Actually, Building High Rises In Kakaako Makai Is A Good Idea - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Samuel Wilder King II

Samuel Wilder King II is a 2013 graduate of the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law, where he was an East West Center Graduate Degree Fellow and earned a professional certificate in urban planning. He graduated from Georgetown University in 2006 and Punahou in 2002. He is a practicing attorney in Honolulu.

Population growth in the middle of Honolulu’s urban core makes it a perfect spot for development.

In numerous op-eds throughout local journalism and social media, people have been weighing in on Kakaako Makai. The spark that lit the debate is Hakuone, OHA’s desire to build three high-rises on three parcels it owns in Kakaako Makai.

The opponents of Hakuone have fallen back on tried and true NIMBY dog whistles: view-planes, “open shorelines,” “protecting” the land, access to surf spots, the fact that we did something before and we should therefore never, ever, ever change.

There are some new dog whistles, too: “fresh air” for people on shore — yes, seriously, someone actually claimed buildings in Kakaako Makai will eliminate “fresh air” for people in Kakaako Mauka.

Hakuone supporters have argued that we need more “affordable housing” and that OHA “deserves” this land as reparations for the overthrow. Indeed, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is so obsessed with its ineffective woe-is-me victim argument over “settlement” valuations that it seems OHA is more interested in making noise about Native Hawaiian victimhood than in actually building homes in Kakaako Makai. 

Everyone is missing the point. The point is that Kakaako Makai should be fully developed with high-rises because developing Kakaako Makai with high-rises is a good idea, period.

The reason it is a good idea does not have anything to do with the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. It has everything to do with the fact that population growth is a good thing and Kakaako Makai is in the middle of the urban core, making it a perfect spot for development.

For starters, if you are trying to solve a housing crisis, you need to build houses. Even so-called “luxury” home building has been proven to reduce prices because rich people move into expensive homes, and free up space for lower-income people to move into their former homes (google “migration chains”).

Outside investors are always getting attacked as the bogeyman, but in reality it is just the lack of homes that is causing homes to be expensive. Kakaako Makai is a perfect anecdote for our entire absurd housing debate: we literally made housing “illegal” and now everyone is shocked, shocked that housing is expensive.

It should also be noted that luxury condos bring in vast amounts of property tax revenue while putting very little strain on our public infrastructure, which reduces the need to increase taxes and gives us the ability to expand roads, develop new water sources, and expand sewer capacity while reducing the per-person cost of doing so.

If you have any doubts, I point you to the property taxes paid by owners of Park Lane units, the fanciest development in Hawaii (google “qpublic honolulu” and navigate to the “GIS Map” tab).

Last year, Park Lane Unit 8801 paid $52,000:

Unit 8803 paid $27,000 last year. Unit 1300 paid $13,000.  There are 219 units in Park Lane. The median property tax payment amount in Honolulu is $2,247. In other words the “poorest” unit in Park Lane pays five times the amount of property tax most of us pay.

Despite OHA’s ineffective campaigning, there is a reason to let OHA complete the development. If OHA is helped to build a successful development, OHA can profit which means taxpayers will not have to allocate as much money to OHA from the general fund.

It is unfortunate that OHA is fighting this battle alone when they should have teamed up with Kamehamhea Schools, the city, the state, and the University of Hawaii (the other landowners in Kakaako Makai) to jointly redevelop the entire area.

It is also worth mentioning that all of the NIMBY dog whistle’s mentioned above are based on fear-mongering. It is easy to create a development plan that provides public parking, public space, and surfing access. OHA has already done that, and it could be done even better if all Kakaako Makai landowners could work together.

Moreover, as patriots, population growth should matter to us. We find ourselves today at a bit of an historical inflection point where the idea of democracy is poised for a head-to-head competition with autocracy to determine which type of government produces better outcomes for humanity.

Our biggest disadvantage with respect to our biggest adversary, China under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, is that our population is so much smaller: 330 million versus 1 billion.

The opponents of Hakuone have fallen back on tried and true NIMBY dog whistles.

As Matthew Yglesias explains in his 2020 Book “One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger,” even just a moderate rise in income per capita in China would result in China overtaking us as the world economic superpower because China multiplies by 1 billion.

All elected politicians seem to want the United States to remain the most powerful country on earth, but the reality is that if our population does not start growing faster we will be crushed by the CCP, even if China only grows a moderate amount.

Building more homes, especially in dense, highly productive urban cores like Honolulu, is a key policy change that needs to happen across the nation to succeed in this competition.

It is time to let go of our reflexive NIMBYism and embrace housing growth.  We did it once, when the Democratic party took over Hawaii and wanted housing for all its union members in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, once those members got their houses, the Democrats slammed the housing door shut.

We need to bring back that can-do YIMBYism, follow Sen. Brian Schatz’s lead with his Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) Act, and build more houses. Kakaako Makai is a great place to start.

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About the Author

Samuel Wilder King II

Samuel Wilder King II is a 2013 graduate of the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law, where he was an East West Center Graduate Degree Fellow and earned a professional certificate in urban planning. He graduated from Georgetown University in 2006 and Punahou in 2002. He is a practicing attorney in Honolulu.

Latest Comments (0)

A biased view of the proposed OHA development. BTW, his artistic rendering doesn’t look like what OHA is proposing. I don’t buy his argument that as rich people move out of single family housing to buy those luxury condos they’re going to build, it frees up housing for residents. Malarkey, those homes will still be selling at a premium that few residents can afford, and the only people moving in will be more wealthy buyers from elsewhere. Locals and native Hawaiians will still be iced out of housing. And, more high rises will make a wall along the ocean. I was on the 12th floor at my wife's condo in the University area with a makai view and could see the ocean only in a few spots between tall buildings that were in the way. Blocking of the ocean view is not a theory, it's a reality.

Tomodachi · 6 months ago

It has nothing to do with NIMBYism, or the tax base, its about keeping open space on what little is left of the south shore, There will be plenty of development mauka of Ala Moana Blvd., enough units to provide for high end condos and workforce housing, none of these units, even the "affordable's" really fit into the housing gap that is needed. Those type of units are better suited to more rural areas, as highest and best use of the urban core, will mean pricer, smaller, condo type units. Building more luxury condos to 400 ft. makai will serve few if any beneficiaries in the Hawaiian community in need of housing. If OHA wants to focus on affordable condos they should look at trading for some land in Kalihi Kai, around the rail line, where they could easily build denser and higher with TOD bonuses, on much less expensive land where they would get more bang for their buck in serving the beneficiaries they are tasked to serve. Or, how about rebuilding Palama settlement. Furthermore, having high end owners paying the city tax does not decrease the city's desire or reality in taxing everyone as much as possible, but that's a whole different discussion.

wailani1961 · 6 months ago

The overwhelming number of units developed in Kakaako benefit high end buyers. Locals are completely priced out besides the 700 square foot units which are supposed to be for the future Hawaiians. OHA does not deserve to make money at the expense of the Hawaiians. Same old story with a different cover page. The rich get richer while the normal people get shut out.Better off keeping for open spaces which benefit EVERYONE.

Junkflyer · 7 months ago

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