U.N. Endorsed LivCom Awards Duped by Outgoing Honolulu Mayor

October 18, 2004, The International Awards for Liveable Communities (LivCom) announced: “HONOLULU MOST LIVEABLE COMMUNITY AT LIVCOM 2004 - The City of Honolulu has won its category and been awarded a Gold Award* at the finals of the world’s only international scheme for livable communities addressing the management of the environment and the enhancement of quality of life, LivCom. The community was up against heated competition at the finals in Niagara Falls, Canada from cities in Category E (population over 1,000,000)*.”

The LivCom Awards were launched in 1997 and are endorsed by the United Nations Environment Program. LivCom is the world’s only Awards Competition focussing on Best Practice regarding the management of the local environment. The objective of LivCom is to improve the quality of life of individual citizens through the creation of ‘livable communities’.

No LivCom judges actually visit the competing cities. Contenders first provide a written submission consisting of no more than 4,000 words and a maximum of 20 captioned and dated photos. An International Panel of Judges review each submission at the Interim Judging and select communities from each population category to make a Presentation at The International Awards for Livable Communities Finals.

At the event, Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris and City Managing Director Ben Lee gave a 35- minute presentation that included a PowerPoint slide show. Following the presentation the panel of judges asked questions.

That LivCom judges found Honolulu to have the “best practice for management of the local environment” has many Honolulu residents scratching their heads. How can this be when you consider the following:

On July 29, 2004, three environmental groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against The City of Honolulu and Mayor Jeremy Harris over repeated sewage spills and violations of federal clean water standards. Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, The Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter and Our Children’s Earth cited the city for repeatedly violating its wastewater permits by failing to repair, maintain and upgrade sewage facilities. The groups contend that a lack of attention by the city is to blame for hundreds of sewage spills that allowed dangerous amounts of raw sewage into waterways, homes and businesses over the last five years. Also, many public beaches have been forced to close numerous times due to raw sewage flowing into nearby ocean waters.

LivCom judges praised The City of Honolulu for advancing initiatives aimed at cutting down pollution. Examples of Honolulu’s progress in this area, they said, include the use of H-Power to reduce landfill disposal by 90 percent. But this number is grossly inflated according to Honolulu City Councilman Rod Tam, Chairman of the City Public Works Committee. In March of 2003, Carroll Cox of EnviroWatch, a non-profit environmental watchdog group based on Oahu, discovered as much as 80 tons of crushed appliances and other goods illegally buried at a city base yard. An investigation by the state Health Department found The City of Honolulu responsible for the illegal dumping and required that the waste be dug up and properly disposed of at a cost to taxpayers of $84,000. The state then fined the city $.5 million for the environmental infraction.

For years Honolulu residents have driven on poor and deteriorating city roads, leading many to question the claim that Honolulu is “the most livable, sustainable large city on the planet.” In February 2003, The Surface Transportation Policy Project, a Washington D. C. based interest group issued the results of a study showing that in 2002, Hawaii had the worst-maintained roads in the nation. Numbers provided by the City Department of Design and Construction show that lane miles of city roads resurfaced fell from 214 lane miles in 1994, the year Jeremy Harris was first elected mayor, to just 35 lane miles in the year 2000.

When asked in a telephone conversation on December 21, if LivCom judges check the veracity of the information provided by contestants, Alan Smith, Chief Executive Officer of LivCom said that they do. He said the judges check the city’s Web site.

The morning of December 22, Smith arrived at his office to find a fax briefly describing the facts regarding the sewage spills, illegal dumping and deteriorated roads in Honolulu. In a telephone conversation with this writer, Smith explained that if these things were true and became known to the public, it could cause irreparable damage to his organization.

January 2, 2005 was Jeremy Harris' last day as mayor of The City of Honolulu. During his 10 years as mayor, he built many glamorous projects. But he did so at great taxpayer expense, leaving behind a huge city debt, almost $3 billion. And, he did so while neglecting basic infrastructure such as roads and sewers. One must ask, is this really the “Best Practice” to be sharing with the rest of the world?

John Pritchett is a long-time resident of Honolulu, Hawaii. He is an award-winning editorial cartoonist for Honolulu Weekly, Hawaii Reporter. Honolulu Civil Beat and Mid Week, and the author of several books on Hawaii politics.


© John Pritchett