Danny De Gracia: Oahu's Business Climate Has A Case Of Long Covid - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi has admirable ideas about attracting the film industry, but it won’t work without addressing core problems like the cost of living.

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As someone continuing to suffer from post-Covid condition, I have become acutely aware of in recent months of the need to find the delicate equilibrium between pushing too hard and not doing enough. 

I might be described by some as a Type A personality, so having any kind of limits or speed brake on what I can do is one of the most annoying things that I’ve experienced yet. Push too hard, and new injuries or problems arise. Don’t push enough, and the existing disease continues to plague you, or gets worse from inaction. To have to chase a moving target of benchmarks that change every day is the very definition of frustration.

I mention this because running a local government is a lot like suffering from a pesky chronic disease. In many cases, you can’t actually “cure” what’s wrong. But, with well-informed attention to detail and discipline, you can manage the problems so well that symptoms stop manifesting. And on Oahu, our state and county governments suffer from the chronic diseases of poor planning, lack of strategic vision and competing interests that pull us any which way but loose.

As I’ve mentioned before, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi has a very difficult job. He’s not the first to have to struggle to find Honolulu’s equilibrium point, and he certainly won’t be the last. He’s a kinetic player who likes to experiment, and now that he’s started his One Oahu podcast, we’re starting to hear more ideas about Oahu’s future.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi talked on his podcast about attracting global film industry to Oahu. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Of particular interest is the mayor’s mention of the “global content generation” of the film industry, and the potential of this to be leveraged to bring more quality jobs and money to Oahu. This is an admirable idea, and, given the fact that Blangiardi comes from television media, I can understand how this would look like an easy win. 

The concept behind this is that as studios, producers, stars, and support workers build around this economic activity, they would all bring more money to Oahu, which in turn, locals could spend and the City and County of Honolulu could raise more revenues from. And if more stars lived in Honolulu, that would also stimulate both the local real estate industry and the tourist industry. Not a bad idea, right?

But the problem is, making money is not the actual issue in Honolulu — saving money is.

According to the U.S. Census, the median household income for Honolulu between the years of 2017 to 2021 was $92,600. Compare that to the national median household income of $70,784 in 2021, or even the eye-watering $62,169 in my home of Bexar County, Texas

Does it really matter if you make close to or more than $100K but it all gets burned up by the cost of food, health care, housing, energy, fees and taxes?

Ask yourself, how much do you spend in just one week of going to work, in terms of your transportation costs? How many of you skip meals to save money? It all adds up, and by the time you actually get your paycheck, I’m willing to bet most middle-class Honolulu residents feel like they barely made enough money at all.

We have to lower the cost of living, otherwise all we’re doing by making more money is running on a treadmill that goes nowhere, no matter how fast we run.

Then there’s the other problem of being successful in Honolulu. Pop quiz: Do you know what happens when you become “successful” in this city? 

No, you don’t get your glamorous picture on the cover of a local business magazine. That’s strictly reserved for CEOs working at partner nonprofits of the state of Hawaii, who get preferential legislation passed to keep them eternally funded and viable.

When you as a private individual get successful, you get taxed more, and you get criticized more by people who think your business model needs to be regulated more or banned altogether.

If Blangiardi wants to bring good money to Honolulu, the other half of the equation is the “controversial” part of letting you continue to make money without someone swooping in to say you’re wrong, you’re evil or you’re an “oppressor” for profiting from your hard work. 

This is exactly what I mean about finding the difficult equilibrium point. Why would anyone want to submit to government and social flagellation for their livelihood? Hint: They don’t, and that’s why people do bigger and more profitable things in states and places other than Honolulu. 

Last but not least, we also need to understand that every single affluent city in the Indo/Asia/Pacific region has one thing in common: They are all major transportation hubs. Big businesses and big money – the kind that is sustainable – always builds around robust transportation infrastructure.

Aerial view of the Honolulu airport and Pearl Harbor
Will residents stand for dredging new harbors or building commercial shipyards? (Christina Jedra/Civil Beat/2022)

Want to make Honolulu a power player? Not only do we need to repeal or get an exemption from the Jones Act, but we also need to build much more transportation infrastructure to turn Oahu into a place where money comes to us because it has to come to us. 

Can this be done? Nope. Oahu residents can’t stand fixed-wing jet or helicopter-rotor noise and think big ocean ships are bad for the environment – at least, those who always show up to testify at hearings. So I really can’t see us dredging new harbors, building new commercial shipyards or paving new airports any time soon. 

So, what can we do here in Honolulu? 

The answer is simple. You can’t do anything in Honolulu, so you do it in Tokyo, Los Angeles or Seattle, instead, just like everyone else has always done before. As for the poor residents of Oahu, the only thing they can do to ever really get ahead in life is to leave Hawaii or become active in politics in the flawed hope that they can get elected to office so they can control or appropriate resources.

Are you frustrated yet? Welcome to Honolulu. Good luck, Mr. Mayor. Your heart is in the right place, but finding the equilibrium point has never been easy here.

Read this next:

Denby Fawcett: How A Former Slave Made His Fortune In 19th Century Waikiki

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

A sad, but true reality check. As a side bar, your mention of government simply taxing and regulating anything innovated and profitable here, supports our big government mentality, on relatively small populous. Why is there crumbling infrastructure when the city runs on a $3.5B/year budget? Me thinks it's because all the money is spent on the abundance of government workers, all unionized and part of the inefficient process, dug in so deep you can't move a finger without their approval. Which kind of brings you back to your first topic of more movie business. While the jobs are higher paying, they are nearly all union jobs (no wonder), are difficult to get and protected like the stevedores and thus only benefit a small sliver of residents. Ultimately, you are correct, smaller government, less taxes and lower the cost of living. That's what politicians should be focused on, even though that's like cutting off their lifeline of union fundraising.

wailani1961 · 2 weeks ago

Hawaii is not having a case of long COVID, its having a case of "long post-Inouye". It was very clear back in 2010 when businesspeople and government officials in Hawaii would preface pretty much anything having to do with a Hawaii future with the statement "when Inouye leaves us, we are going to be hurting". While we knew that the benefits of the Senior Senator were profound, what we didn't expect is the after effects when those benefits, ended. Hawaii never saw beyond the benefits to see how they could use them to advance the state. Otherwise I don't think we would be having this discussion now. The whole thing lies in what Pono Shim said in to business and government leaders years ago: "We’ve had fifty years of people saying ‘this is where we are and this is where we want to be’. Big question, we ever go where we want to go? No! Because we expect the bigness of the person saying it to be the thing that brings us all together, to go. Or we expect the bigness of the project to be the thing to bring us all together, to go. Does it ever do? Never. Because nobody is that big no project is that big. Nothing is that big to do that." We are addicted to the big person, in other words.

Kana_Hawaii · 3 weeks ago

Nailed it100%

bmat255255 · 3 weeks ago

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