The Big Idea
12 people, 12 solutions for a brighter future
The boom is over. Economists are forecasting no visitor growth in 2008. They also report that the once red-hot construction sector cooled off considerably in 2006. Employment growth has ended, too. But there’s no reason to panic. Hawaii’s economy is still strong and stable.
However, now that the Islands’ biggest economic boom since Statehood is in its denouement Ð we have to ask ourselves: Are we any better off than we were 10 years ago? We’re not so sure, and we’re not sure why.
So Hawaii Business spoke with 12 different Islanders about solving some of Hawaii’s biggest challenges that are perhaps even more pressing after our most recent, epic economic expansion. We asked them about some of Hawaii’s biggest problems Ð about education, energy, housing and health care Ð and they told us some of their big ideas for change.
We listened carefully. We hope others will too.
Homeless Solutions Team Leader, State of Hawaii
Executive Asst., Dept. of Hawaiian Homelands
Before we can talk about solutions, we need to ask three important questions: What is truly the definition of affordable housing?
What are the barriers that have prevented it? And what is the common thread?
The common thread is that the developers, the kamaaina, the state and counties Ð we all know and agree that we want affordable housing. So why can’t we make it happen? That’s where the barriers come in. The biggest barrier is that even though they all agree, each sector has its own desires Ð what it is they want to get out of it.
Then there is the true definition of affordable housing. The misperception about affordable housing is that we think it’s being able to own your own home, and that everybody wants that product. But not necessarily. There are some people who are happy renting. They have a roof over their heads, they can afford the rent and they’re happy.
So to me, the true definition of affordable housing is keeping all our kamaaina, from our kupuna all the way down to our na maka opiopio Ð our bright-eyed youth Ð home if at all possible. Because the reality is they’re being priced out and moving away.
What all this boils down to is actually quite simple. What is really needed is, and I hate to put it this way, but it’s Aloha. Aloha meaning, you want to give to people who cannot afford Ð to the kamaaina who could end up homeless or moving off island Ð without expecting anything in return.
Because our ancestors were about, ‘What can I do for you? What can I give you?’ They weren’t about, ‘I give you this and I going get that in return.’ Good things will happen when you give and you’ll be blessed by it twofold, tenfold sometimes.
I’m sure there are a lot of big ideas for solving the housing problem. You can talk about a big sewer plant, or one big water plant. But to me, the big idea is having all the leaders coming to the table with aloha. To me, it’s as simple as that. -As told to JLY
Vice President of Marketing, Diagnostic Laboratory Service Inc.
Board of Director, River of Life Mission
I used to own a medical laboratory business, and it got into trouble financially. So I worked for 1 1/2 years without a salary.
I lost my car and home. I wasn’t homeless like pushing a cart, but I either slept in my office or on people’s couches. Eventually the business turned itself around Ð and the first thing I did was buy a house Ð but the experience was devastating and it taught me a thing or two about homelessness.
The face of homelessness is changing because of Hawaii’s housing crisis. Ten years ago, homeless people were either mentally ill, having substance abuse problems or horribly down on their luck. But now we’re seeing people who have jobs but can’t afford a place. And that’s because Hawaii is slowly becoming a mecca for billionaires. They’re slowly tearing down the three-story walkups and putting up mega condos that local people can’t afford.
The only thing we can do, because we can’t build out, is increase our density. By playing around with density, you can squeeze more beds into a square foot of land. The key is addressing the zoning laws. For example, allow more ohana units. I’m not allowed to build a house in my backyard, even though my lot is big enough to accommodate another unit. I have a son who could live there, or I could bring one of my homeless clients from River of Life to stay for a while.
Another solution is to enable developers to build dorm-type rentals. Some of the people on the beach would pay something if they could get a cheap enough place. When I was in the military, I slept in a room with 60 other guys. There were bunkbeds, lockers and a communal shower.
I guess in a nutshell, when I’m talking about the zoning, it’s finding creative alternatives to single-family homes and condominiums. Building places where people can have a bed that’s safe and a shower and a roof over their heads.
