Archive for March 2015

Off the track alternatives for Honolulu rail

March 31, 2015

Rail Transit Alternatives

In the State of the City Address on March 2, 2015, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell advanced three options for the future of rail transit on Oahu. “We have three choices, in my mind. The first choice is to extend the excise tax for some number of years,” Mayor Caldwell stated. The second choice is raising real property taxes. “The third choice, the one I just don’t want to accept, but it is an alternative. Stop. Don’t build any more. Tear down what you build.”

Whether you support rail transit or not, I think we can agree on one thing: there are more than just two choices for rail – building it or tearing it down. By highlighting only these extreme options, we are limiting our choices about transportation and community. I think we have more choices.

For example, we could stop rail transit and use the 0.5% rail surcharge until it expires in 2022 to build something different.

* Build an elevated toll highway. Commuters could buy a monthly pass to drive on the highway, paid for at toll booths or through an electronic pass tied to their license plate number. We could build intermittent shoulder lanes for drivers to pull-over if they have car trouble.

* Build an elevated bicycle lane or pedestrian walkway. We could install railings and overhead lights for pedestrian safety. There could be comfort stations with restrooms (or portable toilets) and drinking fountains at some of the pillars. The elevated walkway could also be used for 5k or 10k runs and night runs (it would be cooler and runners could wear fluorescent colors) – a scenic route that wouldn’t cause traffic disruptions.

* Build a monorail or PeopleMover. I’m impressed with Pearlridge Center’s monorail and Disneyland’s PeopleMover (now closed) – they are (or were) quiet, comfortable, and on-time. For its distance, the Pearlridge monorail is not inexpensive – currently it’s $1 for a one-way ride, but children under 8 are free – unless you compare it to an arcade game or a carnival ride.

We could also re-purpose the existing support columns in new ways, from the ordinary to the fantastic. And the columns don’t need to have just one purpose; we could group columns in different series.

* Create art towers. We could invite artists from around Hawaii, or around the world, to submit art ideas for the columns. We could invite schoolchildren from the community to design and paint murals on the lower half of the columns. We could even create niches in the columns, add plexiglass covers, and display sculptures and other artwork. Each art tower could be surrounded by a small landscaped area.

* Grow vertical gardens. We could grow plants that have climbing vines along the columns, or insert planters up the walls of the columns to add more greenery to the urban highway. There could be rain catchments on the tops of the columns.

* Construct in-between spaces. We could use the space between the columns in many different ways (whatever space is not needed for traffic flow) – to construct storage rentals, use as parking stalls, grow community gardens, or even build affordable housing units with container-style floorplans.

* Build a “Hawaii Skyline” ride. We could partner with a business to create an “urban lift” that takes riders on a trip across Hawaii’s ’Ewa Plain and Pearl Harbor. The trip could include historical narration and music.

* Build climbing towers. We could use the columns as rock-climbing walls, with different difficulty levels; rappelling walls, where people could learn how to ascend or descend steep inclines; or even free-climbing walls, with safety lines attached at the top of the column.

* Create an urban zip line. We could partner with a nonprofit or business to create a series of zip lines along the rail route, geared toward urban thrill-seekers.

Honolulu’s rail transit choices are not merely between raising taxes or tearing things down. What would you do with a brand-new elevated guideway and over 100 concrete support columns?


2015 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Up for debate

March 24, 2015

2015 Hawaii Legislature

The 2015 Hawaii Legislative Session started on January 21. Astonishingly, there were 1,515 bills introduced in the House of Representatives and 1,379 bills introduced in the Senate.

So far, my legislative session round-up has covered taxes, education, and people vs. government (individual rights vs. government powers). With over 2,800 bills being proposed and no legislation-reading minions, I’m relying on bill summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intentions.

By now, most of these bills will have been abandoned (for now), but we should still take a look at what our legislators, organizations, and residents envision for Hawaii – and the issues that could persist in years to come.

