Star Advertiser: Hawaii to get $1.45M for electric buses

By Star-Advertiser staff
September 18, 2017

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz announced today that the federal government will award $1.45 million to the Honolulu Department of Transportation Services for the purchase and deployment of fully electric transit buses.

“Hawai‘i has long been a leader in clean energy, and the city of Honolulu is building on that legacy by transitioning to buses that will keep our air clean,” Senator Schatz, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a press release. “I’m glad that this funding will take our state one step closer to reaching our goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.”

Schatz’s office said a zero-emission electric bus could eliminate nearly 1,700 tons of carbon pollution over its 12-year lifespan, the equivalent of taking 27 cars off the road.

The funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation is part of Honolulu’s ongoing effort to electrify its public transit operation through public-private partnerships. Hawaiian Electric is expected to install the electric infrastructure for up to five Battery-Electric Buses while Gillig Corporation LLC, the largest all-American bus manufacturer in the United States, will produce the buses.

Star-Advertiser: Kahala Hotel drops commercial expansion request

By Allison Schaefers
August 15, 2017

BRUCE ASATO / JUNE 12 The Kahala Hotel & Resort has withdrawn its request to the Board of Land and Natural Resources to triple its beach easement.


The Kahala Hotel &Resort is withdrawing its controversial request to obtain a rare nonexclusive easement to use about an acre of public shoreline for commercial enterprises.

The Kahala Hotel notified Richard Turbin, chairman of the Waialae­-Kahala Neighborhood Board, on Monday that it had sent a request to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources asking to withdraw a draft environmental assessment filed April 23 by the hotel’s Japanese owner, Resorttrust Hawaii LLC.

The move was “out of respect for and appreciation of the comments and concerns expressed by the community,” Kahala Hotel General Manager Gerald Glennon said in a letter to Turbin.

Glennon said the hotel wants “to engage in on-going dialogue” and hopes to provide regular updates at the Waialae-Kahala Neighborhood Board monthly meetings. Glennon also invited Turbin to meet with him at the property next week.

“The Kahala Hotel values its relationship with the community and is committed to developing effective ways of encouraging and welcoming community input,” Glennon said.

The Kahala Hotel did not return a call from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to clarify whether it intends to resubmit a new plan after a period of public outreach.

The Kahala Hotel had originally planned to spend $900,000 to improve a 2.65-acre parcel, including leasehold and state beach lands. In return, it wanted to expand its outdoor wedding ceremonies to three state parcels from two as well as carve out enough space to offer torch-lighting ceremonies and rides in traditional sailing outrigger canoes.

But the plan was not well received by the community.

The Waialae-Kahala Neighborhood Board, the Surfrider Foundation, the Sierra Club and some Oahu residents mounted protests to the hotel’s proposal. Critics said it would set a dangerous precedent by favoring commercial interests over public beach access, which is a hard-won right in Hawaii.

The hotel, its owners and consultants also were faulted for failing to notify key stakeholders before the draft environmental assessment comment period expired and electing not to provide updates to the standing-room-only crowds gathered at the June and July Waialae-Kahala Neighborhood Board meetings.

At the Waialae-Kahala Neighborhood Board’s behest, Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case sent a June 28 letter to the hotel’s representative asking that it consider refiling the draft environmental assessment to trigger an additional 30-day comment period. That request had gone unanswered until now.

“What a turnaround. I’m happy but I don’t trust it yet,” said Diamond Head resident Linda Wong, who helped organize community protests. “It’s in their best interest to push the pause button because of the breadth of community concerns. We’ve fought a hard battle and we’ll stay with it.’

Mahalo nui to Sierra Club volunteer Dave Raney for his leadership on behalf of the Sierra Club O‘ahu Group to protect beach access in the Kahala area. Dave attended many meetings and hearings, wrote letters, made phone calls, and coordinated community efforts which have resulted in the Kahala Hotel withdrawing its proposal. Mahalo also to Linda Wong, Richard Turbin, Jim Nicolay, Matt Moore, and many more community activists that have helped on this project.

