Tag Archives: Honolulu City Council Budget

Mayor Kirk Caldwell Steals From Non-Profits to Fund His $13 Million Pork Project


For this 2016-2017 Budget Year, Honolulu Mayor Caldwell is siphoning another $1 Million of Federal HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) towards his $13 Million Pork Project in rural Hau’ula, Oahu.

The objective of these Federal HUD CDBG funds is “to help improve the quality of life and create economic opportunities for its recipients in low-and-moderate income communities”.

How does imposing an extravagant firehouse relocation onto rural Hau’ula’s last two business-zoned parcels fulfil the objectives of CDBG funds?

Iseke-Lessary City Hall

Through the years, Caldwell has already used at least $2.4 Million CDBG funds for this controversial Hauula Fire Station Relocation Project #2000068.

This year’s $1 Million of CDBG funds is in addition to Caldwell’s concurrent request of $6.650 Million towards his pet $13 Million project #2000068!

In March 2016, City Council Budget Committee Chair Ann Kobayashi asked the Director of Budget and Fiscal Services Nelson H. Koyanagi, Jr. if they were proud of what they were doing.  She also chided the Mayor’s actions as “stealing” funds from non-profit groups. City capital projects are customarily funded through the General Fund rather than competing with non-profit servicers for these same special federal grants.

Thus, this CDBG theft is at the expense of more compelling social services and urgent needs for the most vulnerable homeless, women, youth, and other human services in Oahu.  

Many non-profit organizations with urgent needs have lost federal grants because these same funds have been siphoned to this extravagant project.


The only reason we can come up with Mayor Caldwell’s intransigent and disjointed agenda is he owes this pork $13 Million project to some donors. This North Shore News’ Letter to the Editor provides a good brief summary for this conclusion.

Hau’ula is a small rural town on the windward of Oahu with an existing firehouse. Since 2009, residents  have been protesting against this extravagant $13 Million relocation of its existing fire station to another site, less than two minutes away.

EM -Country store

This project was initiated under the Mufi Hannemann Administration and Fire Chief Ken Silva  in 2009.

In fact, in 2011, Mayor Peter Carlisle and the Honolulu City Council responded to the local protests and approved $250,000 to fund a study for alternative sites. We don’t know what happened to this $250,000 or how it was used or what the outcome was.

The Honolulu City Council had deleted and defunded Project #2000068 estimated at $13 Million for four years.

Unfortunately, Mayor Caldwell continues to ramrod this project through, with Fire Chief Manuel Neves as his public relations lobbyist. Needless to say, there should be no “sacred cows” spending abuse at City Hall.

In August 2014, Mayor Caldwell circumvented the City Council and secretly siphoned another $1.4 Million of Federal HUD Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) that could be used to renovate homeless shelters like any of the following: rehabilitation of Pauahi Hale; rehabilitation of Kanoa  Apartments, an affordable housing project in Kalihi; rehabilitation of Bachelors Quarters, an affordable housing project in Ewa Beach; acquisition of improved land for the City’s Housing First initiative; and CDBG-eligible public services in connection with the City’s Housing First initiative.

The City Council did not know about this unilateral action till shortly before the Mayor’s Press Conference on November 6, 2014.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell vigorously bulldozed this project through, including retaliation by using heavy machines to tear down protest signs on the proposed parcel on May and October of 2013. His retaliatory behavior transpired during the pending eminent domain litigation in the Circuit Court.   A federal judge ordered the city to pay for the attorney fees for these civil rights violation in June 2014.


Caldwell also retaliated by shutting down the Hauula Recycling Center that provided a cottage industry for this low-and-moderate income community. On October 21, 2013 city county workers installed a “No Trespass” sign to block the entry to the private recycling business to shut it down.


Ironically, the homeless recycle by collecting cans and bottles in Hauula to buy a hot meal daily. Many do not own vehicles. The next nearest recycling center is now in Haleiwa (about a 40 minutes bus ride).   Even then, City buses do not allow bags of cans and other recyclables on board.

Caldwell’s decimation of the last two commercial-zoned lots shut out significant economic opportunities for local small business start-ups such as small country stores, recycling, and farmer’s market. Hauula neighbors have tried to sell the fish they catch, pastele, flower leis, laulau plates and other products on Hau’ula road shoulders only to be promptly chased away by the police for zoning violations.

Decimating the last two commercial-zoned parcels contradicts the core purpose of CDBG funds – Mayor Caldwell is hurting entrepreneurial options for this low-and-moderate income community. Economic opportunities are quashed. The welfare of this low-and-moderate income rural community worsens. HUD CDBG funds are meant to improve lives and economic opportunities, not create more hardships and problems for its fund recipients. The people are asking for “bread” but Mayor Caldwell is forcing “cake” on them.

Three Hauula kupuna – octogenarians Marvin Iseke,  Alice Ubando, and Shirley Ann Lessary are fighting the Mayor for due process, social and economic justice for their low-and-moderate income community. They have collected over 1,400 signatures/letters petition against it.

They have a pending lawsuit in the federal court against the City of Honolulu.

