Category Archives: Business

Watching the rising waters

A New York Times story published this week reports that the economic impact of climate change and rising sea levels on coastal real estate “could surpass that of the bursting dot-com and real estate bubbles of 2000 and 2008.”

It’s an important story with plenty of implications for Hawaii, but likely got lost in the Thanksgiving and Black Friday news and advertising.

See: Ian Urbina, “Perils of Climate Change Could Swamp Coastal Real Estate.”

“The fallout would be felt by property owners, developers, real estate lenders and the financial institutions that bundle and resell mortgages,” according to the story.

The article cites “nuisance flooding,” or flooding caused by tides rather than by weather, as sort of a leading indicator. Honolulu already has its share. The high tide floods in the Mapunapuna industrial area is just the most recognized. But some older high rise buildings in low lying areas of Honolulu, including in and around Waikiki, are already facing problems created by a rising water table. I know of several condominiums on the edge of Waikiki where water is entering elevator shafts, requiring expensive efforts to seal or block the waters. Given the number of older buildings, I would be surprised if this isn’t a major issue that just hasn’t grabbed the public’s attention yet.

There are many unknowns, including the pace of sea level rise over coming decades and the reaction of real estate markets.

The NYT story cites a recent post by Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant, concerning the impact on the mortgage market.

One challenge for housing economists is predicting the time path of house prices in areas likely to be impacted by climate change. Consider an expensive beachfront house that is highly likely to be submerged eventually, although “eventually” is difficult to pin down and may be a long way off. Will the value of the house decline gradually as the expected life of the house becomes shorter? Or, alternatively, will the value of the house—and all the houses around it—plunge the first time a lender refuses to make a mortgage on a nearby house or an insurer refuses to issue a homeowner’s policy? Or will the trigger be one or two homeowners who decide to sell defensively?

I’m now living a quarter-mile from the beach, and I’m old enough that the long view isn’t as much of a personal concern. But for younger folks, this all deserves to be a much higher priority.

Throwback Thursday: A 1973 “American Gothic” selfie

The top photo was taken in late December 1973, or perhaps somewhere in the first days of 1974.

Meda and I are standing in the living room of our apartment on the 4th floor of what was then known as the Circle Jade, a rental apartment building on 9th Avenue in Kaimuki which was converted to condominiums in 1978. We were facing the camera, which was mounted on a tripod, triggered by a self-timer. I was apparently somewhere between annual haircuts. Meda, on the other hand, looked fabulous.

The checks we’re holding tell the story. They’re dated December 26, 1973. Both for the identical amount of $135.15. They were drawn on the client trust fund account of attorney Steven E. Kroll.

The checks representing our shares of the proceeds of a larger settlement of a lawsuit against Kahala Mall and Hayes Guards Service stemming from an incident a year earlier.

The checks

But the story actually started two years earlier, in December 1971, when Kahala Mall ran the advertisement you see below, promoting stag nite event “for men only,” an evening of shopping complete with beer and Santa’s “bunnies” in bikinis.

Kahala Mall

As you can imagine, this provoked a response from the fledging women’s liberation movement. Perhaps a dozen women, and an equal number of men, showed up for a hastily planned demonstration. At first, the group was denied entry to the mall, but later were allowed inside with signs and leaflets.

Click on the “Stag Nite” ad to see some photos from that evening, or click here to read the mimeographed leaflet handed out that night.

Over the next year, several conversations with Kahala Mall management were held, and the women involved were assured that the 1972 stag nite promotion would not deny women entry. I think everyone was relieved.

But when the day rolled around, a check at the mall found that guards at the entrances were again enforcing a “men only” rule. Several of us went to the mall to try to contact the management in hopes that they would correct the “mistake” and follow through o their earlier commitments to avoid discriminating against women.

Meda and I were among a group trying to enter the mall at the doors between what are now Whole Foods and Starbucks. Hayes Guards Service had been contracted to provide security for the event, and their guard was telling women they were not allowed to enter, and were demanding to see women’s identification and were recording names and addresses.

At one point, I showed my i.d. and was allowed into the mall, but Meda, who was holding my hand, was blocked at the door by the guard. Another friend moved up next to her and said he wouldn’t move, effectively blocking the entrance, unless she was allowed in. With men in line behind them pushing to get through to the free beer, it turned into quite a scene, which was repeated at several locations and different participants over the next hour or so.

One incident was witnessed by attorney Richard Turbin, then a deputy public defender. Turbin tried to tell the guards that they were violating civil rights by discriminating against women, but their response was to physically eject him as well.

The result was a lawsuit against Hayes and Kahala Mall (click here to see a couple of news stories).

