Privatizing Public Assets is a Vile Betrayal of Public Trust

Privatizing Public Assets is a Vile Betrayal of Public Trust

For-Profit Corporations Don't Care About the Public's Interests


Opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff at Hawaii Ocean News


Stealing public assets from the people of Hawaii and handing them over to for-profit corporations whose only interest is making more money, is a vile repudiation of the oath of trust that lawmakers take when they are vested with a leadership position in our community.  Historically, privatization benefits the public not at all.

The recent and poorly camouflaged §13-234 fee-increase ruse, within which we find rule makers deliberately lying to the public, coupled with a deliberate neglect of its largest harbor properties, is part of a greater master plan by State officials to steal the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor from the public, oust small boat owners from the harbor system,  and restructure the Ala Wai public harbor facilities with a bias towards wealthier yacht owners.  This plan is sometimes euphemistically referred to as a "public-private partnership," but make no mistake, this is a pure and simple hand off of public assets to private financial self-interest.

For decades, and increasingly more recently, State of Hawaii rule makers have been quietly working on a plan to take the Ala Wai public harbor away from the people of Hawaii and place it in the hands of  for-profit corporate private financial self interests.   Corporate interests have been greedily eying the Ala Wai for decades.  Back in the '70s, Chin Ho's Ilikai interests wanted to wrest the harbor away from the public and turn it into a playground for wealthy affiliates of his Ilikai holdings.   The public caught on pretty quickly and mercilessly pummeled lawmakers on the issue until there was no choice but to deny Ho's request.

Another attempt to privatize the Ala Wai came at the hands of Governor Ben Cayetano. In something right out of a Ferdinand Marcos playbook, agencies under Cayetano tried to hand the Ala Wai off to corporate buddies in the early 2000s but the public was again able to successfully fight back and the plan was abandoned.

In 2013, Laura Theilen, the one-time chair of a quickly failing DLNR, and the very willing pawn of then Republican governor, Linda Lingle, helped to construct a highly controversial framework for a near-future takeover of the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor by corporate interests.   Neil Abercrombie, who appeared to us to have never been completely free of the effects of overdosing on prescription drugs, happily signed the package into effect, despite the fact that he had come out in opposition of it during his campaign bid for governor.  Part of the mentality of this back-room finagling resulted in the privatization of the parking in and around the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor, with instantly disastrous results for the public, and the privatizing of the Texaco dock property and the Ala Wai Marine property just Ewa of the Waikiki Prince, depriving Hawaii's public of the only fuel dock and waste pump-out station in the area along with the loss of an invaluable boat maintenance facility nearby to Hawaii's largest boat harbor.

Here are just the latest examples of what happens to public assets, and the inevitable consequences to the public, when they are handed over to private financial self-interests.


The Honey Bee Catastrophe

The privatization of the Texaco dock and Ala Wai Marine properties, which once hosted critically needed marine services like a fuel dock for boats in the State's largest marina, a black-water pump-out station and a one-time boat repair facility was a significant blow to the public boating community.  The slips around the Texaco property were public and administered by the State.  Honey Bee corporation, a multinational company based in Japan, won a successful bid to lease these properties from the State of Hawaii, effectively taking them away from the public and placing them in private hands.  The plan was to build wedding chapels on both properties, something, no doubt, our wizened leadership thought more critically important than facilities for the thousand or so boats nearby.  The company then set about leveling the Ala Wai Marine property and parts of the Texaco dock property, notably all of the fuel pumps and tanks.  And then something interesting happened.  Honey Bee Corporation filed for bankruptcy, leaving the State holding the bag, and boaters without much needed facilities. 

"Honey Bee went bankrupt leaving the State of Hawaii holding the bag . . . "

So rather than making a decision to redouble its efforts to provide the public with decent ancillary services for our nearby boaters, the State, in, what appears to be, a backroom deal, leased the property once again, this time to Holokai Charters.  No one we've spoken to can provide us with much in the way of relevant details regarding the hand off, but the public is now being asked to see someone over at Holokai, "a wahine or something", if they want to rent a slip there.