Bill 57- Ko‘olau Poko Sustainable Communities Plan

The O‘ahu Group submitted the following written and oral testimony regarding the Ko‘olau Poko Sustainable Communities Plan before the Council’s Transportation and Planning Committee on August 1, 2017. There were several proposed amendments to the bill that we addressed in our comments:


The Committee considered several of our comments and aligned with our position- they did not extend the Community Growth Boundary into the DeReis property in Kahalu‘u, they approved transferring ownership of the Stairway to Heaven from the Honolulu Board of Water Supply to the City and County, and although they approved the expansion of the Hawaiian Memorial Park, they included an amendment to ensure the protection of any “rare, threatened, or endangered species” that may potentially be affected by the proposal. Hawaiian Memorial Park has also hired a entomologist to complete a biological survey of the expansion area to locate the habitat of the endangered Hawaiian Blackline Damselfly and assess the impacts of the development in the project’s EIS. We will stay updated with this process to ensure Hawaiian Memorial Park is held accountable to the commitments they made before the community and Council. Bill 57 passed third reading on August 9th, 2017.

Haleiwa Plantation Village- Bill 55 and Bill 56 (2017)

The O‘ahu Group submitted the following testimony in opposition to the proposed Haleiwa Plantation Village in Bill 55 (2017) and Bill 56 (2017). The Zoning and Housing Committee unanimously deferred both bills at the August 3rd, 2017 Special Committee Meeting in Haleiwa. More information about the Bills and the result of the hearing can be found in the Civil Beat article below. Many thanks to North Shore residents Jen Homcy, Blake McElheny, and Kathleen Elliot for their guidance on this issue to the O‘ahu Group:

Aloha Chair Pine, Vice Chair Anderson, and members of the Zoning and Housing Committee,

On behalf of the Sierra Club O‘ahu Group’s 8,000 members and supporters, we oppose Bill 55 (2017) and Bill 56 (2017), which would rezone land in Haleiwa from agricultural to urban/residential for the proposed Haleiwa Plantation Village (HPV) project. We respectfully request that the Zoning and Housing Committee oppose Bill 55 and Bill 56 in light of the following inadequacies and issues:

Development on agricultural lands- The O‘ahu Group of the Sierra Club is generally opposed to up zoning agricultural lands for development because we believe it is an urgent priority to increase food production on O‘ahu. In this we take our cue from researchers and faculty at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, who are increasingly sounding the alarm about the need to rapidly increase the amount of food grown in Hawai‘i. This is to meet the mounting threat of global food shortages and food price inflation as a result of climate change, as well as the threat to the just-in-time food distribution network from the anticipated increase in frequency and destructiveness of severe weather events. The HPV proposal would convert valuable agricultural land to urban uses in rural Haleiwa. The applicant argues that the land is unfit for farming, however, the land is currently being farmed! It is planted with fruit trees and adjacent areas around the Haleiwa Marsh currently farm taro, lotus, and other crops. Furthermore, a portion of the land has been proposed for designation as Important Agricultural Land by the City & County of Honolulu, while most of the Northern Property has soils that are rated Prime, meaning that they are regarded as high-quality soils.

Affordable housing uncertainty- The HPV project purports to add 29 lots with up to 35 homes within R5 zoning. New rules administered by the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting would potentially permit additional Accessory Dwelling Units, which would increase the number of allowable homes in the development area. While the Sierra Club understands the need for new affordable housing for local families on the North Shore and indeed supports construction of housing within the urban core of the legacy towns of La‘ie, Kahuku, and Haleiwa, we believe that such development should occur in denser configurations that are pedestrian and transit oriented, not as traditional single family homes. The law requires that 30 percent of the lots be made affordable to people earning not more than 140 percent of area median income, but because these will be individually sold as vacant lots, there is no guarantee that the homes that are ultimately built will in fact be occupied by local families in need of “workforce” housing.

Lack of community support- The Honolulu Planning Commission recommended that the City Council reject the HPV proposal in March 2017. Additionally, the North Shore Neighborhood Board passed a Resolution in October 2016 opposing the State Land Use Boundary change from Agriculture to Urban. The Sierra Club is bound by its bylaws to support community concerns on environmental issues wherever possible. We believe the Council should show deference to the concerns of the community as expressed by the Neighborhood Board.

