Category Archives: Consumer issues

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?

PBS Hawaii erects new paywall

After getting enough of the post-debate commentary Monday evening, I turned to PBS on our Apple TV and went looking for an older episode of Antiques Roadshow to pass some time.

And discovered PBS has erected a paywall around content that was previously available, including Antiques Roadshow. Their posted explanation doesn’t identify exactly what is behind the paywall. For now, I guess you have to select something and see if it’s restricted.

But previously broadcast episodes of Antiques Roadshow, formerly available, are now safely guarded behind the new paywall, which they call the PBS Hawaii Passport.

Okay, it’s not unexpected that PBS would eventually experiment with the paywall routine, even while others, like Civil Beat, have recently moved in the opposite direction by making their content free and open.

But I wish PBS would just be honest about it. They need the money. Fair enough.

Instead, the new paywall is being described as a “benefit” to viewers.

Introducing a new benefit to PBS Hawai‘i supporters that provides extended on-demand access to quality PBS programming.

The problem with this statement is that these archives were previously available online and on platforms like the Apple TV. Now they are restricted to donors of $60 or more.

So I quickly went to the PBS Hawaii website, donated the necessary $60, and expected to receive the information needed to jump the paywall.

Not so fast. The website asked for my “activation code.” None has been received. As a backup, it asked for my email address used when I donated. I entered it. But then PBS returned another error: “That email address is not in our system.”

So for the time being, I’m unable to jump the paywall. Hopefully this just represents growing pains for their paywall system. I’ll just see what happens next

Just one more thing about A&B’s Kahala Ave condos

My column this week at Civil Beat takes another look at a proposed six-home development along Kahala Avenue, on the other end of Kahala (“Ian Lind: No, These Condos Don’t Mean The End Of Old Kahala“).

The subtitle: The old Kahala is already gone.

Some Kahala residents have opposed the proposal because, they say, it would lead to increased density in the area, drive up prices, and only benefit wealthy absentee owners.

Civil Beat columnist (and veteran reporter) Denby Fawcett highlighted the proposed development in a recent column.

Denby and I both grew up in that old Kahala, the somewhat lazy beachside community before it was discovered by the ultra rich.

From my column, which appeared today:

We share a dismay at the direction the neighborhood has taken a nostalgia for the Hawaii that we glimpsed as children and young adults.

But I doubt very much that A&B’s six luxury homes are going to have any negative impact in Kahala.

The sad fact is that the elegant, low key, beachside neighborhood we grew up in is long gone.

But I did notice one small tidbit with lots of implications.

I was trying to figure out why the property was variously reported as something just over 53,000 square feet or over 58,000 feet.

I found the answer buried in a section of the the Planning Department’s report and recommendation on the project, sent to the City Council last week. The section is titled “Shoreline and Sea Level Rise”.

“The regulatory shoreline along the rear of the site is approximately 150 feet long and follows the top of the bank….”

“The makai property line,” the report states blandly, “is in the ocean.”

Yes, you read that right. The original property line is now out in the water.

Again, according to the report: “The eroded lands seaward of the certified shoreline account for approximately eight percent, or 4,675 square feet of the property.”

They’ve lost 8 percent of the land area already, and sea level rise is just getting started.

It may be that Mother Nature could rein in speculative oceanfront development sooner that any public policy changes.

Subcontractor on state prison plan has history of fraud, abuse

Don’t miss today’s Civil Beat story about Louis Berger, the New Jersey consulting firm hired to study the replacement of the Hawaii Community Correctional Center on Dillingham Boulevard (“Hawaii Prison Contractor Was Convicted Of Fraud And Bribery“).

Check it out. Remember, no more firewall.

The story’s headline just hints at the long list of prior violations by the company selected for the job.

According to Civil Beat, “Architects Hawaii…was awarded a $5 million contract to craft a comprehensive blueprint — complete with proposed designs and potential sites — for the new OCCC.”

And Architects Hawaii, in turn, hired Louis Berger as its subcontractor to do a substantial amount of the actual work.

The problem is that Louis Berger, both the firm and several of its former officers, have been found to have defrauded the federal government of millions in a series of cases over the past decade, most involving overseas work.

And because Berger is a subcontractor to Architects Hawaii, there is little information about its work available and little the state can do about it.

So that’s one problem, spelled out in gory detail by Civil Beat.

But there’s another fundamental problem.

The Public Safety contract was apparently awarded, including crafting “a comprehensive blueprint” for a new prison system, at the same time that a legislatively-mandated task force is meeting to study “effective incarceration policies in Hawaii and other jurisdictions, and suggesting improvements for Hawaii’s correctional system, including recommendations for designs of future correctional facilities.”

It looks like the administration is simply ignoring the legislature’s attempt to take a broader look at the prison system and its needs before proceeding towards construction. Instead of holding off to see what the task force advises, and which (if any) of its recommendations the legislature wants to pursue, Public Safety is launching on its own.

Anyway, good work by CB writer, Rui Kaneya.

A monthly household budget from 1946

Here’s another little find that tells you a bit about post-WWII Hawaii. It’s a household budget prepared by my mother, Helen Lind, reflecting our family’s average monthly expenditures in 1946. It was before my time (I wasn’t born until 1947), so includes my parents and sister, Bonnie.

The family’s total expenditures in the average month of 1946 were $363.07. My dad’s income as manager of a San Francisco-based hotel and restaurant supply company was $369.75, leaving a surplus (carefully noted by my mother) of $6.68 per month.

The big expenses were food ($65.42, including $10.42 for milk), mortgage on their Kahala home ($50 per month), income tax ($40), insurance ($34.54)

In addition to the mortgage payment, other housing expenses included property tax ($9.01 monthly), the Bishop Estate lease ($15), and termite treatments ($5), along with electricity ($9.42 per month), water ($3.11), gas ($1.90) and telephone ($5.31).

There’s a $19.52 charge for “gifts,” with a handwritten note on the back: “Large because includes Bonnie’s pictures this year, and sugar which took a lot of postage.”

I suppose that means sugar was still in short supply here in Hawaii, so my mom had someone (perhaps her sister) buy sugar on the mainland and mail it back to Hawaii.

All in all, it describes a pretty spartan lifestyle. Not a lot in the budget for eating out, travel, entertaining, etc.

But they did get a newspaper ($2.25 per month). When I was growing up, they had daily delivery of both the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin.

In any case, click for a larger version, in including the notes on the back of the page.

Helen Lind