Archive for April 2013

Do good associations make good neighbors?

April 30, 2013

There is a good chance that you belong to a community association, now or in the past, or know people who do. Last year, there were over 1,600 registered associations representing over 156,000 apartments in Hawaii, according to the 2012 Annual Report of the Hawaii Real Estate Commission. That doesn’t count the community associations for homes, townhouses, and new developments.

Now the Honolulu City Council has adopted Bill 3 (2013), which imposes a fine on property owners who don’t maintain their property by removing trash and cutting the grass – basically acting as a community association to enforce restrictions on the “common area.”

I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on whether we need these community associations and how we can be good neighbors.

There are four main reasons for having a community association:

* To take care of common areas such as entryways, hallways, landscaping, elevators, and parking lots.

* To manage common amenities such as security, recreation rooms, swimming pools, and parks.

* To keep up property values by overseeing the quality of exterior residences and landscaping.

* To foster a sense of community by organizing neighborhood events. (Optional)

I belong to a community association in Hawaii. I’ve been managing the association’s website, and last year I stepped up and joined the board of directors.

It has been a great experience, learning the behind-the-scenes struggles of our association – at times satisfying, surprising, frustrating, and disappointing. There are four things about associations that I think it is worthwhile to remember:

1. The association is a business. This was a new perspective for me; I always thought that we are community first. But the association’s job is to make sure that everything runs smoothly and fairly. It is not about keeping maintenance fees as low as possible.

2. Know the financials. Associations should have a 20-year cash flow plan, and expenses should be paid without using deposit accounts (which must be returned to the homeowner) or reserves (which are used for repairs and renovations). Associations should conduct a reserve study at least every 10 years. Whether you are on the board or not, you should read the financial report every year.

3. Manage the meeting. Whether it’s a board meeting or an annual meeting, publish an agenda – and stick to it. Redirect questions and comments to the appropriate place in the agenda. To help the meeting proceed quickly, hold an “Owner’s Forum” at the end of the annual meeting to listen to grievances or issues, after the “business” of the association.

4. Communicate often. Board members: get information to homeowners quickly, make sure you have an updated website, and respond promptly to questions and concerns. Homeowners: show up for meetings, talk to board members if you have a concern (most of us want to help), and remember that board members are volunteers and your neighbors.

“Good fences makes good neighbors,” wrote Robert Frost in his poem, “Mending Wall.” Do you think community associations make us better neighbors? What do you think about the Honolulu law that allows the city to tell us how to maintain the exterior look of our homes? What are your experiences with community associations?

Hunger, handcrafted bowls, and soup

April 23, 2013

Empty Bowl Hawaii 2013

Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”

Just a year ago, I started learning about ceramics and the pottery wheel. It’s incredibly rewarding to take a block of clay and turn it into a beautiful, finished piece, make with patience, determination, and creativity.

On Friday, April 26, you can join with local potters and neighborhood restaurants to add beauty to your lives and fight against hunger. Empty Bowl Hawaii 2013, presented by the Hawaii Potters’ Guild, will offer 5,000 hand-crafted bowls, donated by local artist groups like Ala Wai Arts and Crafts, Friends of Koko Head, and the Hawaii Potters’ Guild. Neighborhood restaurants like Big City Diner, Roy’s, and Side Street Inn are donating soup and bread.

The event starts at AlaMoanaCenter’s makai parking area (near Sears) at 6 pm. Purchase a hand-crafted bowl ($20 through advanced ticket sales, $25 on the night of the event), choose your soup from over 21 restaurants, and support Hawaii Meals on Wheels.

Remember that there are always Empty Bowls in the world. How full is your bowl? How can we help others fill their bowls and also their lives?

Celebrate Earth Day 2013

April 16, 2013

Earth Day

Every year, Americans celebrate Earth Day on April 22 and show our support for a healthy, sustainable environment. Everything we do to help the earth will help us all, whether you pledge to recycle more, use less water and electricity, or re-use instead of throw things away… whether you decide to learn more about the environment and sustainability… whether you volunteer to clean our parks or beaches… Each one of us can make a difference and help make Hawaii better.