It’s premature for Mayor Caldwell to ask for this extravagant amount when there is an ongoing lawsuit from concerned citizens and years of protests from the most affected citizens. The process and circumstances surrounding this extravagant project were flawed, filled with capricious circumstances, arbitrary actions, and nefarious manipulations.

Mayor recycle

Most residents are not against new buildings but this project is grossly political and illogical. Many in the firefighting profession, including former fire commissioners and retired fire captains, are scratching their heads over this too. Even the civil emergency leaders have questioned this new location by the tsunami inundation zone.

Many are of the sentiment that Mayor Caldwell is forcing this $13 Million fire station relocation project to reward his donors with big contracts. (Thus far, about $3.75 Million have been expended on this project.)

Some egregious mismanagement include the following:

The Mayor hired “expert” consultant from Oakland California (!) to claim that the “Ewa Beach Fire Station” model (built in January 2013} for Oahu’s growing Second City as “very appropriate” for the small rural community of Hauula.  This contradicts the Ko’olauloa Sustainable Communities Plan – The Keep the Country Country region.  Rural Hauula  is not Second City Ewa.

EM -Hauula-Kapolei

The Mayor hired another “expert” consultant to claim that the City needed to build a bigger fire station to house bigger fire engines in Hau’ula:

“ . . . fire engines have gone from being 8-feet wide, 25-feet long, weighing 9 tons to being 8 feet wide, 32-feet long, and weighing 23 tons. As fire apparatuses continue to increase in size, providing for access, and enough space for circulation and maneuvering have become important issues for fire station design.”

But the ‘expert’ does not consider that existing country roads in rural Hau’ula have not increased in size! Hau’ula has existing problems with small and narrow country roads that smaller city garbage trucks cannot even ingress or egress. Garbage trucks also have trouble with low-hanging electrical lines.

The Plaintiffs live next door to this proposed site but the city’s hired Environmental Assessment (EA) consultant never consulted with them or told them about this project in their EA review.

An average firehouse costs $5 Million to build. Why destroy the “Country” by foisting a huge $13 Million firehouse onto small town Hauula that already has an existing station?

The irreparable damages that this Caldwell project will create in this little rural town are immense.

Does rural Hauula truly need a $13 Million relocation project to replace its existing firehouse?


Why is Mayor Caldwell hell-bent on destroying the “Keep the Country Country”?

Which non-profit group could use $1 Million of Federal HUD CDBG funds this year?

Is $6.650 Million towards this $13 Million extravagant and controversial fire mansion a fiscally prudence request for this budget year?

The Honolulu City Council must provide the “checks and balances” leadership as the public obviously cannot depend on Mayor Caldwell. Small town rural Hauula does not want an extravagant $13 Million fire mansion.

The only fiscally prudent and logical decision at this pivotal juncture is for Honolulu City Council Chair Martin and Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi to delete and defund this pork project from this 2016-2017 budget.  Listen to the affected people of Hau’ula and allow them due process and a place at the dialogue table.

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About the Author:


Choon James’s husband’s grandfather was buried in  his fireman uniform.  They come from four generations of firefighters. James was involved in eminent domain and civil rights lawsuits against the City and County of Honolulu relating to this project. She can be reached at ChoonJamesHawaii@gmail.com   808 293 9111


Honolulu City Hall – Where is the Common Sense and Aloha?



Hauula residents and others, including the firemen community, are scratching their heads about the Hauula Fire Station Relocation project. Perhaps the words of a former fire commissioner describes this project best: ‘It doesn’t make sense!’

Hau’ula is a quiet rural community of about 4,000 residents, situated in the Ko’olau Loa region of Oahu, Hawaii. Several coastal communities — Waikane-Waiahole, K’a’a’awa, Kahana, Punalu’u, Hau’ula, Laie, Kahuku, and Kawela — are wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the predominant Ko’olau mountain range.

The Ko’olau Loa region is the birthplace of the ‘Keep The Country Country’ movement to preserve its rural charm, view planes, culture, and lifestyle of local island living.


The rural communities are linked by the only arterial 2-lane country road, known as ‘Kamehameha Highway’. ‘Kam Hwy’ meanders along the coast of this Ko’olau Loa region.

In terms of ‘public safety’ needs, there are eight existing fire stations in this region but only one police substation (with four policemen on duty) in Kahuku. The next nearest police station is Wahiawa, a 40-minutes drive north. South of the Kahuku Police substation is the Kaneohe Police Station, about 35 minutes away.

There are chronic cries for more police services along this 20-mile stretch where police response can take up to forty minutes. In fact, there is a joke amongst locals to call the fire department for emergency as they are always available!

The former Mayor Peter Carlisle was amicable to exploring alternative sites with the affected parties.


Unfortunately, when Kirk Caldwell, former Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s Managing Director, became the Mayor in 2013, he resurrected the culture of bullying to further seize an additional 20,300 sq. ft. of commercial-zoned parcel to replace the existing Hauula Fire Station. This seizure will DOUBLE the lot size and TRIPLE the costs of a typical firehouse..

As if eminent domain takings in the courts were not enough, Caldwell brought out his bulldozer and police force to silence dissension!


