Category Archives: environment

Obliteration of Thomas Square history apparently already underway

The city’s ignorance of history is no excuse for destroying the heritage of Thomas Square. This is an instance where the mayor needs to step forward and take action to save this highly symbolic piece of island history.

Thanks to Doug Matsuoka for reminding us of the situation in a Facebook post last week.

He wrote:

The City & County of Honolulu is erasing the Hawaiian flag from Thomas Square… The pathways in Thomas Square are designed to look like the Union Jack in Honor of Admiral Thomas who restored Hawaiian sovereignty back in 1843. You can still see the design in the Google Earth image.

But this last Sunday… check the pano. No paths. They’re fertilizing the paths away, disappearing even the memory of Hawaiian Sovereignty. WTF?

The top photo from Google Earth shows the design of Thomas Square. The Union Jack design is still clearly visible.

Thomas Square

But in the photo below, taken just over a week ago, the paths and the historic design are being obliterated. Click for a larger version of the photo.


This isn’t esoteric Hawaii history. Do a quick online search for Thomas Square and you’ll find numerous references to the importance and significance of the British flag design.

Read Denby Fawcett’s recent column in Civil Beat, which is an excellent review (“Denby Fawcett: Tap The Brakes On Thomas Square Proposal“).

Earlier, Thomas Square was identified as one of our most threatened history sites in a 2014 Honolulu Magazine review (“The 8 Most Endangered Historic Places in Hawai‘i“).

From the article:

Thomas Square is Hawai‘i’s first official public park, dedicated in 1850 by King Kamehameha III for British Rear Adm. Richard Thomas. During a ceremony in 1843 on the plot of land now bearing his name, the admiral restored the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom after British subjects unlawfully seized the Hawaiian government. It was during that ceremony that King Kamehameha III spoke the famous words that would become the state’s motto, “Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘?ina i ka pono.” Nearly 90 years later, additional features would be added to the park, including a central water fountain, radial coral pathways arranged in the pattern of the Union Jack and the Beretania Street Promenade, designed by landscape architects Catherine Jones Thompson and Bob Thompson. The park was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1972 based on its political significance.

In his 2014 State of the City address, Mayor Kirk Caldwell listed the restoration of Thomas Square as one of his top priorities, says Curtis Lum, spokesman for the city Department of Planning and Permitting. “His vision is to see Thomas Square emerge, once again, as a crown jewel and, with the Blaisdell, become a more active gathering place that anchors a vibrant arts and cultural community,” Lum says. While concrete plans have not been developed, one proposal discussed in April includes designing a bike path through the park, box planters and hard pathways. The concepts “were not based on restoring the features and characteristics from the historic period, but rather would erase most of the landscape architecture designed by Thompson and Thompson,” says Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of Historic Hawai‘i Foundation.

The public should make its opinions known. The city has made no decisions on Thomas Square’s future, says Lum, but the public will be asked for its feedback during the various phases of planning.

The city expects to complete an environmental assessment of the project soon, and public comment will be essential.

I find it sad that Mayor Caldwell, who benefited from a large property tax exemption due to the historic designation of his residence, is turning a blind eye to the far more significant history of Thomas Square.

Come on, Kirk. The city can certainly renovate the park without destroying its historic character. Show some leadership.

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.

Ethics Commission looks at free passes to World Conservation Congress

The State Ethics Commission issued a letter this week containing “guidance on acceptance of passes to the World Conservation Congress.”

The letter is posted on the commission’s website.

When I saw the link, I wondered whether this would be another strict and literal interpretation of the ethics code that would question or put limits on the acceptance of free passes.

It seems that legislators, along with certain state officials and employees, have been offered various passes to attend part or all of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (“IUCN”) World Conservation Congress (“WCC”) events during the first part of September. The passes range from 1-day passes, to passes valid for the entire 10 day event.

Those being offered the ten day passes, valued at $900, include “the Senate president; the chairs of the Senate committees on Tourism and International Affairs, and Water, Land, and Agriculture; the House speaker; and the chairs of the House committees on Tourism, and Water and Land.”

I expected, based on guidance on other matters over the past few years, that the analysis would then review the gift laws and their application to such affairs, looking for potential questions that might be raised.

Instead, the commission staff disposed of the issue in a simple paragraph.

The Hawaii State Ethics Commission recognizes the importance to the State in hosting the WCC. The Commission views the attendance by the legislators and state officials and employees described above as beneficial to the interests of the State. The Commission notes that the WCC appears to be a joint project between the State of Hawaii and the IUCN and, as such, the State has recognized that its interests are served by promoting the WCC. Consequently, the Commission does not believe that the acceptance of the passes as described above is prohibited by the State Ethics Code, Hawaii Revised Statutes chapter 84.

I found this refreshing. No need to delve into the specific situation of the positions of each of those receiving passes and questioning whether or not the “gift” would be appropriate. No limiting their participation to the specific parts of the program most relevant to their position or job. Simply a recognition that the conference as a whole benefits the state and its officials and employees as well.

It’s too early to say whether this could signal that the commission will be approaching more issues in this manner, but we can hope.

About those McMansions…

Credit my cousin, a professor at Boise State, for flagging a website that presents an architectural critique of McMansions (with a touch of humor thrown in for good measure).

Worst of McMansions” describes itself this way: “If you love to hate the ugly houses that became ubiquitous before (and after) the bubble burst you’ve come to the right place.”

Kahala has more than its fair share of these places, which we’re reminded of every morning as we walk past dozens of out of place McMansions.