The bottom line is, there’s a shortage of housing, and we need to think creatively. We’re not necessarily going to have a house per person, but we can have a bed per person. -As told to JLY
President & CEO, First Hawaiian Bank
Former Chair, Hawaii Economic Momentum Commission
I think the first step in solving the problem is defining the problem Ð asking, “Why is this issue so complex?”
The first issue is state vs. county rights. We’ve got overlapping governments with land-use authority, basically trying to do the same thing. Neither one wants to give up its jurisdiction, and I don’t blame them. But it’s a problem.
The second issue is, we’ve got around 4.2 million acres in the state. Really only about 200,000 acres are urban. The rest are in ag and preservation and conservation. Of the 200,000, a substantial amount is not developed, so I don’t think it’s a supply problem. But the properties we have haven’t been planned well, so we’ve got infrastructure challenges.
I’ve also noticed over the past 15 years, there’s been an acceleration of well-intended county legislation with unintended consequences. Like when you require a developer to build, say, 40 percent affordable, that creates a bigger cost burden. Or years ago, Oahu passed a law that you can’t build anything over 20 feet in the Date/Laau [street area]. That’s noble. You want to see Diamond Head. But the reality is that whole section no longer becomes an urban core that you can fill with well-planned development. And Kauai, which I love and support, doesn’t allow buildings higher than a coconut tree. There are all sorts of legislation restricting all kinds of things, and I certainly support the intent, but the net result is it drives up home prices. You can’t have it both ways.
So those are just a few of the challenges. As for the solutions, I believe they lie in leadership. When you have a multi-faceted set of problems, you need a multi-faceted set of folks at the table to address the problems. And that takes leadership, to get people to see both sides of a challenge in order to move more toward a center solution. And I find that the bottom line is people need to be willing to make compromises Ð on the part of the politicians, the development community, the business community, the environmental community. It’s just that simple. ÐAs told to JLY
Hawaii Education Council, President
Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, Executive Director
We have always contented ourselves with delivering what we think is a pretty good curriculum.
What we don’t oblige ourselves to do is to make sure that all of our graduates are competent in areas that are necessary to perform in college and in work.
One idea I have is for Hawaii educators to commit themselves to four or five “failable” goals. A failable goal is, if I said to you, “I’m not going to be happy unless I teach you a foreign language and you prove to me that you prove you are fluent and you can go to that country and converse with every person on the street.”
Another failable goal is that every senior at a high school in Hawaii is able to design a senior project with a socially redeeming value that contributes to making life better here in Hawaii. They are able to design, research and write the project, and then deliver it effectively to a group of peers who would evaluate their work. This is an example of a requirement at Maryknoll School. They have a senior project, a PowerPoint that every student has to present to a peer-review panel. If they don’t pass that, they don’t graduate.
I would go to the business community and community colleges for ideas [on failable goals]. For example, the head of the carpenters union could go to every high school and say to every principal, “Here are five things that your graduates need to know to pass the test to get into our apprentice program.”
Business leaders could look at these goals and say, “Yes, if everybody can do four or five of these things, we would be much better off tomorrow than we are today.” This would represent a shift from content standards to performance standards. This would make education more practical and relevant because the tasks they would do would be real-world tasks. Let’s teach those kids in the ninth grade and not wait until they’re seniors. -As told to CCG
Sen. Norman Sakamoto
One of the biggest problems at schools is the one-size-fits-all solution in dealing with student needs.
When you talk to people in the community about public schools, many times they will say, “Well, if only the parents did this,” or, “At my school, all the parents get together.” We can’t keep lamenting about why Johnny and Sue’s parents don’t help our schools.
Instead, we need to fill that parent gap. Companies, organizations and individuals need to volunteer and help. Companies have the ability to work with employees to adopt one or several schools in their community.
Currently, the school principal or volunteer coordinator (normally the parent coordinator) at a school calls groups to request for help with a specific event. Sometimes, an individual would call the school and ask how they could help. They often play telephone tag, and the prospective volunteer becomes frustrated with the lack of a systematic approach.
