Demonizing Communities for Fun and Profit

Getting to Know the Ala Wai Small Boat Community

“Harbor rats” . . .  “Freeloaders” . . .  “Drug Addicts” . . .  “Derelicts;”   the community at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor has been the favorite whipping boy for the rest of Hawaii’s town-side community for decades. 

Mainstream media feeds off of it and sells subscriptions because of it, corporate reps sitting at “visioning” meetings stoke it with glee and use it to rationalize paternalistic blueprints for Hawaii’s future, and agency heads like Suzanne Case and Ed Underwood cultivate this negative image through a long history of deliberate neglect of their responsibility to the State's harbor system.  All of this credible-looking effluence from the very people who should know better only serves to perpetuate misconceptions, divisiveness, and negative feelings where none are warranted.  Hawaii's general public has been bombarded with misinformation about the Ala Wai's harbor community, and none of it has been good.

Who’s responsible for the misinformation?  Hawaii's mainstream media, corporate interests wanting to privatize public assets, government agency heads wishing to divest themselves of their responsibilities to Hawaii’s public harbor system, and politicians in the pockets of the private financial self interests waiting in the wings to take control of Hawaii’s public lands and assets through legislated privatization.  We’ll talk more about this below.


Our study

We have spent the last two years getting familiar with the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor (AWSBH) community, and this article is about what we’ve found from first-hand experience.  During our study, we’ve spoken with liveaboards there, have spoken at length with harbor agents and harbor maintenance staff, have had conversations with several members of harbor security and have communicated at length with management heads themselves.

This is what we’ve found:


So who, exactly, are the people who legally live aboard their boats at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor (AWSBH)?

Generally, the legally permitted liveaboards in the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor are well educated in their particular areas of interest, employed, and, yes, some were quirky by mainstream community standards. 

Many were university educated with several being UH grads and at least two teachers/associate professors at the latter school. We met one woman who has a PhD in history from a major university in England, had been a professor of history at UH and was a published author.  We found two people with advanced degrees in psychology, one with a degree in anthropology from UH, and several in the harbor who could speak another language besides English.  One woman was a Rhodes Scholar during her university years and is a retired Hawaii school teacher.  We met two individuals who were regularly published authors, one nurse, several people who had hard-to-get professional marine industry credentials, and many who were involved, in some way, with community volunteer work. 

Almost everyone we spoke to at the AWSBH has or has had a career. One woman we met was an attorney, she and her husband are raising two children onboard their boat in the AWSBH.  One tenant graduated from Lund University in Sweden with a degree in International Business and has had a career in real estate. Two of the people that we interviewed had careers as property managers for high-profile condominiums.  Several have established businesses –- some very successful.  Several either have been or are now long-time employees of major airlines.    In fact, nearly all of the people who were legal liveaboard permittees at the AWSBH, were long-time residents and were productive contributors to our society.  

Obviously, many AWSBH residents are avid water-men and -women.   Surfers, sailors, fishermen/women, and divers, these Hawaii residents have had the courage to live their dream.  Each and every one that we interviewed was a taxpayer and concerned about the direction in which the residents of this State are being steered.


The Ala Wai liveaboards are the sole eyes and ears of security at the “Gateway to Waikiki”

The Ala Wai Harbor community has its own neighborhood watch group that works together with local law enforcement to dissuade crime in the area.  They’ve held weekly, formal meetings with the Honolulu Police Department, for years.  The benefits of this community watch system has impacted not only the harbor property but also the surrounding high-trafficked tourist areas, like the Prince Waikiki, Ilikai Marina, Ilikai, and Hilton Hawaiian Village properties.  The latter, by the way, contribute little or nothing to crime watch or enforcement in the area, and it is the residents of the AWSBH themselves, together with HPD who are the eyes and ears of security in the region.


Illegal liveaboards

To be sure, there are a number of people living on their boats at the AWSBH who do not have legal liveaboard permitting.  This is an entirely different group.  We estimated that there were at least twice as many illegal liveaboards -– counting the illegal homeless who were squatters – as those with permits.   Among these, are some who are hiding from the law, some have problems with drug addiction, and some simply don’t want to wait the many years that it takes to be granted a permit and then have to pay the considerably higher fees.

Many of these have been living aboard illegally for years.  The reason illegal liveaboard continue to plague the public harbor environment is because of the complete lack of security on the part of the designated security force, DoCARE, a division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).  DoCARE is currently under investigation by the Attorney General’s office for gross dereliction of duty.


Harbor afloat in drug addiction?