Here is an overview of the hot-button bills being proposed that I think are controversial and up for debate in the 2015 Legislative Session. I’ve divided the bills into two sections: 3 sets of bills with government’s hands in employers’ pockets and 9 bills on controversial issues. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

3 sets of bills with government’s hands in employers’ pockets

Hawaii already sets the minimum wage for employers; withholds state income taxes, state unemployment and disability insurance; and mandates health insurance coverage. Now government wants to require sick leave, family leave, and minimum holiday wages too. The costs of doing business in Hawaii could skyrocket.

  1. Can employers afford it if employees get sick? HB9, SB129, and SB1025 would require employers to provide a minimum amount of paid sick leave. HB1047 would require employers to provide employees with a minimum amount of paid sick leave, accruing not more than 56 hours of paid sick leave in a calendar year for employees or 40 hours of paid sick leave in a calendar year for small business employees (fewer than 10 employees). It’s not just the paid sick days; it’s also the additional employees who may need to work on those days.
  2. Can we trust a family leave “trust fund”? HB496 and SB965 would create a Family Leave Insurance Program, which would require employees to make contributions into a trust fund. HB535 and HB1049 would require employers to provide 12 weeks of family leave and establish a partial wage replacement trust fund, funded by employer contributions and employee wage withholdings.
  3. Are employees worth three times more on state holidays? SB234 would require retail employers to pay retail employees who work on state holidays at a wage of three times the retail employee’s regular wage rate and prohibits a retain employer from taking any retaliatory personnel action against employees who elect not to work on state holidays.

9 bills on controversial issues

I was surprised that the gambling debate has been put on hold, except for a bill about slot machines at the airport (HB91) and a bill about horse-racing (SB1373).

  1. The marriage question. HB1302 proposes a constitutional amendment to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.
  2. Grandparents may need to support their grandchildren. HB128 would allow the Child Support Enforcement Agency to pursue support and maintenance for the child of a parent under the age of 18 from the child’s grandparents.
  3. The marijuana debate. HB717, HB788, HB841, HB889, HB1203, HB1371, SB383, and SB1259 would legalize marijuana. HB321, HB1485, SB595, SB890, SB1029, and SB1302 would establish a system of medical marijuana dispensaries and production centers. HB372, SB596, SB666, SB681, SB708, and SB879 would make it a civil offense, not a criminal offense, to possess one ounce or less of marijuana.
  4. When is free speech not free? HB783 and SB217 propose a constitutional amendment to provide that the right to freedom of speech does not include the expenditure of money to influence elections. What does this mean? No advertising, direct mail, newsletters, phone calls because they cost money?
  5. Sending mixed messages about the importance of recycling. HB167 would repeal the Deposit Beverage Container Program. HB655, HB769 would repeal the glass container recovery program. HB1245, SB180 would establish a pilot program to recycle difficult-to-recycle products. HB1246, SB175 would reimburse recycling centers by weight, not by number of containers. HB1247, SB176 would allow general funds to pay for the beverage container deposit program if necessary.
  6. Hurricanes and volcanoes and lava, oh my! HB737 would allow Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund money to pay for extraordinary losses caused by the flow of lava or other volcanic activity. The Hurricane Relief Fund is funded by hurricane insurance premiums and should be used for its stated purpose.
  7. Protecting unborn children. HB1234 would create the crime of feticide and manslaughter of an unborn child. What is the difference between abortion and feticide?
  8. Native Hawaiian child custody. SB992 would create the Native Hawaiian Welfare Act, establishing the Na Kupuna Tribunal which would be granted exclusive jurisdiction over child custody proceedings involving Native Hawaiian children. I consider this bill “debatable” because it is a separate law for Native Hawaiians. Could we change existing Hawaii law to add the option to hanai or lawe hanai a child with the child’s extended family or families close to the child?
  1. Re-issuing birth certificates. HB631 would require the Department of Health to issue a new birth certificate upon request to align with the birth registrant’s gender identity. While we need to acknowledge gender identity, birth certificates clearly indicate sex.

The 2015 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 7. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, and future generations. Whether you have concerns or feel strongly about an issue, speak up, talk about it, and be part of the discussion!

7 ways to appreciate water

March 17, 2015

World Water Day 2015

Water is essential to life and human health. Up to 60% of the adult human body is water. We can survive for weeks without food, but after 3-5 days, we need water or we’ll perish. Every day, we need water for drinking, cooking, personal hygiene, and sanitation.