Last year, we developed Volunteers and Partners Program (http://doe.k12.hi.us/volunteer/ index.htm), a pilot project on the Web that provides a menu of volunteer options at four selected schools: Salt Lake Elementary, Waikiki Elementary, Moanalua Middle School and Radford High School. The Department of Education hired Samaritan Technologies, a company that already had the existing software to screen volunteers.
This program allows volunteers, mentors and partners to give individualized attention to students. In part, this helps to close the “parent gap,” blaming the parents for the lack of motivation or performance of the students.
The Military Joint Venture Education Forum has a similar partnership with the Department of Education. Through that partnership, the relationship between a school and a submarine crew or a military unit never changes, even if the captain and the crew leave. Some groups, such as the Lions Club and the Rotary clubs, have partnerships, but they should be more community-wide. I’d like our own schools to have better relationships with local companies and nonprofits. It’s not all there yet, but that’s the vision of filling the parent gap. -As told to CCG
Superintendent, West Hawaii Complex
We’ve tried to improve schools one piece at a time by throwing money at new programs that don’t get results.
The only way we’re going to effectively change schools is to change the leadership practice of principals so that they are singularly focused.
For three days in the spring of 2004, we got a group of eight people together to study the Change Leadership Project at Harvard University. We then created a pilot project with six school principals in South Kona.
We started meeting intensively as a committee. The nature of the meetings changed dramatically, because no longer were we talking about bus schedules and meal schedules, we started talking about how to get a collective eye on good instruction. We do a “problem of practice,” where one of the principals brings a current educational challenge to the committee, and we talk about alternatives and options. The principals do common walkthroughs of everybody’s classrooms, and they debrief one another in a very honest, meaningful way.
The practice has been so successful that we’ve created a 30-member teacher-leadership group. We bring the teacher-leaders together, and they take the practices back to their schools. We’ve really focused on rigorous instruction and bumping up expectations for teaching and for learning. We’ve developed a deep-thinking culture in the schools. We’ve collaborated among the schools, so we’re developing a consistent, K-12 delivery. We see a smoother transition for kids, so that when they go from school to school, there is a common understanding of what kids have learned and what kids need to learn. When the principals did their academic and financial planning, they didn’t do it individually. They did it together as a complex.
We’ve developed a second cohort with six principals in North Kona: three elementary schools, a middle school, a high school and the community school for adults.
Change Leadership is not a program. It’s a philosophic belief that we need to get out of our isolated place and collaboratively work together in a trusting relationship that is singularly focused on making a positive change. -As told to CCG
Josh Green, MD
State Representative 6th District
Emergency Room Physician
Honolulu for the most part has everything it needs.However, we on the Neighbor Islands don’t have enough primary care physicians or specialists.
On the Big Island, we don’t have any neurosurgeons, and the chances of seeing an orthopedic surgeon are one day out of every three. You have to fly to Oahu otherwise. That creates a terrifying situation for the older community, given their illnesses. And it’s scary for people in general.
Access to specialty care is declining significantly. Five years ago, I had access to three neurologists on the Big Island. Now, I have access to none. Five years ago, I used to have an orthopedist on call all the time, now I have one on call every third day. Before, you had to transfer someone to the other side of the Island, but at least they got the surgery. Now, they have to fly to Oahu, or just wait.
A lot of this goes back to our insurance climate. HMSA (Hawaii Medical Service Association) does a lot of good things. I’ll say that up front. However, because it has a virtual monopoly, it has lost its primary focus Ð helping to provide health care for everyone. Just because there are more people living on Oahu doesn’t mean it is OK that they haven’t helped us find proper orthopedic coverage. They say, “OK, just get on a plane.” But that is not acceptable.
They haven’t evolved with the changing medical climate. Healthcare costs are soaring, but HMSA hasn’t increased reimbursements for physicians. They haven’t because they don’t have to. They don’t have to negotiate with anyone anymore.
