Episode 2 – Community & Economy, CHANGE Event Series, Part 2
(1:13) Steve: I’m gonna stick for a while with these questions from the students because they are really good. Here’s a question about the cost of living. Christine and the others have talked about the cost of housing, and I love this question because [the students] understand that there are tradeoffs just as Norm mentioned.
What are the plans to lower the cost of living without taking away tourism for instance? What can we do to make it more affordable to live here? Anyone want to tackle that “Is there really a God” question? Sterling, you say you make a comfortable living; I’m sure these people make more money than you do.
(2:08) Sterling: Sure, my God, and that’s certainly true. If you look at Honolulu from an aerial view, the satellite view, you’ll notice that we don’t really have much more land in the urban core to build on. So, the question is how are we utilizing the land that we have in the urban core? And I think a lot of people in the millennial generation and Gen Z don’t aspire to the old suburban ranch house or mega mansion anymore. They want to live, work, and play in the same place. The government needs to make sure that development can take place where it’s not destroying the natural environment, where there’s already infrastructure present, and where people actually want to live, which is in the urban core. So, changing zoning to make that easier. Developers don’t want to build luxury condos, they want to build housing for the people, but all of the red tape and the regulation that stands in the process makes it so that they can only build luxury condos because that’s where the return is. Anything government can do to change the incentives so that [developers are] building for the mid-market is good.
(03:23) Rich: Let me take that, so Christine doesn’t have to be the only one addressing that point because it seems self-serving, right?
One of the traditional roles of government is to provide infrastructure, right? But, because we have a lot of constraints on the money we have, we say developers should put in the infrastructure. Harry Sanders will tell you; for every home out in Koa Ridge, he’s got $130,000-140,000 in infrastructure requirements. That’s on the new homebuyer to pay that in addition to the cost of just that house, right? So automatically what they might have targeted is now a $700,000 house, and that sets a new market price for that house. That’s where I think Sterling’s point is if we go into the areas where the infrastructure is already there and we prepare the infrastructure for development, the marginal house can come in much less expensively for the buyer, and you can provide a lot more housing that can be within people’s reach. And it‘s things like that, the mindset that we need to put the infrastructure in so that the marginal housing can come in less expensively for our own people.
(04:54) Christine: Yeah, and the Omnibus bill that’s been introduced identifies important housing lands, and what they are saying is basically anything within the half mile radius of the transit will be identified as important housing land, especially lands that are owned by the state, to introduce the 99–year lease concept, the leasehold housing. And you know, that could be something that’s doable. If we can get through the environmental impact statements that might be needed, if the state could do it as a whole instead of doing it one parcel at a time, each one taking 10 to 20 years to do. If they could do it all at once through this legislative process, there might be opportunities for having truly affordable housing.
(05:38) Norm: You know, you’re reminding me about something that the education piece of the comprehensive package is designed to allow the implementation of something called 21st century schools. Since the Act was passed seven or eight years ago, nothing much has happened, but they are now looking at being able to take a school campus, downsize the school by building vertically, and developing the rest of it to support the school. And so, there are unique ways that we can address those kinds of problems without going green, as you’ve said.
(06:18) Steve: I’ve mentioned that solution to a friend, and she was so protective of the schools. I was telling her this is for the schools because it gives them the money to renovate the classrooms, and it still protects the playing fields. It still protects that, but it brings money in, and we can’t stick to old ways of thinking if we’re going to solve problems that have persisted this long.
One more question from the audience. I’m going to take the first one, and it’s from a young person who’s asking how can nonprofits and businesses – how can we motivate young people, and I’m talking about millennials and such to get more involved in helping their community? You have someone like Sterling who’s very active in these issues; how do we get more people to be active like that?