In Hawaii, we have access to clean drinking water, clean sanitation systems, and a healthy ocean. But sometimes we take water for granted. On March 22, let’s celebrate World Water Day and take time to be thankful for our water-rich island life.

Here are 7 ways we can appreciate clean water, Hawaii’s watersheds, and healthy oceans:

1. Learn all about water basics. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Water Science School has great resources about water basics, water properties, the water cycle, surface water, groundwater, water quality, and water use; as well as activities for students and classrooms.

2. Learn about water and human health. Project WET has a free, downloadable “Healthy Hydration” classroom activity guide. Students can learn about the role of water in the human body, proper hydration, and why water is essential to human life.

3. Be aware of your water usage. The Honolulu Board of Water Supply has a catchy program, “Seven Easy Ways to Save Water”; and a longer list of water conservation tips, “32 Ways to save water, from the watershed to your home.”

4. Discover Hawaii’s watersheds and wetlands. The Honolulu Board of Water Supply has a short introduction to Hawaii’s wetlands and “Rainforests and the Water Cycle.” The Pacific Coast Joint Venture has a beautiful downloadable brochure called “Hawaii’s Wetlands: Mauka to Makai” and a companion poster.

5. Educate yourself about Hawaii’s watersheds and public policy. Read “Hawaii Watershed Guidance” (2010), a report prepared for the Hawaii Office of Planning, Coastal Zone Management Program, to learn about the six steps in watershed management, the nine minimum elements of a watershed plan, and the management measures needed to demonstrate results.

6. Help keep our beaches clean. On March 28, 2015, 8:30 to 11 am, join a Plastic Free Hawaii Beach Cleanup at Ka’ena Point, Mokuleia, on Oahu. On March 28, 2015, join the Hawaii Wildlife Fund for a Kaʻū Community Coastal Cleanup event at Kamilo Point along the Waiʻōhinu coastal strand. Volunteers should RSVP to kahakai.cleanups@gmail.comand meet at Waiʻōhinu Park at 7:45am to carpool/caravan to the site.

7. Plan a rain garden or rain barrel project. Rain gardens can reduce the amount of stormwater and pollution that reaches Hawaii’s streams and the ocean. Rain barrels can store water for lawns and gardens, as well as reduce flooding and excess rain water runoff into storm drains. Hui o Ko’olaupoko’s “Hawaii Residential Rain Garden Manual” teaches us how to construct a rain garden, select plants and accent features, and maintain a healthy rain garden. Malama Maunalua’s “E Mālama I Nā ‘Āina Kumu Wai O Maunalua: A Watershed Handbook for the Residents of Maunalua” has a section about how to locate, install, and maintain a rain barrel.

Are you using water wisely? What are your best water conservation tips?

2015 Hawaii Legislative Watch: People vs. government

March 10, 2015

2015 Hawaii Legislature

The 2015 Hawaii Legislative Session started on January 21. Astonishingly, there were 1,515 bills introduced in the House of Representatives and 1,379 bills introduced in the Senate.

So far, my legislative session round-up has covered taxes and education. With over 2,800 bills being proposed and no legislation-reading minions, I’m relying on bill summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intentions.

Here is an overview of the significant bills being proposed that affect individual rights and government powers in the 2015 Legislative Session. I’ve divided the bills into 4 sections: 5 bills about elections and voting, 5 bills that show government on our side, 8 bills that put checks on government power, and 8 bills that reveal government overreach (I had to restrain myself from including more bills). If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

5 bills about elections and voting

  1. Voting: the carrot and the stick. HB789 would create a tax credit for voting in elections. HB1495 would establish compulsory voting and a fine of $100 imposed on registered voters who fail to vote without a valid excuse. We can reward people for voting, but we shouldn’t penalize people who choose not to vote – we have a right not to vote.
  2. More ways to vote. HB124, HB294, HB1211, HB1481, SB219, SB255, SB287, and SB578 would allow voting by mail. HB1130 would allow online voting. HB1006 would allow voting by cellular phone.
  3. Closing the door on open primaries. HB338 would establish closed primary elections, in which only registered political party members can vote. HB339 would require voters to declare a political party preference or nonpartisanship as a condition of voting in a primary or special primary election.
  4. Automatic voter registration. HB401, SB150, and SB439 would automatically register to vote applicants for a driver’s license, provisional license, instructional permit, or civil identification card.
  5. Lowering the voting age. HB1304 and HB1306 would lower the qualifying age of voters from 18 years to 16 years. I’m undecided about this – 18-year old voters may have more real-world experience (holding a job and paying taxes), or at least may have thought about it more.