If [HMSA] is going to be a nonprofit, it needs to put together community benefit packages to keep those doctors in practice. No other insurance company is big enough to do it. If not, it should be forced to compete fairly in the market and pay taxes. All the insurance in the world doesn’t mean that you are going to get care. I’m not trying to make doctors millionaires, but if they don’t get paid they will leave and people will not get the care that they need. Ð As told to DKC
Executive Director, Hawaii Primary Care Association
A recent study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund put us at the top of the list for access to healthcare.
That’s great. But if you can’t get the care where and when you need it, you don’t really have access.
Oahu has the problem to a lesser extent than the Neighbor Islands, because it has a greater concentration of everything on Oahu: more doctors, more hospitals, more emergency rooms, more specialists and certainly more dentists. But all that doesn’t mean people have equal access to healthcare. Oahu also has more uninsured and homeless people than the other Islands and large populations of Native Hawaiians and immigrants, who have different ways that they experience healthcare, or expect to have their healthcare needs met.
We know that medical schools aren’t pumping out enough physicians to keep up with the population growth and the aging population, so this is my speculation: We will see more practices that will integrate mid-level practitioners Ð physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners Ð who work with doctors. Your physician will be a part of a team that will treat you.
With complicated problems, come complicated answers. Creating a tiered care system, which uses mid-level practitioners and does not rely solely on physicians, is one way of dealing with them. But then we have to develop a workforce that can provide these levels of service. We also have to provide incentives to students to become the kinds of physicians that we need, which includes not only specialists but primary care doctors, because we need them in great numbers, too. Part of what is required is funding for medical schools, which are very expensive to attend. Naturally, someone can’t afford to become a general practitioner or family practitioner, making $100,000 a year, when they have $500,000 in student loans.
Thanks to television shows like “House” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” medicine is now about the miracles that these very smart people can perform, instead of the caring for the well being of everyone that doctors provide. Also, the viewing public sees mega miracles happening and then think that they can do whatever they want. When they fall ill, they can have surgery or take a pill and be all better again. They aren’t willing to make the personal sacrifices required for a healthy lifestyle. Ð As told to DKC
Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, Native Hawaiian Healer
The cost of health care in Hawaii is skyrocketing. Part of that rise is connected to our homeless problem, because, for those people, priorities are someplace to stay and something to eat.
In addition, the stress level is really high when you are homeless. I talked to some mothers out there, and they say every time they do laundry, they have to pack up all their stuff. Another woman said that she had a 2-year-old who would get up in the middle of the night and just wander off. These are the kinds of stresses that we don’t even consider. So when they need health care it comes at a high cost, because it is provided in an emergency room, way too late.
What we have to do to curb healthcare costs is to be sure that people have a primary healthcare physician, someone who is familiar with their cases and will treat them in a way that is not condescending. And what I mean is that they are not condescending in their attitude and the first question that they ask is not, “What is your insurance company?”
The traditional healing practice was an exchange, and it was based on what it would take to replace the energy that I am asking you to give during the healing process. So we have gotten some fine sweetbread, eggs and fish at our health center. That’s OK. The Western perspective is, How are you going to pay? Homeless patients are already stressed out, so they don’t need more. And it’s embarrassing, so the embarrassment becomes a barrier to healing.
What we have done at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center is to come up with a kuleana agreement. Hawaiians were very dedicated to owning up to their obligations. They will come and either give something that is equivalent to the services they receive or they will do yardwork or whatever, so they don’t feel like someone else had to pay for them. That plays into the broader definition of health. If you feel that you can make your own way, your attitude is going to be much more positive. You aren’t going to be worrying and have additional stress. ÐAs told to DKC
President, CEO and Chairman of Sopogy Inc.
There is no one technology that will solve all that ails us.
But if we take wind and combine it with photovoltaic and hydro-generation, and combine that with traditional generation, now you have gotten ourselves into a situation where the cost of generation goes down because we are no longer tied to fossil fuels and we have a reduction in greenhouse gases.