We appreciate that a special Zoning and Housing Committee meeting is being held in Haleiwa, so that community members directly affected by the proposed housing project will be given an opportunity to raise their concerns. We ask that you consider the issues above and vote against Bill 55 (2017) and Bill 56 (2017).

Council Committee Defers Proposal To Develop Haleiwa Farmland

Two bills would have rezoned seven acres of agricultural land to urban or residential and allowed for up to 35 homes
By Natanya Friedheim / August 2, 2017

The Honolulu City Council zoning committee deferred two bills Tuesday night that would have rezoned seven acres of agricultural land in Haleiwa to either residential or urban.

Scott Wallace, who bought the land in 2010, said he wanted to divide it into 29 lots and sell each for an estimated price of $175,000 to $200,000. Bills 55 and 56 would have allowed him to do so.

The land sits along Achiu Lane, just off Kamehameha Highway makai of the North Shore Marketplace.

The nearly three-hour meeting at a gym in Haleiwa lasted till nearly 10 p.m.

Scott Wallace purchased the Haleiwa property in 2010 with the intention of developing it residentially. Courtesy of Malia Evans.

After the public testimony, the room grew tense as Councilman Ernie Martin, who represents the North Shore but is not a member of the committee, stated his opposition to the proposed development despite considering Wallace a “good friend.”

“There’s overwhelming consensus against the project,” Martin said. “I’ve been very reluctant to support any type of development in my district … I subscribe to that philosophy that growth should be more directed towards urban Honolulu as well as the second city.”

The majority of attendees who testified opposed the bills. Many argued they would set a dangerous precedent for rezoning agricultural land for housing.

There also were concerns about Haleiwa’s already heavy traffic.

In March, the Honolulu Planning Commission also opposed the proposal and recommended the council reject it.

“I see that this project could provide some solid opportunities for affordable housing,” said Councilman Ikaika Anderson. However, he added, “it’s obvious that the community still has a lot of concern here.”

Anderson was one of thee committee members at the meeting. He and Councilman Brandon Elefante supported committee Chair Kymberly Pine’s call to defer the bill.

Councilman Ron Menor, who attended but is not a committee member, said the decision demonstrated the council’s consideration of public interests.

“I hope that tonight’s recommendation from the chair and this committee’s support for her recommendation demonstrates that as council members we do listen to the public, we do listen to the community,” he said.

Support for Two New Affordable Housing Measures

The O‘ahu Group supports two new Honolulu City Council bills that will help create a better affordable housing strategy for Honolulu.

Bill 58 (2017) relating to affordable housing requirements would increase the production of affordable housing, to encourage dispersal of affordable housing throughout the City and County of Honolulu, and to maintain the units as affordable for a long period of time. Please see our testimony below:

Bill 59 (2017) relating to affordable housing incentives would to provide financial support for the creation and maintenance of affordable dwelling units that are provided through compliance with bills and ordinances relating to an Affordable Housing Requirement, Planned Development-Transit  permits, and Interim Planned Development-Transit permits, and qualifying rental housing projects pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes. Please see our testimony below:


Support letter for Honolulu’s electric bus grant application

Below is the support letter the O‘ahu Group submitted to the Federal Transit Administration in support of the Honolulu’s Department of Transportation Services “Low-No Emission Vehicle Program” grant application, which would provide federal funding for the purchase of electric buses and infrastructure on O‘ahu. Mahalo to the Department of Transportation Services for allowing us to support your efforts to introduce electric buses in Hawai‘i. Our fingers are crossed that Honolulu is awarded the Low-No grant!

Mayor Caldwell signs Sierra Club’s “Mayors for 100% Clean Energy” pledge

This morning Sierra Club activists and partners rallied in Miami Beach to announce the 118 mayors and counting who have now joined “Mayors For 100% Clean Energy” — calling on all mayors to commit their cities to 100% clean and renewable energy and support the 100% Renewable Energy in American Cities resolution.