5 bills that show government on our side

  1. Residency requirement for welfare. HB1045 and SB1249 would require an applicant or recipient of public assistance to be a resident of Hawaii for at least 4 months. Why not 6 months or even a year?
  2. Safety inspections every two years. HB1089 would require motor vehicle safety inspections every two years, rather than annually. If this passes, the safety inspection fee should stay the same, rather than double.
  3. Electronic monitoring while on probation. SB517 would require electronic monitoring as a condition of probation for repeat misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor offenders who are not sentenced to incarceration. Yes.
  4. A little hope for victims of violence. HB58 and SB471 would establish the Hawaii Hope Card Program to issue Hope Cards upon request to those holding a long-term protective order.
  5. The rights of the terminally-ill. HB92, HB882, and SB585 would allow terminally-ill patients to receive investigational drugs, biological products, and devices that have not received final FDA approval. HB1255 would allow a terminally-ill, competent adult of at least 50 years to receive a lethal dose of medication to end life.

8 bills that put checks government power

  1. Term limits for legislators. HB168, SB835, and SB927 proposes term limits of 12 consecutive years for State Representatives and Senators. Term limits may encourage more people to get involved in politics, and it may mean that ineffective legislation can be repealed more easily because its supporters have moved on.
  2. No fundraising during legislative sessions. HB327 and SB244 would prohibit legislators and employees of legislators from holding fundraisers during a regular or special legislative session.
  3. Initiative, referendum, recall, and impeachment. HB418 would provide for direct initiative, popular referendum, and recall. HB471 and SB952 would provide for Referendum. HB474 and SB951 would provide for Recall. SB241 would provide for the power of Impeachment.
  4. Constitution-check on bills. HB394 would require all introduced bills to be subject to a legal sufficiency check that determines whether the bill meets state constitutional requirements and does not conflict with the state constitution or federal constitution before first reading. Does this mean that legislators could pass a bill now that turns out to be unconstitutional?
  5. A unicameral legislature. SB931 would propose a constitutional amendment to create a unicameral legislature consisting of 51 members serving four year terms. Legislators would serve smaller districts and proposed legislation might be reduced (less overlap of bills).
  6. Resign-to-run! SB1182 would create resign-to-run laws on all state elected public officers. Public campaigning and fundraising is practically a full-time job. However, HB1048 would establish reemployment rights for public employees who resign in order to seek elective office.
  7. Legislator residency requirements. HB1263 would require candidates for the state legislature to be residents of their legislative districts for at least one year prior to the general election.
  8. Bill, be true to thyself. SB245 would require that bills can only become law if, after amendments, it reflects its original purpose. This makes so much sense, no one thought it needed to be a law.