In any case, the case was eventually settled in December 1973. We each got a small share of the settlement, reduced by attorneys fees and our share of the costs. It wasn’t a lot of money, but we all felt it was well worth the effort, and it did put an end to those Stag Nite promotions.

A lesson in “fine print”

Ah, more of the fine print.

Earlier this week, I receive an email notice that a package would be delivered via UPS the following day. The notice said it would be delivered in the afternoon between 12:30 and 4:30.

Thinking that I might have a scheduling conflict, I applied online for a shorter, two-hour delivery window. There’s an $8 charge.

After entering your payment info, it appeared to be locked in. According to the UPS website, I now had a “confirmed delivery window.”


Well, the window came and went. I went back to the website, and it still says “confirmed.”

Then I noticed the little blue question mark. I clicked it.

Surprise! Fine print.

“Your payment card will be charged upon successfully delivery of your package.”

Ah. In other words, there’s nothing confirmed about your delivery window. If we happen to get it there during the front half of the original window, we’ll charge you eight bucks. If we don’t, is there still an $8 fee? Don’t know. But what’s clear is that there’s really no guarantee of that “confirmed” delivery time.

Oh. The package was delivered about 7:30 p.m. That was about five hours after the end of the “confirmed” delivery window.

Live and learn.

When the payments never stop….

Sometimes the strangest things happen.

While trying to get a handle on my sister’s finances, I found that her credit union has been faithfully sending a monthly automatic payment for her cable bill (I’ll leave the company unnamed, although we all know who it is). The most recent payment was just made in September.

The problem is that her service with Honolulu’s cable provider was discontinued either in December 2013 or in April 2014 (according to the company, which has provided two different answers so far). For more than two years, those monthly payments have apparently just gone into the ether, as the cable company says they have no record of receiving them.

I made several telephone calls and a personal visit to their customer service, confirmed that the service had been cut off long ago, but came up blank about where the money has gone for these past couple of years. And when I asked, they failed to provide any information on how to push the case up the chain of command so that it could be resolved.

I fumed for about ten minutes, then decided to shift the burden from my end to theirs. If information on where to go to resolve billing disputes isn’t readily available on the company website, or provided by customer service, it doesn’t seem like breaking the code should be my problem. Instead of trying more frustrating telephone calls, I put all this information into a complaint which was then filed with the Cable Television Division of the Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs (with copy via registered mail to the cable provider). Those went out late last week.

Last night I received a phone call from a supervisor for the provider, requesting copies of my sister’s bank statements showing the monthly payments, which will be forwarded to their accounting department.

It’s quite a lot of money (possibly more than $4,000) to have just gone walkabout.

And to boost the frustration another notch, I contacted her credit union to stop them from making the next monthly payment. The credit union says the provider is supposed to control the payment and order it stopped. If we do it from the client’s end, there’s a $25 fee, as if the payment error was our fault. If it’s not resolved by the time this month’s payment is due, I’ll order a stop and ask the cable provider to reimburse that expense as well.

Isn’t it interesting how sharing this tale of frustration has already made me feel better?

9-11 will never again be just a “normal” morning

I vividly remember getting an unusual early morning telephone call on September 11, 2001.

The call broke the stillness in our Kaaawa home in advance of our usual early wakeup. It must have been somewhere around 4 or 4:30 a.m. When the phone rings at that time, you of course are immediately wondering who in your family might have a sudden illness or accident. I answered.

It was a friend who I worked with back during my days with Common Cause, more than 15 hears earlier.

I don’t remember her exact words, but her message was to the point. Turn on your television. Now! It’s unbelievable.

She was right. It was unbelievable.

I blogged that morning.

No entry today, just a moment of silence as we watch events unfold a half world away

We went out walking early, not knowing what else to do. Another of our regular morning characters, who lives across from the beach, was sitting just feet from the water in a folding chair with fishing poles on either side of him.

He said he didn’t know what else to do either.

“I guess I should say a prayer for all those people….”, he said in a fading voice. As should we all.

This morning, 15 years later, we were back in Kaaawa. We spent the night with good friends after an afternoon and evening doing a favor of photographs at the wedding of Lilinoe Rezentes-Kaohu, whose extended family were nearby neighbors in Kaaawa. I’ve carried my camera through many of their family parties over the years which offered my wonderful photo opps! This was another in a long string.

This morning was quiet. We did our early walk along the beach, although there wasn’t much beach at the high tide. Then we sat with our coffee and a light breakfast.

With my iPad, I captured this photo with the elements of the morning. Visible out the window, the lush foliage of Kaaawa. Under the window, our friends’ surfboards, reminding you that the ocean is just a short distance down the hill. It was quite a peaceful. It seemed like a world away from that long ago morning in 2001.

In any case, I hope to be back with some of Saturday’s photos, which tell their own story of island life.

Sunday morning