Current Thoughts (Mostly Hawaii)
As the debate rages in Hawaii about the mandatory mask issue, since the CDC came out with its new guidance on masks and vaccinated people, one element of the economy that is affected by all this is restaurants.
Of course, we all know when the pandemic started, the hospitality industry as a whole took one, if not the biggest hit with mandatory shutdowns and such. With the relaxing of regulations on capacity and how patrons should conduct themselves, restaurants in the urban core of Honolulu are taking different tacks as to their operations.
But one thing that all of this relaxing has done is still keep a lid on capacity while the people cooped up in their houses over a year, are finally ready to hit the restaurant scene again. This was made very clear to me this week when a friend of mine met to go to lunch.
We met at one place, only to find out that it was closed (the website said they were open, but the Google info on the place said they were closed). We then scrambled and jumped into my car to go to another place.
Arriving there, we found a line out the door for those choosing to eat in the dining room. We didn’t even park, but left the establishment and started driving around. Along King St., we tried to go to an old standby only to find that they are not even doing dine-in service.
With some groans, we tried to figure out where to go next, continuing down the street we eyeballed a place that looked open, and didn’t have a line outside. Figuring there is a 50/50 chance on this place, we parked, jumped out of my car, and walked in to find finally a place that had indoor service and had seats.
Needless to say, my friend and I spoke about this saga in the context of “what is our government doing?” Since the day before, the Governor of the State of Hawaii came on television after the CDC guidance came out to say, specifically, he was not going to change one rule in the mask mandate.
In essence, he told the people of Hawaii to suck it up even more while, I dunno, his crack team of experts figures out what the infographic from the CDC means.
This tug of war between staying safe with the guidance coming out that we can be more relaxed now with our interactions while playing out is hurting the people that are back at work, both the consumer (the restaurant-goer) and the producer (the restauranteur).
As more restrictive rules are kept on people, while the rest of society makes the move to interact more in society, this tussle is going to become even more of a struggle. The fact is that the people are on the move in Hawaii, they are looking to return to normal life, and are getting less and less worried about their interaction with society.
Thanks to the vaccine, which we were told going back to the beginning of the COVID saga was the only real solution to solving the crisis, this relaxation can come with confidence. And it’s this confidence that our state government needs to start expressing should it want to play the role of supporter of society, rather than the oppressor.
In the end, the time for an adult conversation about reopening is going to happen, whether our Governor and Mayors want it or not.
And with the way our government is handling the new news of CDC guidelines and even big-box retailers finally announcing what vaccinated people can do in their properties, this conversation can’t come soon enough.
Because people want to go and eat, and take a seat doing it at the restaurant.
One of the first things that were disturbing about the debate over the Honolulu rail system (otherwise known as the Honolulu mass-transit project) was the fact that no one at Honolulu Hale could succinctly come up with what the vision of the endeavor was.
Of course, you heard the typical reasons why Honolulu needed to have a mass transit system – gridlock on the freeways, inability to move around the island efficiently, the need to move people from the suburbs (known as Kapolei, ironically called at one time “the second city”). But in all this, there was no “vision” that pictured a reason why the government of the City and County of Honolulu was about to embark on a multi-billion dollar project to create a 23-mile train line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center, downtown.
And the lack of that clear vision is coming back to haunt the people of Honolulu as we endure yet another string of bad news when it comes to the project.
From the $5 billion-dollar range when first presented back in 2004, the price tag for this has now ballooned to something in the range of $12 billion. A project that was supposed to be done in seven years will now take about 26 years from inception, to finally complete. The project’s most challenging portion to build through, the Dillingham corridor, is going to take way more money than what was budgeted to plow the rail through.
And it goes on and on and on.
Yet, to this day, if one were to ask what is the reason why we need such a transit system, you get a lot of people saying a lot of things, if only to affirm their vision of the project. For those who would use it – an easy way to get from the west side to downtown.
For the tourism industry, a cheaper alternative to get tourists closer to Waikīkī from the Airport.
For the government (city and county), the ability to provide transportation but also to help land price assessments increase, thereby raking in more property taxes to pay for that and everything else.
For construction workers, the ability to work in Hawai‘i even though a lot of said workers are not from Hawai‘i, but from the mainland as its both cheaper and faster to ship in the technical workers to build the thing than to train our people here, first, to be the builders.