There are things in place to get us there. The state has enacted what’s called a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which put a mandate on the utilities that a percentage of their generation come from renewable resources Ð 20 percent by 2020 is the goal. The challenge is that our RPS is not defined as in other states. For instance, most utilities give their consumers the opportunity to pay a penny or two more to buy their power from green energy sources. That penny or two more then goes back to the green energy project developer to help incentivize the development and expansion of his project. That option is not available here yet. Because it all starts with money. Once you have the capital available, anything is possible. You can build a large wind farm. You can build solar farm.
It also takes having the early adopters come into the market and take the risk and demonstrate the model. The entrepreneurs. And having some of the more prominent leaders do something about it. When you have one or two successful demonstrations of how the model works, it is easy for everyone to say, “Hey these guys did it, let’s do it.” We also need public awareness, because the public can apply pressure to the government, the utilities and the Public Utilities Commission.
If we can figure out a way to insulate ourselves and lower energy costs, we stand a better chance as a society of giving people a better way of life. Maybe people can cut back on that second job and spend more time with their kids. This is the kind of thing that drives me. ÐAs told to SR
Chief Technology Officer, Dept. of Business, Economic Development and Tourism
We have not done an adequate job of communicating how truly significant the state’s energy supply problem is.
As consumers, we take things for granted. We complain about the cost of energy, but generally we don’t know where our energy comes from, and we don’t know what risks we face.
We are so reliant on external forces and imports to supply basic energy that we are continually subject to forces over which we have no control, forces that relate directly to the price of this very precious commodity. Its unpredictability and variability is really why there is so much more concern about it today. Oil prices going up to $60 a barrel, in a state like Hawaii that is so dependent on this one commodity, becomes very problematic for our economy, long-term.
So we clearly need to address our over-dependency on oil. We need a great deal of outreach and education so people understand the kind of choices they may have as consumers, as individuals and businesses, in selecting energy efficiency or renewable energy sources. People also need to understand that, as consumers, we can dictate how we arrive at the preferred energy future. If we collectively send out signals that we want our energy to come from clean energy sources, it will make a lot of our jobs in the policy and business investment arenas much easier.
As a market driver, you can have policies, but if we say as consumers that we want to acquire our energy from clean energy sources, even if it costs a little more, that would send the right message to the market. Then if there is a clear market, businesses have a much better motivation to get their investors to participate. And capital is key.
Because governments are in no position to make this transition by themselves, the business community is needed to develop the projects, to make the case for the projects to be sustainable over the long term, so we can then make sure the markets move in the direction we want them to move.
There is clearly a role for both the public and private sectors in this. ÐAs told to SR
President, Castle & Cooke Hawaii
Castle & Cooke is a real estate company, but we are talking about energy? Well, they go hand in hand today.
Energy costs are a major component of our operating businesses. It’s a major component for a lot of businesses. It’s also a major component for most families. Take a look at your electric bills. Go to the pump. It’s becoming very personal to all of us.
Today, at Castle & Cooke, we have the opportunity to be a leader. When we look at Lanai, we have, if not the largest energy costs in the nation, one of the highest. We have a large mass of land. We have an abundance of sun, wind, access to the ocean. And we have seen the improvements of technology for renewable energy. We have a great opportunity to make a statement, to become energy self-sufficient. (Castle & Cooke is planning to build the country’s fourth-largest solar farm on Lanai.)
But what can other companies take away from this? It can make business sense, when you start looking at the tax credits and the utility rates and the fact that the cost of oil is not going to go down. It does make economic sense. So the takeaway from small companies is that they can make it work. You don’t have to have your own island. We just made modifications to a new building we are building where I can put photovoltaic on it and supply 50 percent, maybe 60 percent of my daytime power needs. We are going to do that as a test.
And yes, it is a business decision, but business decisions are not always about dollars and cents. Business decisions are also about the sustainability of the company and the economy that it serves. We don’t operate in a vacuum. We live here. Them is us. I think companies, particularly large companies with a history, have a responsibility to the state to look at these larger issues, to weigh in on them, and, more importantly, take action. I don’t think we have the luxury to say, “Ah, let HECO take care of it.” ÐAs told to SR