You would have to be brand new to the Islands to not know that Hawaii is in the middle of the worst drug epidemic in its history.   To single out a single public harbor, in town, as being ground zero for our drug problems, is ludicrous – any kama’aina or local resident knows this.  Yes, there are some people in the harbor who use drugs.  We suspected few if any of the legally permitted liveaboards as being among them, but we saw plenty of evidence among illegals and squatters.  However, drug use in the harbor is no worse than it is say in Hauula or Sunset Beach.  As a community in Hawaii, we’ve got to square up to the fact that we just plain have a serious drug problem in our State.


Why is it cheaper to live in the AWSBH?

Permitted liveaboards at the AWSBH live on their own boats -- vessels that they bought and paid for, and that they maintain at their own expense.  This does not equate to renting entire facilities, like condos, homes, or hotel rooms.  Living on your own boat and renting a condo are mutually exclusive concepts.  An appraisal of land-based properties, for example, provides zero reference point for valuation of the single, two-dimensional length-by-width space represented by a small mooring slip.   And, for the uninitiated, it is not unusual for a person to want to live on a boat -- boats are homes to millions of people around the world.

So, legal liveaboards at the AWSBH bring their own boats to the public harbor and rent a rectangular space in which to moor.  They are not, as we’ve said, renting a three-dimensional structure -- a condo, a house  or a hotel room -- but simply a two-dimensional, length-by-width, space, with some cleats attached.  Most liveaboard vessels have their own infrastructure onboard their boats: plumbing and electrical wiring.  Some of these vessels are completely off the grid, with solar and wind generators, and do not need to plug into the electrical socket provided at the dock.  Some even make their own water.  Some of the vessels have sophisticated bathroom facilities with showers and toilets that have EPA/US Coast Guard approved sanitation devices.   Pollution in the Ala Wai has less to do with harbor tenants than it does with State apathy.  This is, however, the subject of another discussion, and you can find that here.


No additional facilities or services for hefty liveaboard fee

Legal liveaboards pay a hefty additional fee.   This fee does NOT entitle them to any more than what a non-liveaboard, regular recreational boat tenant has access to.  There are no value-added facilities or services available to a permitted liveaboard. 

People who wait the years-on-end to get a permit and then pay the hefty liveaboard fee are law-abiding citizens not wishing a confrontation with the law.  In fact, a good case could be made for the additional liveaboard fee as being nothing more than a State sponsored protection racketeering scheme – a kind of you-pay-and-we-won’t-hassle-you thing. 

Because liveaboard activity takes place onboard a tenant’s vessel, liveaboards do not wear down harbor infrastructure any more than regular recreational boaters in the same harbor.  

It wasn’t clear to us why legal liveaboards were being charged extra at all, and when we asked the top rule makers in the DLNR as to what the rationale was for the hefty additional fees, we never got a clear answer, whenever we got one at all.


No, the public harbor system is not run on taxpayer money . . .  not even a little

The public harbor system does NOT rely on taxpayer dollars.  Not a penny.  All boaters using facilities in the State harbor system pay into, through user fees, something called a Special Boating Fund.  All expenses for all public harbor properties come out of this fund. 

Boaters pay for all boater expenses – including all harbor property expenses -- without burdening the general public.


Hawaii mainstream media: poisoning community relations for a buck

Mainstream media has found that bashing the AWSBH community has been wonderful for business – click-bait that attracts eyes to their business venture, their advertisers.  Mainstream media in Hawaii thrives on stoking a low-grade adversarial agitation among its readers, dividing the community into us and thems.  People who have chosen to live their lives differently than folks living on land are a convenient target of media editors.

The truth is that legitimate, permitted residents of our public harbor system are people, just like anyone else.  They are, by and large, well educated in their chosen fields, many have had long careers, some have families with small children, and others are involved with area community volunteer work.

Most of the press coverage in the media is spun to make residents here look like they are gaming the system.  In fact, the right to live aboard one’s vessel in Hawaii’s public harbor system is established by law and long tradition.

Demonizing one sector of our community and making this a form of entertainment for others outs the individuals who own the mainstream media outlets in Hawaii, for their real agenda and it harms community relations and harmony and deliberately misleads the public.

From our research, we’re led to believe that the commercial media’s assault on the harbor community is being orchestrated by private interests eager to have public harbor assets privatized in their name.  Succeeding at this could yield huge profits for them -- we have a strong feeling that the very real possibility of mega-corporate illegal collusion with politicians and media owners should be a topic ripe for investigation by the Attorney General’s office.


Harbor tenants are people

Legally permitted liveaboards in the AWSBH are, by and large, good people with lives just like anyone else in our community.  They come from all walks of life, have families, careers, and interests.  They contribute to the community by helping to provide security for a heavily populated section of our community that has the potential for real, serious crime, are volunteers for various causes and provide an early warning to our community about issues concerning crime and the environment. 




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