(07:10) Karen: It’s really about providing opportunity. You know, my daughter’s in college, she’s a junior on the Mainland, and I’m hoping she comes back here to live. [Her college wants to] bring a homeless community to their campus, and she’s so excited to serve those people. We must provide opportunities and it must be meaningful. What is interesting to someone? Do you want to help a kid, do better in class? You’re really good at tutoring, then volunteer there, but we’ve got to provide those opportunities. I think in my industry, a lot of times we say, oh, you have to jump through all these hoops and loops to be able to even volunteer. We’re trying to break that down so that people can just come in and help because there’s a lot of people who have needs, and I think when someone give back it’s such a valuable thing, even to you. You’ve got to provide opportunity. One of the things we do as an organization is, we serve the community, but we also give our employees eight hours of time off to go and volunteer wherever they want. So, we encourage [volunteering], even from a business perspective.
(08:14) Rich: They’re very involved. I mean, my teammates who are newer and younger. When we have an opportunity, they’re all there signed up and participating. I think the generation just has a mindset of, “we have to get involved and we have to do things to help take care of each other.” It’s just as Karen said, just keep doing it in a way that makes it real. I think what’s great about the CHANGE framework is we’re actually have a lot of efforts that are working together to try to create real change. It’s not just for the photo op, it’s not for the symbolic thing to say we’re doing something. It’s trying to make it real, and then if people they see the progress, and they think it’s got legs, they’re gonna stay involved and make it work. And I think that’s our job to make sure we’re doing stuff because it’s the right thing to do, it’s real and we want to stick with it and keep our shoulders on it.
(09:21) Steve: Those of you who are leaders of organizations, make sure that your organization has those opportunities. Sometimes people feel overwhelmed about how can I solve homelessness, how can I help kids in schools, how can I help whatever problem is, is really pressing on them. If you have a framework and you have multiple people in your organization working together, then real change can happen. So that’s your responsibility as leaders, is to build that framework for the young people to get involved.
(09:54) Karen: And matching lime green T-shirts too, right Rich?
(10:48) Steve: We’re not all on board in the same way, and two questions address that. One is about alternate and clean energy, and the cost of clean energy, so that’s why some people are opposed to Hawaii’s transition to clean energy because it has costs. And the other was about culture, and there is resistance to some change, to some development because of cultural issues. I want to throw that to our panel.
How do we bridge some of these very strong divisions in Hawaii? Mauna Kea is, of course, an incredible manifestation of that divide, but there are lots of other divides between culture and change, and between progress on things like clean energy, and the cost of making progress. Tough issues.
(11:46) Karen: Sterling?
(11:49) Sterling: Okay, kick the can down the road!
(11:54) Rich: I think the big thing on those is what you heard several people say is, everybody’s got to give a little, right? Because what’s the ultimate result that you want to have is a healthy, vibrant community that’s growing, that has the resources to do what we all want to do, and doesn’t make our kids leave or not be able to come home because what good is that? I mean, if you go back at different points in time, you had parts of the community that would be happy to see, the military presence for example, disappear because look at all the housing that would be available, right? Okay, we would also have no jobs. We would also have a very different environment for creation of other economic activity. So, it’s a balance. Everything is about finding the right balance and finding the compromises, as Norm said, we get something. You don’t get everything you want, but overall, we’re creating the best environment for our community.
(13:00) Sterling: Yeah, I think we need to act in good faith. Very often, when we have divisive issues like
Mauna Kea, there’s a tendency to demonize the people with whom we disagree. And I think if you look into most people’s hearts who live in Hawaii, they really care and want to make it a better place. When we operate just at the level of our disagreements, we’re often petty and mean to each other, and we don’t often talk about the passion and the things that drive us. So, if we can focus on the things that unite people rather than just arguing at the surface level, I think we can come together to make progress because very often there isn’t much disconnect between what people want. Developers don’t want to destroy the natural environment, and very often they’re vilified as having that as their priority. Everyone, if they could have their way, would like Hawaii to stay this beautiful paradise that it is with its cultural diversity, and if we can recognize that everyone shares that value in priority, I think very often some of those disagreements will just melt away.