Here are the basic McMansions 101 lessons.

McMansions 101

There’s a lot here to read and digest.

And even better, there are plans for more. Here’s a list of planned “future posts” that I found by clicking on the “Archive” link and nosing around. What fun this promises!

Future Posts
I’ve been getting a lot of messages (mostly from anons) about posts I should do, etc.

This is a curated blog, which means that the posts are already planned, and are scheduled for weekly publication. To avoid clogging up my inbox even more (though I do love each and every one of you!), here is a list of upcoming Sunday articles/posts in order:

(Note: Blog Specials are posts that have a similar scale to “McMansions 101: What Makes A McMansion Bad Architecture?)

1.) Mansion vs McMansion: Why All Big Houses Are Not McMansions

Blog Special: A Curated Collection of Big Houses That Don’t Suck
2.) McMansions vs The Environment: A Story of Conspicuous Consumption
3.) Not Just Aesthetics: Why McMansions Are Bad Architecture Remix
4.) McMansions 101: Windows
4.5) McMansions 101: The Roof

Blog Special: McMansion Hell CliffNotes: Anatomy of a McMansion – Exteriors

5.) Of Vaulted Ceilings and Jacuzzi Tubs: a Comprehensive Guide to McMansion Interior Architecture
6.) A Field Guide to the Dated: How You Can Tell a House Was Built & Designed in the 1980s
7.) The Joneses Ruined The Neighborhood: How McMansions Destroy the Continuity of Our Communities

Blog Special: A Brief History of the McMansion

8.) A Machine For Pretending to Live In: McMansions, Speculative Building, and the Great Recession
9.) A Field Guide to the Dated: How You Can Tell a House Was Designed & Built in the 1990s
10.) A Post-Recession Retrospective: McMansions since 2010
11.) Gated Communities: McMansions, the Suburbs, and Discrimination
12.) A Field Guide to the Dated: How You Can Tell a House Was Designed & Built in the 2000s.

A call for moratorium on state seawalls along West Maui coast

Here’s a Maui issue that deserves wider attention. I’ve taken this information from a petition posted at

Stop the SEAWALLS at Olowalu and Protect our Beaches, Reefs, Manta Rays and Monk Seals!

In 2012, we were horrified to watch a $7M seawall get built by the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) adjacent to a rare manta ray cleaning station and some of the nicest coral reef structure left on Maui. The beach was destroyed as well as the coastal access. A massive mud plume blanketed the reef for many weeks and the sediment continues to get resuspended with each new wave event, stressing the reef and preventing new corals from settling. The manta ray sightings have decreased by more than 75% and the waves toppling over the seawall threaten motorists that transit our only highway to the West side. All of this was expected since the destructive nature of seawalls have been known for decades and even banned in many coastal states.

The people of Maui have a vision of an 8-mile stretch of publicly accessible beaches and coastline from the Pali to Pumana, a dream that is being threatened by additional shoreline armoring by HDOT including a $6M seawall erected near mile marker 17 (Launiupoko) in 2013 and a $2.2M seawall near mile marker 13 (Ukumehame) early in 2016. A $3.2M shoreline armoring project near mile marker 16 (north Olowalu near the popular surf spot) is slated to break ground in mid-August 2016 and a $20M seawall is currently being planned by HDOT near mile marker 14 (south Olowalu near the world famous snorkel spot and endangered monk seal haul out beach). This amounts to nearly $40M of tax payer money going to seawalls, blocking public beach access and supporting the destruction of beaches, coral reefs and coastal habitat for endangered and vulnerable species while decreasing the safety of motorists.

So what is the solution to the Honoapiilani highway that is being undermined by rising sea levels? Realign the highway inland, a logical solution that has been in discussion now for over 20 years. Despite the County of Maui purchasing lands inland specifically for realignment purposes and private landowners offering land repeatedly for the realignment in order to preserve the coastline, HDOT continues to add seawalls and delay the realignment. In fact they recently stated that they will be deferring all major highway capacity projects (including the Honoapiilani Highway realignment) for up to 20-years!

Protecting the Pali to Puamana coastline does not require the $600-800M to tunnel the road through to Maalaea as HDOT claims. The 2.7 mile realignment stretch from Puamana to Olowalu contract has already been awarded with a target completion date of 2018. That leaves a 5 mile stretch from Olowalu to the start of the Pali, for which land is available for realignment and for which several routes have been assessed by the County. When we are this close to realizing the Pali to Paumana Parkway Vision there is no need to continue to destroy more coastlines and waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

What may be most troublesome to comprehend is that for each of these armoring projects, HDOT realigns traffic inland in order to carry out the construction, only to move the traffic back into harms way. These short, sectional realignments inland are sufficient to get motorists in a safe area for at least another 10 years while the permanent realignment solution is being finalized. This keeps people safe, allows the coastline and its beaches to recede naturally and enables HDOT to put those millions of dollars towards the permanent solution.

We owe it to the next generation to provide them with 8 miles of public beach access, healthy coral reefs and fish, thriving manta ray populations and beaches for our beloved monk seals. We ask that you please place a moratorium on all future seawalls along this coastline and shift the focus on putting the final realignment section back on the Statewide Transportion and Improvement Plan (STIP) and getting it completed.

Thank you for putting our children, our natural resources and the safety of our motorists first and respecting the vision of the people of Maui.

No More Seawalls in West Maui! from Mark Deakos on Vimeo.