Governor David Ige shut down all beaches to exercise and sunbathing on August 9th.  The governor also reinstated the 14-day quarantine requirement for anyone traveling from Oahu to the outer islands on August 11th, essentially shutting down any interisland travel that existed.  The renewed restrictions have also ignited the fighting between state legislators and the executive branch.  The Department of Health (DOH) has received withering criticism for failing to hire contact tracers and reportedly had only 18 on August 11th, four months into the pandemic restrictions.  U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has called for DOH Director Bruce Anderson and State Epidemiologist Sara Park to resign after a complaint from the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) filed a grievance because only 18 contract tracers had been hired.  Both Anderson and Park had testified before the Senate Special Committee on Covid-19 and stated that the state had about 105 active contact tracers.  Both Anderson and Park routinely criticized Hawaii residents for failing to properly social distance on TV news channels and in articles published by the Honolulu Star Advertiser.  Roughly 450 tracers have been trained at the University of Hawaii but only 20 had been hired from this partnership that was funded with $2.5 million from the CARES act.  Lt. Governor Josh Green stated that the surge could be in part attributed to the lack of contact tracers.  He says that Hawaii should already have had 420 to 564 contact tracers based on Hawaii’s population and that the department became quickly overwhelmed when the number of cases started to rise.

It has become clear that Hawaii’s state government has failed Hawaii’s citizens.  On August 27th, Governor David Ige approved Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s request to shut down all “nonessential” businesses for two weeks, at a minimum.  The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported that 1,000 tests processed on Oahu were botched when the test tubes were not labeled with the patient’s information and those individuals would have to retake the test.  DOH Director Bruce Anderson announced his retirement on August 31, 2020 effective September 15, 2020.  On Wednesday, September 2nd, Dr. Emily Roberson who was hired on July 16th to head the contact-tracing program, asked to be placed on leave for an unspecified amount of time.  State epidemiologist, Dr. Sarah Park, was placed on paid leave on September 3rd, as calls for her ouster had reached a crescendo.  Additional drama has ensued when the state closed H-3 to conduct testing without obtaining the federal government’s permission and has now put $180 million in federal highway funding at risk.  H-3 was built to allow quick troop deployment from Kaneohe Marine Corps Base to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in case of a national emergency.  On September 6th, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz summed up the state and county responses to the COVID-19 pandemic when he urged Governor Ige to seek federal assistance with an outbreak at a Hilo veterans home stating, “I am concerned that the state and county have been too slow to respond to the crisis with the urgency it demands, including with a request for more federal assistance.”

Hawaii’s increase in hospitalizations from COVID-19 has hospitals urgently asking nurses from other states to fly in and help weather the storm.  The recruiting campaign is aimed at both experienced nurses and recent nursing graduates.  The state has waived licensing requirements under Governor David Ige’s emergency proclamation allowing recent graduates to provide assistance in supporting roles like patient screening and administrative work.

Members of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 grilled state officials on poor execution and a lack of managerial oversight.  The director of the Department of Human Resources testified that an unspecified number of workers designated as working from home were not actually working and that his department was not responsible for oversight.  Committee members pressed their concerns that state employees were not socially distancing and were not wearing masks.  The committee witnessed employees at the Department of Health crammed into small cubbyholes closer than six feet apart.  Senate members became even more frustrated when the superintendent of the Hawaii school system testified that the Department of Education (DOE) had three months of personal protective equipment (PPE) but could not describe how it was to be allocated to individual DOE members.  Various senators told the superintendent that DOE employees were purchasing their own PPE because the DOE was providing none. For more COVID-19 Updates in Hawaii please click the link below:

https://governor.hawaii.gov/newsroom/latest-news/hawaii-covid-19-joint-information-center-daily-news-digest-sept-8-2020/

The state unemployment rate was 13.1% in July, a slight improvement over June’s 13.4%, yet 83,250 are still unemployed while Hawaii’s workforce currently stands at 551,750.  Carl Bonham, the executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) reported that the unemployment rate would be higher because roughly 30,000 people have dropped out of the workforce because they are either discouraged from trying to find work or are afraid of contracting COVID-19 in the workforce.  Bonham does not expect tourists to return in any great numbers this year and stated that he would not be surprised if the unemployment rate either rose or fell by two percentage points in December.  Governor David Ige has backtracked on his veto of the state legislators’ bill providing a $100 supplement to unemployment benefits and received belated approval for the $300 FEMA supplement retroactive to August 1st.

The Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) joint naval exercise is normally the world’s largest international maritime exercise.  RIMPAC 2020 was originally to involve 30 countries, more than 50 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel (4,000 were supposed to participate on shore).  The exercise pivoted to ten nations (United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore), 22 ships, one submarine, and 5,300 personnel who all remained at sea.  RIMPAC 2020 concluded with the sinking of the decommissioned amphibious cargo ship, USS Durham, using Harpoon missiles, Hellfire missiles, and a Mk-48 torpedo.  The missiles were fired from ships and aircraft from the United States, Australia, Canada, and Brunei and the Mk-48 torpedo was fired from a U.S. submarine.  This ship was sunk in 15,000 feet of water about 70 miles northwest of Kauai. Here's a video of the LIVE FIRE SINKING EXERCISE:

