Stealing from the public . . . and why Hawaii’s controllers keep trying

Attempting to paywall the public's free parking for beach access is a symptom of a now common disease in Hawaii's government

Paywalling public parking for beach goers

The most recent attempt by Ed Underwood's DoBOR to usurp still more public access to public lands came under close scrutiny, this time by the Board of Land and Natural Resources.  On January 10, 2020, the Board voted to nix the idea to charge for the now free parking area at the Diamond Head end of the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor (AWSBH).

Monetizing public beach-goer parking is nothing more than a symptom of the same disease that seems to have gripped our State's controllers (lawmakers, agency heads, and the wealthy who motivate their decisions).  Not coincidentally, the latter public property in question has, of late, been up on the bidder's block, slated for handover to wealthy private self-interests. Howard Hughs Corporation and the Hilton Hawaiian people were enthusiastic bidders.  The first bid attempt failed, but Underwood has made no secret of the fact that he intends to try to give it away again in the very near future.   Underwood, and his boss, DLNR Chair, Suzanne Case, have been working tirelessly in the background to instigate the privatization of Hawaii’s entire fourteen-site public harbor system Statewide – submerged, fast, and adjoining dry land (adjoining dry land such as the free parking beach area mentioned above).  More distressing is that legislators, like Senators Sharon Moriwaki and Laura Thielen, have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to give away public lands to private corporate interests and have been a keen audience for privatization proposals such as the ones suggested in HB1032 and SB1257. Incredibly, they will once again try their slight-of-hand during 2020 legislative session to create laws that will result in the privatization of public lands.  See more on this below.


Monetizing public assets, or raising public user fees to unreasonable levels is turning out to be a predictor of intent to privatize public lands and assets  . . .

 Hawaii is a lucrative market, worth billions of dollars to the mega tourist industry players.  The State of Hawaii collects $2.1 billion dollars a year in tourist tax revenue.  But this privatization of public lands mentality goes far beyond the tourist industry.  Private interests who would deprive the public of their rights of access to public lands also include wealthy land owners who simply want to close off access to the beach via long established public right-of-ways that happened to be alongside their property, or, as mentioned, multinational corporations who want to control access to, and participation in, public assets like our publicly owned harbors. 

Simply put, it's all about greed, elitist exclusionism and weak/incompetent leadership.  

Not surprisingly, and right on cue, the legislature, right now, is seriously entertaining a new bill (HB1031) that would base some critical public harbor fees on a long-ago discredited appraisal that mostly has nothing to do with public, mixed-use, marinas.   CBRE, the appraiser du jour, has somehow convinced some among our controllers that they have expertise in the later area, yet we've been unable to find any evidence of their prior experience in comparing and collating the apples-and-oranges of regional condo rates and land values with fees charged by nearby mixed-use public marinas.  Apparently, CBRE has even convinced the more gullible in our government that they can even assess how much to charge someone for electricity in a public harbor system, completely ignoring the fact that electricity is a consumable commodity whose rates defy appraisal.

If the legislature were even the least bit sincere about making sure that Hawaii's public lands and assets remain open to the public while maintaining responsible fiscal stewardship, they would base user fees on facility cost-of-use.  The Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor, for example, not only generates the income to meet operational expenses, it generates a profit of from one to two million dollars every year.  Why then, suddenly, the bogus appraisal metric?  Because this information will be necessary during the bidding process when the State will be looking to hand over wholly publicly owned harbors to private, for-profit interests.


The good news

The good news is that the free parking at Waikiki side of the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor will remain free and open to the public, at least for the near term. Public means public. Public means that all residents who live, work and pay taxes in Hawaii should have not only the right to freely and easily access public lands and assets, but should have a direct say in how these lands are managed and administered.  No one has the right to give away public lands.  No one.

(See this article by Hawaii News Now about the free parking issue mentioned above)


Could we ask a favor of Hilton Hawaiian and other area employees . . .

Could we ask a favor of Hilton Hawaiian, and other employees working in the vicinity to please not park in the free stalls at Diamond Head end of the AWSBH. These parking stalls are reserved for beach goers and the general public who use nearby public facilities. If your employer is too cheap to give you free parking on their property, maybe you should speak up and ask that existing policies be changed? There are not that many of these parking spaces available, so parking is at a premium.  Surfers using that beach report that they get there at 5am only to find most of the spots already filled by vehicles that could only belong to employees working in the area. Com’on folks, show a little aloha.


Stealing from the public is a bad idea

The privatization of wholly public lands without the explicit consent of the public, by way of referendum or other legal instrument, will be blunt evidence to the public that legislators and rule makers are squarely in the pocket of the wealthy elite who want things their way.   At very least, privatization will most certainly end in eroding public trust to lows not seen since the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Public means public; no legislator or agency head has the right to act as an agent on behalf of wealthy private interests wanting to take control of public lands. This includes not only the privatization of submerged, fast, and dry lands, but beach access right-of-ways between homes, and any access or parking set aside for public use. No exceptions. Rich folks own what they own, but they don’t own public lands. Is it too much to ask that our lawmakers protect the public in this regard and respect public right-of-access to public lands?


An important message to Hawaii’s ocean recreation community and all residents of the State of Hawaii

The legislature will very soon (as early as this week) take up the issue of legalizing the privatization of public lands, including lands underwater and their adjacent shorelines, in the upcoming legislative session. These are the bills that will be debated:

SB1258: will once again attempt to bless the privatization of public lands (SB1258 is the identical counterpart to HB1032, which was vetoed last year by Governor Ige, on a technicality)

HB1031: this bill, also on the table this 2020 session, attempts to raise certain critical public harbor fees by huge increments, based on a bogus appraisal, every single year on into the foreseeable future, and is nothing more than legislation designed to prepare Hawaii’s largest public harbor for privatization by corporate interests waiting in the wings.  (HB1031 is the identical counterpart to last year’s SB1257, which was shelved due to non-consensus)


It is a matter of urgency that the public educate Hawaii's controllers and voice their concerns to their representatives in government.


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