(14:10) Steve: Someone has mentioned that we’ve talked about housing, the high cost of housing, the high cost of childcare. They raise the issue of transportation, high cost of transportation; any thoughts on possible solutions to that?
(14:27) Rich: Better paying jobs. Because the costs are gonna always be high here, you just know that right? We can work on things that are going to control the growth of costs, but we’ve got to keep creating the kind of activities that are going to bring better paying jobs and create more opportunity there. We‘re not going to cut cost into a comfort level where a $30,000 salary for a family of four is going to be a wonderful environment. We have to create more opportunity and more jobs and companies that can generate the kind of payroll that we want to have.
(15:11) Christine: I want to add to the transportation discussion. You know, obviously, we’re building the rail and a lot of the systems into place to bring people into town. I think a lot could be addressed by moving jobs to other areas.
(15:28) Rich: Like the new downtown around ʻAʻala Park, for example.
(15:33) Christine: There you go, the new downtown. I mean, just think about it. Can you imagine if University of Hawaii moved to Kapolei, or the State of Hawaii Legislature convenes out in ʻEwa? I’m just saying that we should be looking at where people are living where it’s affordable and moving the jobs into those areas. We can solve a lot of transportation issues, and when I think about when the schools are out, and what our transportation is like, you know, what our drive time is, I think that we really are not looking at what we can do almost overnight.
(16:18) Karen: So my office, our main campus is on Fort Weaver Road going down into ʻEwa Beach, and some of my new employees recently have moved from jobs in town to work for us, and they’re like, “it’s such a great quality of life,“ because they’re not sitting in an hour–and–a–half of traffic each way. Thinking about the ALICE families, they’re all living out in those communities, and they’re spending the most time in the car and the most time on gas and automobile. The Rail I think will be good for them because they can get on and much easier get into town without traffic, but I love the idea of pushing some of the jobs out. I know that our employees really live that out in ʻEwa, enjoy working out and ʻEwa.
(17:04) Steve: We have a question from the audience, and they’re scolding me for not raising the issue of climate change, and I agreed climate change is the most important issue on our planet right now. So, Sterling, you were one of the authors of the troubled waters report for those of you who have not read it, you should. It’s basically an assessment of what the state and counties of Hawaii owe, their liabilities going forward over what the next 30 years, and the infrastructure costs that will be imposed by climate change are among the biggest factors that we’re leaving to our future generation. Your thoughts about climate change?
(17:57) Sterling: I think that we can be leaders on climate change. If you think about it, our economy is dependent on the climate, right? People wouldn’t come here if it were too hot or too cold. We have the perfect temperate climate. And one of the things we need to focus on is our advantage at innovating. We have an ocean around us; we should be leading in all of the hydrodynamic electricity generation. We can be leaders in wind and solar and all of these things. But beyond that, we do need to think about the costs, like, if you look at the roads along our shorelines that will need to be relocated, those costs are going to be severe. Sometimes in some places, I won’t name any places, we’re building new developments in places that are below the floodplain that the scientists think will easily be covered by sea level rise attributed to climate change. And then, we need to think about our resilience in terms of natural disasters. It is just a matter of time before we have a major hurricane, an event that could shut down and even cripple our state. We need to be acting in advance so that we’re not responding to a catastrophe, but we’re preparing now.
(19:15) Steve: We’re almost out of time, but I want to ask each of our panelists to talk for one minute about how people in the audience, how people listening on the podcast, anyone who wants to support positive change in Hawaii, how can you support that change? How can you help make it happen?
(19:38) Karen: I recently visited an organization in Los Angeles serving homeless, and one of the things they said to me is that LA County is just trying anything and everything. They’re not waiting; they’re just throwing resources at homelessness because there’s such a big problem. We have the same problem here. And what I loved it when I heard that was, we’re trying anything and everything, and we’re not waiting till it’s all signed, sealed, and delivered. And so, I would say if you have an idea, try it, be optimistic, be innovative, try it, test it. If it works, keep doing more of it. And so it’s time and money, and for organizations like ours, it’s like if we can prove it’s working, invest in us, let us do more of it because government is not going to pay for it right now. They just don’t have the way to do it, but private citizens can help with that. So, hold us accountable, make sure it works, and then invest in both time and money and energy, but definitely invest in innovation too because, I love these bills, but this is a start. We’ve got to come up with new ideas every day to make an impact.