Howard Hughs Corporation's Kewalo Basin Lease

Howard Hughs Corporation is a publicly traded, for profit, real estate development company that owns, manages and develops commercial, residential and mixed-use property from Wall Street to Waikiki.  When they took over the Kewalo Basin Boat Harbor lease they doubled the slip fee rates. Boaters there say that Howard Hughs Corp assured tenants, during the lease negotiation period, that the slip fees would not appreciably change.  While HHC has made some infrastructure upgrades to Kewalo, there is nothing to stop them from doubling the slip fee rate again, and then again, making that harbor off limits to average income boaters.

Yelp rates Howard Hughs Corporation as a one-star (out of five) company.


"Corporate due diligence is not to the public, but rather, to their own bottom line."


The Diamond Parking Fiasco

Before privatization, the public parking arrangement at the Ala Wai Small Boat harbor accommodated a wide range of ocean recreation activities. Boat owners wanting to use their boat for the day could park for free.  Surfers wanting to surf the very popular surf spots in the area could count on free parking all up and down adjacent parking areas. Hawaii Yacht Club members and their guests could park for free in spots near the club.  Those who were legal harbor tenants had only to pay $20 per year for a parking permit.  The Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor is a public harbor.  "Public" means for everyone, not just the indolent rich, but everyone.  The cost of parking for the public was reasonable for all income level residents.

But then everything changed when the State of Hawaii handed the parking lots around the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor over to a for-profit private financial self-interest called Diamond Parking.

Yelp rates Diamond Parking as a one-star (out of five) company, and Diamond rates little better anywhere else.

When they took over, all parking immediately became paid, $1 for every hour parked, and harbor permit parking instantly increased by 1,500%. As soon as they took over, Diamond then instituted an aggressive tow-away policy and quickly set up a towed-vehicle holding lot on the State-controlled property just Ewa of the Waikiki Prince.   They then began to feverishly tow cars away, for months on end, charging motorists exorbitant ransoms to have their cars returned to them.

"The public has zero recourse against a private company other than expensive lawsuits."

It's been some years now since Diamond Parking, the private financial self interest, has taken over the parking lots around the Ala Wai. Someone finally had to take them to court so that a judge could order a cease and desist of their towing operations. The public has zero recourse against a private company other than expensive lawsuits.   There have been zero improvements to the parking lot areas, still full of pot-holes, trash, and faded paint delineating parking spaces.   Diamond can't be faulted for this.  They are a for-profit company whose main goal is profit, even if it's at the expense of the public.  The less they do in the public interest, the more profit for them, and that's the endgame for any for-profit company.


The State of Hawaii's Troubling Admission of Incompetence

For its part, the State of Hawaii makes a very clear statement to the public when they privatize a public asset:  "We don't have the business acumen, good sense, nor intelligence to administer public properties, and we, frankly, don't give a damn about how the public feels."

The long-term leasing of Hawaii's public assets by legislators and the governor's office is a horrible crime against the people of Hawaii.


What Others Are Saying About Privatizing Public Assets

Here's what New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others are saying about the privatization of public assets: read article here.


Red Wolf in Blue Sheepskin . . .

Hawaii is a Blue state, let's not cloak Red in Blue. Privatization, environmental neglect, and lying to the public are all Red agendas.  Note to elected officials: please don't mislead the public about your affiliations . . . if you're Red, say your Red.  Please don't run as Blue when your agenda is Red.

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Rachel Simon
Rachel Simon
5 years ago

The situation in the Ala Wai is ridiculous! The DLNR workers and management don’t care about the Ala Wai. If they did, docks would be fixed instead of condemned. Even the little floating dock in front of the Harbor Master’s office is condemned. Why couldn’t that little dock be maintained?
The bathrooms are vile! There are people renting out their boats as B&B’s. There are drug dealings, thefts, boats break ins, and tons of empty slips, etc.
Instead of holding us hostage, why not take care of the harbor. Replace the broken docks. Rent out all the slips.
Don’t leave them empty. We can never regain that revenue. The bottom line is the Harbor is totally mismanaged, and the people who just want to use their boats are being punished.
The Ala Wai makes money! Where is that money when it comes to taking care of the Ala Wai?
Keep building for the super rich, and forget those of us who work and live here full time.