MIAMI BEACH, Florida — Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Miami Beach after signing the Sierra Club’s “Mayors for 100% Clean Energy” initiative, joining a growing group of 118 cities in the United States to endorse a goal of transitioning to a 100 percent clean and renewable energy future.

The signed commitment states, “I, Mayor Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu, Hawai‘i, support a goal of 100 percent clean, renewable energy in my city and across the United States. I believe that a transition to clean energy is good for my community: It will make us stronger, healthier, and more resilient; it will create jobs and new business opportunities; and it will allow us to become a more equitable society where everyone has opportunity in a thriving local economy.”

During this weekend’s conference, Mayors will be voting on a “100% Renewable Energy in American Cities” resolution to support making 100 percent renewable power a top policy priority over the next decade. The resolution represents 148 million people and 41.8 percent of the country’s electricity use. If passed, it will be the broadest rejection of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the Unites States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

“The Sierra Club O‘ahu Group applauds Mayor Caldwell for signing the Sierra Club’s “Mayors 100% Clean Energy” pledge and encourages his support for the resolution at the U.S. Conference of Mayors” said Jodi Malinoski, O‘ahu Group Coordinator. “As the Trump Administration threatens to undo recent progress towards clean energy, the Mayor’s commitment will ensure that Honolulu will be a strong leader for climate justice. We look forward to working with the Mayor, City Council, and the new Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency to accelerate Honolulu’s transition away from dirty, imported fossil fuels to locally-produced, renewable energy.”

– END –

The Sierra Club of Hawai‘i’s O‘ahu Group is an environmental advocacy group with approximately 8,000 members and supporters island-wide. We have an ambitious agenda to improve the sustainability of our island home and focus on a wide spectrum of issues: such as mitigating and adapting to climate change, concentrating smart growth and development within the urban core, and advocating for local food production, water security, and waste reduction. We rely on volunteers to support outdoor education programs, trail and native species restoration projects, and grassroots advocacy for sound environmental policies.

The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign is a new national campaign launched in 2016 working to accelerate a just and equitable transition to 100 percent clean energy in the United States. Ready for 100 is campaigning to get 100 cities in the United States to move away from dirty, outdated fossil fuels and to commit to 100 percent clean energy. To read the “Mayors for 100% Clean Energy” endorsement and see the list of Mayors who have pledged their support, visit:

O‘ahu Group’s work on Electric Buses

One of the many campaign efforts the Sierra Club’s O‘ahu Group has been working on is researching and advocating for Honolulu to start incorporating zero-emission electric buses into their public bus fleet. Since October 2016, O‘ahu Group staff and volunteers have met with the Hawai‘i State Energy Office, the Hawai‘i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, the City’s Department of Transportation Services, Mayor Caldwell, and all nine of the Honolulu City Councilmembers to learn more about existing efforts to support electric buses, grant opportunities to help Hawai‘i pay for electric buses and infrastructure, and to gauge the interest of our local agencies and politicians. Overall, the reception we have received has been largely positive and the City’s Administration is supportive of incorporating electric buses into TheBus system. We continue to discuss with the City’s Department of Transportation Services efforts to launch an electric bus pilot project in Honolulu in Fall 2017 and are also working to pass City Council Resolution 17-166 to support sustainable transportation through zero-emission electric buses.

Below is some information we have gathered on electric buses for anyone who wants to learn more about the benefits, opportunities, and what other cities are doing to incorporate and commit to electrification of their bus systems:

Pilot projects/bills

TheBus facts

  • TheBus operates a fleet of 542 buses: 389 standard 40 foot buses and 115 articulated 60 foot buses
  • The average age of the buses is 9.5 years old
  • Fuel and energy costs between 2015-2016 were nearly $14 mil, or 7% of the total expenses
  • Annual ridership is 68 million passenger trips and 67,000 miles
  • Electric buses would target routes less than 125 miles
  • Initial rollout would be best on Route 5, 7, 8, 16, 31, 32, and all express routes