Mayor Caldwell also dispatched his newly-appointed Fire Chief Manny Neves to vigorously lobby, in their crisp uniforms and shiny buttons, for their pet project. (Many fire personnel have privately expressed disdain but they have no say in the politics.)


When 77-year-old neighbor Alice Ubando voiced her concerns about fire sirens at all hours of the day and night, the fire chief replied that everybody loved a fire station!


From the start, the organized city hall disinformation includes a litany of weak premises and made-up rationale along the way. This involved the bureaucrats to politicians to the spokesmen.

One premise was the existing fire station needed to get out of the flood zone. However, city bureaucrats failed to disclose that their first site selection was a 1.65 acre beachfront parcel! Surely a beachfront lot was in the flood zone.

Furthermore, the existing fire station has two acres of government-owned land in its backyard. Expanding into this area would not require decimating the last two commercial-zoned parcels in Hau’ula. But city’s disinformation to the judges and city council is the backyard area is ‘swampland’.


The photo clearly shows no swampland. One side of the fence on the city playground is mowed and the other side behind the firehouse is unkept and is full of weeds.

Residents contend that $13 Million could go a long ways to meet some other pressing needs in the region. After all, the city, as always, is facing a budget shortfall, this year of about $46M.

Amidst penny-pinching of small dollars and cents during this 2015 City Budget session, Caldwell is seeking $750,000.00 to ‘plan & design’ this extravagant project from the Honolulu City Council. The lawsuits are pending. It’s premature and unjustified to squander on ‘planning & design’ today.

$13 Million could get a bigger bang for the buck and provide much needed services for the public such as these:


The 122-acres Kahuku ‘Municipal’ Golf Course is in eminent danger of being sold to a Chinese investor.


31 families face evictions at this Kahuku Plantation Camp. Yet Mayor Caldwell continues to ignore the situation. The 91-year-old occupant of this humble plantation house has been evicted as of March 2014. Caldwell states his reluctance to intervene in the Kahuku Plantation Camp and golf course is not because his former campaign chair is also the attorney representing the big landowner.

Ko’olau Loa residents further contend if the city were really concerned about ‘fire safety’, it would focus on providing fire hydrants for the rural region. There are neighborhood pockets in the region without fire hydrants nearby. A Punalu’u house burnt despite the quick presence of 35 firemen, 5 engines, 2 ladders, 1 tanker and a battalion chief. Their challenge? No fire hydrants nearby.

Additionally, the City’s Environmental Assessment (EA) Report clearly stated the proposed $13 Million relocation propect would NOT increase personnel or area of service.

A Facebook blogger pointed out the following facts to further highlight the illogical premise of this $13M firehouse in rural Hau’ula:

  • As of the 2010 Census, the CDP population for
  • KA’A’AWA was 1,379. (has a typical fire station)
  • HAUULA was 4,148. ( has a typical fire station)
  • KAHUKU was 2,614. ( has a typical station)
  • LAIE was 6,138. ( has NO fire station)

Other small communities have fire stations except Laie. LAIE is home to the Polynesian Cultural Center, new Marriott Hotel, new student dormitories on Brigham Young University — Hawaii campus.

The blogger also suggested a site, in Laie:

“Why no fire station in Laie? Because ( Laie landowner) Hawaii Reserves Inc. wants income projects! A fire station/police/EMS building produces no income for them. Time to connect the dots! ”

It is also ironic that the city had used Community Development Block Grants ( CDBG) to condemn the last two remaining commercial lots in rural Hauula. CDBG funds were approved partly because of the poverty level in Hauula. The $1 Million CDBG funds from the federal government are meant to empower and improve the lives of poor communities.

However, the loss of the heavily-used Recycling Center on the parcel will create more hardships on the people. Some homeless residents are known to collect recyclables in the community daily to afford a hot meal a day.

The opportunities and small businesses that can be created from these last two commercial-zoned lots will also be cut off. The city would lose tax revenues!

Despite overwhelming push back, Mayor Kirk Caldwell continues to wield the big arm of government. He has hired a new city attorney, an experienced litigator, from his law firm to seize the additional parcel in the name of ‘public purpose’.

The only explanation that residents have for the Mayor’s erratic and irrational behavior is he owes a plum firehouse contract to one of his donors.

Questions for discussion:

  • Is a firehouse a true ‘Public Purpose’ if majority of the people are against it?
  • What is the difference between disinformation and misinformation?
  • Should city bureaucrats deserve all credibility and the public, none?
  • An average firehouse costs $5 Million, is there a need for this $13M extravagant project in rural Hau’ula?
  • Will common sense prevail over politics?
  • Should the most affected people have a significant say?
  • Is this project managed by the law of the jungle or rule of law?
  • What would you do if you were the Mayor of Honolulu?
  • What would you do if you were in the City Council?
  • What would you do if you were responsible for approving the federal CDBG funds?
  • What can a citizen expect from the government?

Note: Choon James has an interest in Lot 65. Her husband’s grandfather was buried in his fireman uniform. Many opposing this project have relatives working in the fire department on the island and nationally.