And finally, the property owners and developers, whom this project has given increased value to their properties, a value they don’t want to lose now that there is talk that the line will be stopped short, at Middle St.
Yes, these are all visions, but it does not answer the question of “why in all that is holy we are even building this thing?” None of the politicians that have been part of this have been able to articulate it, and even our Federal Government which is giving $1.55 billion to this project, does not seem able or willing to help us come up with that vision.
Here is an idea about what the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) could do to get people’s opinions about the project more positive – simply put – create a vision. After all, they have the high priced smart people who work at 1099 Alakea St. Suite 1700 (HART’s downtown offices) that not only could come up with one, but then work to sell it to the people, giving them some idea of what this is all about, and why we have to spend the money we need to spend.
Maybe that is the first thing they should be working on, rather than working on a continual campaign of covering the Authority’s’ butt whenever bad news comes out. Maybe then we can move the debate from this long-suffering “should we continue” to “we know what we want this thing to do, now let’s figure that out”
Because if that does not happen, and soon, what will be perceived as a white elephant, albatross, a project with no end and a quagmire that we can’t get out of, will become a permanent reality in the minds of the people of Hawai‘i.
And in the end, get nothing for it.
Over the past few weeks, starting on April 5, my birthday, there have been two events between residents of Oahu and Honolulu Police Officers that have taken up a lot of the news.
To briefly summarize, on April 5. Honolulu Police shot and killed a 16-year-old in a police interaction after he and the other young people in the car that was stolen and was used as a getaway car in several robberies in the Kaimuki and Moiliili neighborhoods of Honolulu. Police cornered the driver and his occupants on Kalakaua Ave. where the event occurred.
A few days later, police were called to a home In Liliha where Lindani Myeni, a 29-year old that was found entering another person’s home, was shot by police after Myeni attacked officers arriving at the scene. He injured one officer severe enough to break his jaw and, according to police cam footage, an attempt to stop Myeni by stun gun failed.
Both cases are still under investigation.
However, that little detail hasn’t stopped a whole swath of people in Hawaii to start questioning police actions. Of course, we should always be concerned when police shoot and kill suspects. But the fact is that in very “back the blue” supporting Honolulu, more messages against the HPD are now being heard at all levels of conversation – from the neighbor to neighbor talk to the media.
The comparison of stuff said now with another event in which, instead of suspect, two HPD officers died in the line of service on January 19, 2020, is quite striking.
For review, on that fateful day, two officers of HPD – Kaulike Kalama, 34, and Tiffany Victoria Enriquez, 38 – were shot to death by Jaroslav “Jarda” Hanel in an eviction action against him that went tragically wrong.
At the time of the officers’ deaths, the news and society at large were generally in support of the police, their actions, and shocked at the outcome. The moving tribute for officer Kalima in front of police headquarters on Beretania St. reminded all that an “end of watch” can come at a split second, and not just when they retire after a lifetime of service.
Now, it seems, the people of Honolulu are starting to forget about what officers go on the line to do – protect the public and provide guidance on law and order – and being replaced with questions about whether Honolulu Police officers acted irrationally during a critical time and – more underlying at this point – whether there were any racist intentions involved, especially with the Myent incident.
One thing that we do know in this society that whenever there is an incident like this, the first thing that any police department does – in varying levels of rigor – is to investigate the incident, look at the causes of it and determine whether there is any improvement needed for future events.
For both incidents, that investigation is occurring. One would think that there would be a reserving of judgment before declaring the incidents something other than a traffic stop and removal of someone who walked into someone else’s home.
But both the widow of Myent, the American Civil Liberties Union, and some in the media, have decided instead to use language that is more used to describe police actions on the continent, to both create a narrative of HPD, and direct public opinion in that way.
The narrative building and the public perception direction, in the humble opinion of this writer, needs to take a step back as the investigation unfolds. Keep in mind this is said because at the end of the day, right now, no one is aware of what the true story is. So if the whole point of this is to instill doubt in the Force, without real proof, that is deception.
That deception could eat away at the heart of HPD policing and remove the ability for it to stand behind the officers. like Kalama and Enriquez, went to work one day to help the community only for them to end their watch. Our community needs to let the investigation happen.
And then we can say whether or not the actions were justified.
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