A Pacific Business News article highlighted on Tuesday, August 4th, that the County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) changed its process for approving residential building permits that requires contractors, homeowners, or their agents to route their applications to other county and state agencies for approval.  Tim visited the websites of the departments involved in approving a residential building permit: DPP, the Board of Water Supply, the Honolulu Fire Department, the Department of Environmental Services, and the state Department of Health.  DPP does not appear to provide points of contact for the various departments and the Building Permit Instructions link pulls up a brochure last updated in 2011.  The Board of Water Supply put up a new form on their website that implies a contractor or homeowner must drive down to the office and drop of the permit submitted to DPP and pay a fee.  The Department of Environmental Services and the Honolulu Fire Department use generic websites by the City and County of Honolulu and don’t mention building permits other than redirect you back to DPP.  The state Department of Health does not mention building permits or who to contact.  DPP stated that the reason for the change was that it took them 135 days to approve a building permit while the staff takes an average of 12 days to review it.  The department will now tell applicants that the permit is ready to be issued subject to approvals from the other agencies.  This change raises questions and seems to create more uncertainty in the permit approval process by forcing untrained people to try and navigate the county and state bureaucracies in order to approve relatively simple residential plans. To read the complete article please click the link below:

https://www.bizjournals.com/pacific/news/2020/08/03/honolulu-dpp-residential-building-permits.html

Oahu voters are apparently tired of the status quo.  Two first-time candidates, Rick Blangiardi and Keith Amemiya placed first and second in the wide-open mayoral race and will face each other in a runoff on November 3rd.  The duo finished ahead of former U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa, City Councilwoman Kym Pine, and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman.  This is the first time since 1980 that a candidate without personal elective office experience will be elected Honolulu mayor.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) announced that it has completed the rehabilitation of the 93-year-old Royal Hawaiian Groin designed to stop erosion of the beach sand fronting the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.  The project is the first in a series of planned structures and sand replenishment to expand Waikiki beaches.  The next project this winter will retrieve offshore sand and deposit on Royal Hawaiian Beach similar to a 2012 project that used 24,000 cubic yards of sand retrieved 2,000 yards offshore to widen Royal Hawaiian Beach. To follow up with more updates and projects, please click the link below:

https://www.wbsida.org/projects-royalhawaiiangroin

National park officials are slowly reopening Haleakala National Park in phases.  The park was closed in April and May in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The park reopened on a limited basis in June and up to 50 cars can obtain a permit to drive to the summit to witness the sunrise.  2.5 miles of the Keoneheehee (Sliding Sands) Trail was opened on September 4th from 7am to 3pm Friday to Sunday with an extra day allowed on Labor Day.  Visitors are encouraged to start no later than noon if they want to make the 5-mile round trip by the 3pm close.  Currently open summit trails include Hosmer Grove Trail, Supply Trail from Hosmer Grove to Halemauu Trail junction, Leleiwi Overlook Trail, and Pa Kaoao (White Hill) trail.  The cabins and campgrounds remain closed.  Tim and Tracey have visited Haleakala numerous times with family and friends and camped for three days (twice) staying at various cabins while their two children, once with friends as well.

The Puna geothermal power plant is ready to provide power once again 28 months after the Kilauea eruption covered three of the geothermal wellheads in May 2018.  Permitting issues prevented the plant from meeting its original timeline of providing power by the end of 2019.  The parent company plans on expanding the plants 38-megawatt capacity by another 8 megawatts by the end of 2022.

The KWAI, a tall-masted cargo ship pulled into Kewalo Basin Harbor for the second time this year with trash collected from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch during a 35-day voyage.  The ship returned this time with 67 tons of marine trash for a total haul of 170 tons collected in 2020.  Once again, the trash consisted of fishing nets, floats, crates, jugs, bottles, and other consumer plastic.  Some of the nets will be repurposed into bracelets, necklaces, and key chains while some of the plastic will be made into insulation boards.  The unusable trash will be taken to Honolulu’s H-Power plant for electricity feedstock.

Hawaii’s Kolea, the Pacific golden plovers, have returned from Alaska.  Tim and Tracey have been noticing them stake their claims in neighborhoods and at the office.  The solitary birds have been busy running around their territories keeping other birds, including other Kolea, away and losing weight in the process.  Once a Kolea adopts a yard or shoreline, he or she will return to that same territory year after year.  The Kolea’s plumage will change from a yellow body with brown speckles to breeding plumage of a black face and underside bordered by a distinct white border in the spring.  The Kolea gather at traditional flocking sites in late April and make the three to four-day, 3,000-mile journey to Alaska where they return to the same nesting sites to breed in June and July.  The young quickly grow and return to Hawaii with the adults to find their new home.  The Kolea’s weight will fluctuate 40%, from about 3.7 ounces in September to a high of seven ounces in April.

The Hawaiian green sea turtle known as honu has delighted locals and visitors for generations and its gradually increasing population has changed the classification from endangered to threatened.  Its seldom seen smaller cousin, the Hawaiian hawksbill sea turtle known as hono ea, is outnumbered 100 to 1 and is still considered endangered.  Honu are vegetarian while honu ea feed on sponges, anemones, squid and shrimp.  Its narrow head and beaklike jaws allow them to pry their prey from crevices in coral reefs.  Honu ea spend their entire lives in the Hawaiian island chain and its specific genetic mutations make it different from other hawksbill sea turtle nest populations.  Researchers don’t yet know why the population of honu ea is so much smaller than honu, but suspect it is because of there are fewer beaches that have the vegetation that female honu ea nest under and their food is more difficult to find.

Baby honu have started to hatch at Marine Base Training Area Bellows for the first time ever documented the training site.  The mother honu started showing up in April to lay their egg and there are at least thirteen nests.  The marines are monitoring twelve of the nests and four have begun to hatch.  One baby honu had to be rescued because it was heading in the wrong direction before people monitoring the nests discovered it.  The marines are keeping watch because honu nesting season goes through October.

On a fun note, we recently received a business reply card from a newsletter recipient who sent us her new mailing address and noted that she has been reading our quarterly Oahu Update since 1988.

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