Funding Opportunities

  • U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) allocated $211 M in 2016 in grants for buses and bus facilities projects. Eligible projects include those that replace, rehabilitate, lease, and purchase buses and related equipment as well as projects to purchase, rehabilitate, construct or lease bus-related facilities, such as buildings for bus storage and maintenance.
  • U.S. DOT granted $55 M to twenty transit providers in 2016 through the “Low or No-Emission Bus Competitive Grant Program”. Hawaii was eligible to participate for the first time in 2016 because the “non-attainment” language was dropped. Federal funding is very competitive and this grant received over 100 applications.
  • U.S. DOT granted $500 M to 40 transit providers in 2016 through the “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery” Grant Program. This grant program has provided a combined $5.1 billion to 421 projects in all 50 states since 2009. Demand for the TIGER grant program continued to far exceed available funds; the DOT received 585 eligible applications from all 50 States in 2016 alone.
  • TheBus partnered with HECO and applied for a $25 M TIGER grant for 18 electric buses (federal funds covered 80%)- unsuccessful, was targeted towards route 7 in Kalihi Valley
  • The Federal share for the cost of acquiring a zero emission vehicle is 85%, 90% of the net project costs for bus-related equipment and facilities

Economic benefits

  • BYD electric buses were found to have an efficiency of about 19 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) and the 40 foot Proterra bus efficiency was measured at 22 MPGe.
  • Initial cost of electric is +$300k, but the difference in local share cost is only about $38,000 for diesel vs. e-bus (40’ bus)
  • With advantageous rate schedule for off-peak consumption of electricity, annual energy costs for battery buses should be about ⅓ the cost of diesel
  • Maintenance costs for e-buses are lower than diesel or diesel-hybrid: predicted for 2020: $27,200 diesel or hybrid  vs $25,600 electric. No oil changes, no transmissions, no exotic EPA driven emissions reducing systems
  • Annual energy costs for electric are lower than diesel: predicted for 2020: $24k diesel vs $14k ebus
  • Estimated cost savings per year is $15k (energy + maintenance costs)
  • Although Electric buses cost about $300,000 more per bus than diesel, over a 14-year life, the savings in fuel cost, maintenance costs, and the benefits of Greenhouse Gas reduction results in a mildly more costly life-cycle cost (about 2.5% more per bus and additional cost of 10% based on a 3% discount rate).
  • If only local costs are considered, ebus have a 25% lower life cycle cost than other buses, assuming an off-peak TOU rate schedule from Hawaiian Electric

Environmental benefits

Health benefits

  • Diesel exhaust contains more than forty toxic air contaminants that in some cases can cause and/or worsen diseases such as asthma and cancer, disproportionately harming low-income neighborhoods.
  • Short term exposure to high concentrations of diesel exhaust/diesel particulate matter can cause headache, dizziness, and irritation of the eye, nose and throat severe enough to distract or disable miners and other workers. Prolonged exposure can increase the risk of cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary and respiratory disease and lung cancer.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies diesel engine exhaust as “carcinogenic to humans” and the US EPA classifies diesel exhaust as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

We believe that as Hawai‘i moves towards its commitment to producing 100% renewable energy and reducing our dependence on expensive, imported fossil fuels, investing in electric buses is a smart move economically, environmentally, and socially for O‘ahu. We will continue to advocate for zero-emission electric buses on behalf of our members and supporters and will keep you updated on our efforts.

Hawaiʻi Becomes First State to Adopt Paris Climate Commitments

Bill supporters from Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Hawaiʻi Center for Food Safety, Young Progressives Demanding Action, and others joined Governor Ige and legislative leaders at the bill signing ceremony.

Sierra Club members joined a hundred people in the rotunda of Hawaiʻi’s Capitol to celebrate Governor David Ige signing a bill that adopts certain commitments from the Paris Climate Agreement as state goals. This makes Hawaiʻi the first state to join the Paris Climate Agreement.

“Signing this bill demonstrates the strength of local governments and communities to inspire significant positive change in the world,” said Marti Townsend, Director for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi. “In committing to reduce our local greenhouse gas production, Hawaiʻi is inspiring every community throughout the U.S. and the world to do its part as well.”