(20:45) Richard: I need way more than a minute...
(20:48) Steve: That’s why we have a conversation afterwards.
(20:52) Karen: I think I only took 45 [seconds], you can have some of mine!
(20:56) Richard: Thank you! I guess in this space, I really think this commitment and understanding that we are competing for resources with other communities around the world both around the country and around the world, in tourism, in the federal presence, and in the attraction of talent and research, funding, and all those things. We really have to decide that we want to grow this sector of the economy and compete for it. It’s not going to just happen on its own; we have to compete for it. And there are amazing resources. A lot of people in this room have been part of this innovation effort for many years, and they’ve done some unbelievable things despite the fact that we throw roadblocks and high costs and no support in front of them, and we got to get stuff out of their way so they can do more. To the people like me, who sit in a role like mine, in traditional economy companies, we got to find ways to help the entrepreneurial community. We got to be early adopters of their technology, give them a chance to try their stuff because if they can’t say to people elsewhere that they’ve got beta customers here, what credibility they may have, right? If they don’t have an investor here, what credibility do they have? We have to decide, we want to create this, and then, we can do it. There’s a whole list of things that we know are in place to get it done. We just have to decide we’re going to do it and then do it.
(22:22) Christine: I need more than a minute too, but I’ll try to summarize. I think of housing as one of the most key components to our cost of living, and what makes our quality of life acceptable. It’s not acceptable right now, and so what I’d like to ask each one of you is to think about how the nimbyism, small incremental nimbyism from each community with good intentions, resulted in an outcome of a housing crisis that we’re in today? I’d like you to think about yes–isms, and that’s not something I made up. How can we say yes? How can we say yes to four things in my perspective? One is to make land more available, not going into the green fields, but in existing communities to be developed. How can we make yes to infrastructure projects that we can share in the cost so the new projects, new homes can be in these communities? Three, what can we do to stop adding to the permitting processes? That neighbor that says, we should add all these things. And then fourth, how do we make money come to us that is not PACs funded from private funds? Yes to all those things, so learn more, and say yes.
(23:45) Norm: I totally agree with what Christine and Rich have said. They’re long-term solutions. We have to get started with them. But I think there’s a short-term solution too, and that’s the bills that are going through the legislature right now. It’s a start. Just as Sterling has said, it’s a start. We can’t afford to miss this opportunity. We’ve been presented with a package of bills that across the board is supported by government. Across the board business was a part of developing it; the nonprofits were a part of developing. It’s completely unique in my experience in Hawaii. We have to take advantage of that. We have to tell the story over and over again that we can’t all stick in our silos, fight for our own sacred cows. Let’s put the community first and let’s see if we can move the whole ALICE population upward.
(24:41) Steve: I intentionally wanted the last word to go to Sterling, the youngest person on the panel. So please.
(24:47) Sterling: I think we need to be as generous with our praise as we are with our criticism. So as a journalist, this will be particularly ironic, but we spend a lot of time criticizing things that are wrong. While every day, there are hundreds and thousands of people doing great work, and what we should be focusing on is recognizing and celebrating those who are taking risks, who are innovating, who are making life better. Because if we just focus on the negative things, it’s easy to become cynical and to lose hope, but I think if you look at the people on the stage, you know, and the organization’s they represent, there are people working very hard. And if we can remember that, that will sustain us through the hard times because there will be hard times, but if we can keep a perspective and recognize that for every bit of bad, there’s more good, then we’re gonna get there in the end.
(25:38) Steve: Excellent final words. And we’ve run out of time.