8 bills that reveal government overreach

  1. Driving rights for illegal immigrants. HB688 would allow illegal immigrants (“regardless of immigration status”) to gain limited purpose driver’s licenses, provisional driver’s licenses, and instruction permits. HB1007 would allow illegal immigrants (who “do not present proof of authorized presence in the United States”) to gain limited purpose driver’s licenses, provisional driver’s licenses, and instruction permits. SB365 and SB683 would create limited purchase driver’s licenses, provisional driver’s licenses, and instruction permits with “satisfactory proof of identity and Hawaii residency.” Driving is a privilege, not a right.
  2. Red lights, camera, action! HB1324 and SB1160 would establish a three-year pilot program for a photo red light imaging detector system program.
  3. No more fruit punch or orange juice on kids menus. HB1437 and SB1179 would prohibit restaurant children’s menus from offering any beverage other than bottled water and milk, but allows children to order any nonalcoholic drink from a restaurant’s regular menu. Let restaurants, parents, and children make this decision. This would give children fewer choices, not help them make better choices.
  4. What’s in your snorkel? HB1460 would require people to use snorkels equipped with a safety valve. How would they enforce this?
  5. Crowdfunding is okay, but only when we say it’s okay. HB1482 would establish a crowdfunding program for limited intrastate investments between Hawaii residents and Hawaii businesses, limited to no more than $1 million raised over a 12-month period, not to exceed $5,000 per investor. Why is the government getting involved in private crowdfunding?
  6. A 1-meter bubble around bicycles. SB128 would prohibit a motor vehicle from being operated within 1 meter of a moving bicycle. This seems unreasonable and unenforceable. Some roads have narrow bike lanes or parked cars in the bike lane. Also, bikers must sometimes move closer to the car lane to avoid a pothole or a rock on the road.
  7. Separate electricity meters and more service fees for all. SB488 would require nonresidential and residential condominium units to install separate electricity utility metering. I think that this should be the condominium association’s decision. This seems like a way for electric companies to charge individual units with a monthly service charge.
  8. Pawnbrokers and customers, we’re watching you! SB515 would require pawnbrokers and secondhand dealers to submit daily electronic reports on items received. This is an economic hardship: dealers would need a computer, Internet access, and a digital camera; customers would have to pay a property receipt reporting fee (they need money, or they wouldn’t need a pawnbroker or dealer).

The 2015 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 7. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, and future generations. Whether you have concerns or feel strongly about an issue, speak up, talk about it, and be part of the discussion!

“Reading in the Wild” by Donalyn Miller

March 7, 2015

Reading in the Wild

I was not surprised to recognize myself in the pages of “Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits” (2014) by elementary school teacher and author Donalyn Miller, with reading teacher Susan Kelley. I love to read; but aside from reading to my son and buying or borrowing books for him, I haven’t really thought about how I could teach him to love reading too.

“Reading in the Wild” shows me how we can help children love reading, by pinpointing five characteristics of “wild” readers – people who love to read – and showing us habits that encourage reading. Written for teachers, it is based on the belief that “teaching our students to be wild readers is not only possible; it is our ethical responsibility as reading teachers and lifelong readers” (page xxiv).

The authors cite research that shows that children who are readers are more successful in school; have greater opportunities in life; are more likely to succeed in the workforce; and are more likely to vote in elections, volunteer for charities, and support the arts. Students would probably not be persuaded by these arguments – but principals, school districts, and donors might be.

Here are the five characteristics of “wild” readers and just a few strategies to encourage lifelong reading habits in students (and everyone):

1. Wild readers dedicate time to read. Find time to read on the edge-times – between classes, on the way to practice, while waiting, during commercials, in the car or bus. Always carry a book for “reading emergencies.”

2. Wild readers self-select reading material. Set aside time to read aloud in the classroom – this creates shared experiences, exposes students to new authors and genres, supports developing readers, and makes reading enjoyable. Create book buzz about new books by presenting book commercials, reading an excerpt, and/or holding “book drawings” for who gets to read popular books first. Start a “Books to Read” list. Keep a “Reader’s Notebook” with title, author, genre, start and end date, and star rating.

3. Wild readers hare books and reading with other readers. Add book recommendations and home reading tips in school newsletters and on class websites. Create a bulletin board with “I am currently reading…” signs in classrooms. Host a book swap or book drive. Ask students to present “book commercials” about their favorite books.

4. Wild readers have reading plans. Commit to reading with challenge plans such as reading a certain number of books, reading books you never finished, or reading an entire series. Keep a “Books to Read” list. Write down reading plans and check out books.

5. Wild readers show preferences for genres, authors, and topics. Add more nonfiction to book talks and read nonfiction texts aloud. Read at least one book in different genres.

“Reading in the Wild” is easy to read, practical, and inspiring. Though most teachers are not dedicated reading teachers, there are useful tips for incorporating and encouraging reading in daily and weekly lessons. I already use some of these strategies at home with my 8-year old son. There’s a helpful appendix with reading worksheets, surveys, and a list of students’ favorite titles and series.

I am a wild reader. Are you a wild reader too?