Here are some Earth Day events, activities, and volunteer opportunities in Hawaii:

* April 18: Learn about Food Security! On Friday at 6:30 pm, learn about food security with Russell Kokubun, chairperson of the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture, at Hanauma Bay.

* April 19: Visit the 2013 Earth Day Fair! On Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, visit the Hawai’i Community College’s 25th Annual Earth Day Fair on the Manono Campus in Hilo. Free and open to the public.

* April 20: Have tea at the Mad Hatter Garden Party II! On Saturday, 4:30 to 8 pm, join Livable Hawaii Kai Hui at the O’ahu Club in Hawaii Kai for a fundraiser with good food, fun, and music. Proceeds benefit the Maunalua Communities Foundation and the Hāwea Heiau Complex and Keawāwa Wetland restoration project.

* April 20: Learn about sustainability at the Grow Hawaiian Festival! On Saturday, 9 am to 3 pm, at the Bishop Museum, learn about Hawaiian culture, native plants, and sustainable lifestyles at the Grow Hawaiian Festival. Free for kama’aina and military families with ID.

* April 20: Help clean up Hawaii! On Saturday, there will be Earth Day Cleanups at Pyramid Rocks (Kaneohe Marine Base), Shorebreaks/Greenwalls (Kailua), Kalama Beach Park (Kailua), Kailua Beach Park, Lanikai Beach, Bellows (Waimanalo), Sherwoods (Waimanalo), Waimanalo Beach Park, Kaupo Bay (across from Sea Life Park), Makapu’u, and Sandy Beach. Check with beach coordinators for times and details. After the cleanup, there will be a Sea Life Park After Cleanup Music Festival from noon to 4:30 pm, admission $5 for volunteers.

* April 20: Celebrate Earth Day at Windward Mall! On Saturday, 10 am to 2 pm, visit Windward Mall for Ka Maka o Kaloli Aniau: The Face of Climate Change. There will be activities, information, and entertainment.

* April 21: Celebrate Earth Day at the Children’s Discovery Center! On Sunday, 10 am to 3 pm, celebrate the planet with recycled and nature-inspired activities. General admission is $10.

* April 22: Recycle it! On Monday, 9 am to 1 pm, drop off recyclables at the Prince Kuhio Federal Building (GSA) in Honolulu. You can also bring canned goods to support the Hawaii Food Bank. Please check the list of items that will be accepted.

* April 29: Go Green! On Monday, 9 am to 1 pm, Kailua High School will host Going Green #6. Please check the list of items that will be accepted.

* April 27: Learn about lo’i building! On Saturday, 9 am to noon, learn how to construct proper growing areas for wetland kalo (taro) from kalo farmer Anthony Deluze at Ka’onohi Lo’i in Pearl City. Cost is $10 per person or $25 per family of 3.

Here are some ideas and activities you can do to make Earth Day a part of every day:

* For kids—enjoy Earth Day activities. The Environmental Protection Agency put together a free “The Happy Earth Day Coloring and Activity Book” for kids. PTO Today helps you find out, “How Big is Your Carbon Footprint?” And Honolulu’s Department of Environmental Services has three downloadable activity books: “The Opala IQ Book,” “The Spirit of Recycling,” and “Where Do Things Go?”

* Pledge an act of green. More than 50 million tons of electronic waste (electronics, computers, printers, phones, appliances) are thrown away each year in the US alone. Recycle your e-waste in a safe and responsible manner and join the Billion Acts of Green movement.

* Host an Earth Dinner Party. Whether it’s a picnic, a potluck, or a dinner party, you can choose local, seasonal ingredients that are fresh, flavorful, and organic. Start a conversation about how and where foods are grown. Create a seasonal centerpiece and use seed packets or mini herb pots as party favors.

* Try Meatless Mondays. Going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. And Mondays are a great day to start and sustain positive lifestyle changes.

What will you do to help the environment? What are your best ideas for helping keep Hawaii green?

