Bill Kaneko, President and CEO of the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs (HIPA).
|Photo by Oliver Koning|
Bill Kaneko is the president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs (HIPA), an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy institute. Last September, Kaneko helped unveil the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan, a draft state plan that provides policy recommendations for creating a sustainable Hawaii for the next 50 years. The final report will be presented to the Hawaii state Legislature this month.
Q: During the recent controversy surrounding the Hawaii Superferry, observers described a “tipping point,” the last straw that set off widespread protest. Do you know specifically what that tipping point was?
A: A year and a half ago, we started our outreach for the 2050 Plan, listening to grassroots groups and leaders from the different sectors. We had 36 public meetings, and we started to notice that something was happening. The Superferry is just a symptom, just like Hokulia, the gate at Kailua Beach and the proposed development of Kakaako before it. The common thread is: How much development and growth is enough? You sit in traffic longer than you want. If you live in West Oahu, you wake up at 4 in the morning to beat the traffic. In addition, there is the price of your home, your faith or lack thereof in public education and other issues that have become insurmountable. Instinctively, we’ve reached the limit, so we are starting to see all these flashpoints. And it’s not only Oahu and its 10,000 new homes. It’s now reached the Neighbor Islands.
Q: Is the dissatisfaction cyclical, something that comes with a strong economy?
A: The last boom was in the ’80s, and I think the issues then centered around foreign investment, specifically Japanese investment. But I don’t think that it got to a point where people were saying enough is enough. The Neighbor Islands were relatively untouched then. Now this thing is statewide. There clearly is a double-edged sword here, because the economy is booming. However, we are seeing more of the same thing: more development and the same reliance on tourism and real estate development. Those aren’t bad things per se. But people are asking, “What is our future and what jobs will be needed 50 years from now?”
Q: In your outreach [meetings and polls] what did people want to see in their future?
A: We found that what is driving both newcomers and kamaaina is that they want to retain Island values and culture. That was crystal clear. That is the one thing that brings us together. Moving here, moving back or staying in the Islands is a lifestyle choice. There is a respect for each other here. It’s very family-oriented and there is a sense of tolerance of diversity and different cultures. We live on an island and there is a strong need to collaborate and work together. But we also have to recognize that we live in a global community, so we have to be able to compete. We have to have the skills and the ability to work in that arena.
Q: What is threatening that lifestyle?
A: I think the business sector is changing. A lot of our luminaries, the Walter Dodses, Larry Johnsons and Henry Walkers, were deeply rooted in the community. They spent their whole careers here. Now, a lot of our corporations are managed from the Mainland. You have a lot of CEOs who come to Hawaii, manage their business and do a really good job but their tenure here is limited. Then there is someone new.
Q: With that in mind, won’t it be very difficult to build a sustainable Hawaii when much of the significant decision making is happening thousands of miles away?
A: Sustainability is about balance, balancing economic strength with respect of the environment and having a strong community. In Hawaii, sustainability also means having a respect for native Hawaiian culture, our values and our Island lifestyle. You have to be cognizant of the global marketplace, but you can change your behavior to help our local economy. For instance, you can buy locally produced goods and services versus something from the Mainland. The classic example is that we have year-round sun yet we only have an 18 percent solar energy penetration in our residential neighborhoods. That’s a tragedy. With all this sunshine, we should be at least 60 percent to 70 percent penetration. Yes, we will get fossil fuels from the Mainland, but we can change our behavior.
Q: When putting together the 2050 Plan, did you come across any eye-opening findings?
A: There is no question that the biggest revelation to me was that the plan is more about leadership than ideas. The will of the people is clear. There is a big disconnect between the people and their leaders. The last time we did this [statewide planning] was in the 1970s, under Gov. [George] Ariyoshi. For better or for worse, that process led to government investments to make Hawaii a world-class destination. We also invested in a statewide university system, adopted the prepaid healthcare act and strengthened the state employee retirement system. All these things came out of a statewide dialogue, which asked, “Where should Hawaii be?”
Q: If the will of the people is so strong, how come we aren’t voting? And as a result, do we have the kinds of leaders who can do what is needed?
A: We have 37 percent voter turnout, the lowest in the U.S. That is frustrating, extremely frustrating. But I’m optimistic. We are a young state. We have good race relations and strong communities. We are faced with changing realities, and it will take not one but many leaders to step up to the plate. Fifty years ago, tourism was a small part of our economy, but our leaders made the decision to augment the transition from agriculture to tourism. Can we augment a transition to whatever is next–diversified ag, technology, ocean resources? At some point, we have to decide and go. So we’re at a tipping point, but it’s also a turning point.
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