The Governor was flanked by representatives from each of the four counties in Hawaiʻi, who also presented proclamations committing to significantly reduce Hawaiʻi’s greenhouse gases. The bill signing ceremony attracted a hundred people from environmental agencies and advocacy groups, as well as businesses and concerned residents.

“I am here today because I know that without a habitable planet, we will not have a functioning economy,” said Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi volunteer Sai Weiss. “Hawaiʻi is joining 1,400 other communities and businesses that are doubling down on the commitment to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save our environment. This just shows that together we can save the planet.”

The bills signed today, S.B. 559 and H.B.1578, dedicate staff and funds to an inter-agency commission on climate change, outline specific goals for reducing climate-harming pollution, and establish a task force to encourage agricultural practices that capture carbon in the soil.

Photos from the event can be viewed here.

Star Advertiser: Don’t backslide; ban plastic bags

Honolulu Star Advertiser | Editorial | Our View | June 6, 2017

What’s the result of a halfhearted effort to eliminate a bad habit? More than likely, the habit lingers on and gets worse.

That’s why the City Council should reject the latest version of Bill 59 introduced by Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, chairwoman of the Public Works, Infrastructure and Sustainability Committee. It would require retailers to charge customers at least 10 cents for every reusable plastic or recyclable paper bag offered at the checkout counter, with the proceeds going back to the business. Beyond that, it does little to close a loophole in Oahu’s plastic bag ban.

The Council should instead support Councilman Brandon Elefante’s version of the bill. In addition to the bag fee, it calls for plastic bags to be phased out entirely by Jan. 1, 2020, leaving paper bags as an option. The most effective way to reduce the presence of environmentally unfriendly plastic bags here? Simply stop offering them during point-of-sale transactions.

Five years ago Hawaii became the first state nationwide in which each county had in place a ban on single-use plastic bags at groceries and retail shops. However, when the Oahu measure took effect in July 2015, it became apparent that a loophole in the law allows businesses to offer “reusable” plastic sacks that are slightly thicker than the banned filmy bags.

It’s no surprise that business groups such as the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii and the Hawaii Food Industry Association back Fuku­naga’s version, which allows indefinite use of the thicker bags and opportunity to pocket the bag fee.

Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, has made the argument that visitors, who typically do not pack a reusable market bag, would be negatively affected by an actual plastic bag ban. To the contrary, it’s more likely that visitors would be pleased to comply with any concerted effort to help protect Hawaii’s natural beauty from the ugliness tied to plastics pollution.

Also, Yamaki has said characterizing allowable plastic bags as “single-use” is off the mark because people use them again as trash bin liners or to clean up animal waste, for instance. Regardless, their petroleum-based composition means they buck the natural biodegrading process — and that’s bad news for the environment.

Groups that undertake litter cleanups say with each passing year, more and more plastics are aggregating on our beaches. Drifting bags can block storm drains and runoff infrastructure. In nearshore waters, harmful plastic wads can end up in the stomachs of marine and stream wildlife.

Both versions of Bill 59 would rightly ban “compostable” plastic bags from checkout counters since Oahu lacks the commercial composting facility needed to cleanly break them down.

However, both versions are overly optimistic in reasoning that by charging at least 10 cents for each bag, customers will quickly say “no” to any type of checkout counter offering. If the Council wants to see a dramatic rise in shoppers toting their own Earth-friendly bags, bump up the fee to 25 cents, 50 cents, or even a dollar.

One thin dime, which is easy for most of us to shrug off at the checkout counter, represents a feeble effort on the city’s part. What’s more: businesses can already charge bag fees. And in many stores that do, you’ll see some shoppers carrying their own green bags from home and at least as many opting to pay the nickel or dime fee for checkout bags.

Further, in stores that have enacted their own real-deal plastic bag bans, such as Target, business booms as usual. The switch away from plastics is possible.

As Oahu’s weak ban nears completion of its second year, the City Council must seize this opportunity to close the law’s gaping loophole by putting in place the 2020 sunset deadline on plastic bags. Period.

Oahu’s spectacular yet fragile environment deserves much better than halfhearted legislation.