We’re growing the wrong tax tree (redux)

April 9, 2013

I originally published this post on April 6, 2010. For those of you who are new to Better Hawaii, and for all of us who could use a reminder, I think it’s worth repeating.

Let’s ignore, for the moment, the fact that the IRS tax code is over 44,000 pages, is so complicated that even tax experts don’t understand it, and desperately needs simplification. Let’s ignore the benefits of a national sales tax or a flat income tax.

Think about this: like a tree struggling to shade us from harm, our tax system needs more sunshine, more pruning, and a lot less graft.

In fact, we are growing the wrong tax tree entirely.

The Wrong Tax Tree

Our current tax system is an overgrown banyan tree, with roots extending down and spreading over the whole economy. The federal government has higher income tax rates, ranging from 0% to 35%. The states have lower income tax rates, ranging from 0% to 11% – with Hawaii at the top – but are dependent on federal funds and must comply with unfunded mandates.

It makes more sense to have a tax system like a strong pine tree, simple and orderly. The federal government, which has national responsibilities and a larger tax base, should have lower tax rates. The states, which directly care for citizens but have smaller tax bases, should have higher tax rates and not rely on the federal government for funding.

The only rational explanation for this upside-down, overgrown tax code is that the federal government wants the power to redistribute taxes among the states. They want to create welfare states and ensure that states are dependent on the federal government.

Does this make non-sense? Do you have another explanation – or better yet, solution? Does anyone have ideas about how states can reclaim their power and independence from the federal government?

“Hawaiian Sunrise to Sunset” by Randall Ng

April 6, 2013

Hawaiian Sunrise to Sunset

The primary problem with the Hawaii school system is “the lack of discipline and motivation among students” (page 176), declares Hawaii educator and school counselor Randall Ng.

We see exactly what Ng means in his eye-opening book, “Hawaiian Sunrise to Sunset: A Middle School Counselor’s Diary of a Working Day” (2011). We witness all of Ng’s frustration, resignation, exertion, and optimism in the course of a typical day working as a middle school counselor in a low-income neighborhood in Hawaii, as he

– slaps down Saturday morning detention on three tardy boys;
– tells a woman that her daughter is pregnant and scared to tell her about it;
– arranges a student-parent-teacher conference for a disruptive student who is convinced that her teacher doesn’t like her;
– calls the police after two home visits – in one, a girl is arrested for truancy and terroristic threatening of a household member and in the other, a girl’s mom is arrested for assault;
– intervenes between a shouting match over a misunderstanding;
– takes 45 gifted-talented (GT) students to Waimano Homes to help them appreciate everything they have;
– resolves a potential fight between middle school gangs; and
– visits a beloved student who battles kidney failure.

Ng is honest, blunt, and apologetic about his methods – at times acting more like a concerned father than a calm counselor. His genuine care, tough love, and willingness to follow his instincts and step out of his office are inspiring and exhausting.

Sometimes kids need someone to lean on outside of the home, and they need a tough love approach, Ng reveals. He describes his students with affection and hope, even when he is impatient with them, to make us see beyond the labels of ‘trouble-maker’ or ‘gang member.’ He shows us their home life, and how the lack of discipline at home has affected them.

Over the course of his day, Ng reveals his irritation with bureaucrats who aren’t teachers, and teachers who lack relationship skills or who are unable to accommodate fast and slow learners.  We learn about his belief in home visits, his conviction that the schools need to accommodate parents who have to work, and his passion for doing whatever works to get through to his kids – whether it’s yelling at them or challenging them.

Teachers and counselors already have a lot of responsibilities, and Ng outlines five things that schools can do to make things better for students and teachers:

1. Create small classes of 20-25 students.
2. Return to homogeneous core classes. This is in direct opposition to the trend of heterogeneous classes.
3. Assign 1-2 aides to assist the primary teacher in the core math and language arts classes.
4. Focus on discipline in the classroom. I would add, teach parents to maintain discipline at home.
5. Integrate district resource teachers with the schools and classroom teachers.

As Ng challenges early in his book, What is the intent and purpose of a middle school? Besides facts and figures, what are we teaching students? Are we supporting them emotionally as well as academically?