Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, October 8, 1999

Some things never change

THE very first column I wrote for the Star-Bulletin after joining the newspaper back in 1993 contained a litany of grievances about Hawaii life. The clipping is tattered and yellowed now, but I wanted to share an excerpt to show how things haven't changed enough in this crazy state:

"The movie 'Falling Down,' which I recently rented from my neighborhood video store, hits too close to home.

"The drama begins with the Michael Douglas character imprisoned in his car, stuck in gridlock caused by a convoluted maze of construction roadwork ahead. Already teetering on the edge, Douglas goes berserk. He clubs some nasty people with a bat and shoots others. Later, he returns to the roadwork site and blows it up with a bazooka.

"Anyone who drives the length of Kapiolani Boulevard has had the same fantasy.

"How construction crews have kept the well-traveled asphalt continuously dug up for years is one of the biggest bureaucratic bungles of our time. It's made worse because they choose to cone off lanes and tear up the street during the prime driving hours of the work week -- when trucks must make deliveries and business appointments must be reached.

"Why can't construction workers fix roads at night, as they do in Japan, when fewer people will be inconvenienced by their presence?

"The public-works pundits cite problems getting state Department of Health variances because of noise pollution concerns, but the real reasons are undoubtedly more insidious.

"Maybe construction labor unions don't want to toil during nights, weekends and on holidays. Or government officials want as many people as possible to witness our tax dollars at work. Or the powers-that-be are out to drive us nuts.

"Whatever the case, there is a silver lining to being stuck in traffic: It provides plenty of time to mull my new responsibilities as senior editor and editorial page editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin...

"Coming to work here is a real honor and joy. It's a privilege that I hope to repay by making this community a better place to live because, frankly, this state has got plenty of problems.

"We have too many unresponsive government leaders who are more concerned with getting re-elected or their next public paycheck than about the problems of the working class.

"Hard-working residents are fleeing to places like Seattle and Las Vegas because they can't afford to live here or make a downpayment on a house.

"Crime is rampant. Remember when you could leave doors unlocked when you weren't home, or go camping or picnicking in the moonlight at public beaches? You still can, although at considerable personal risk.

"Our cost of living is extraordinarily high, which people mistakenly blame on shipping costs. We persevere despite an anti-business climate that makes it difficult for small businesses, while our public education is second to ALL."

WANT TO know what's especially sad about that now six-year-old column? All of the same problems cited are still around today. Unresponsive, self-serving, business-unfriendly government. The brain drain. The constant threats from crime and a too-high cost of living. And the infuriating, non-stop patch-up of Kapiolani Boulevard.

The only real difference is that in October 1993 I was just starting out at the Star-Bulletin; in October 1999, the newspaper is in danger of shutting down after 117 years of publishing.

Where can I borrow a bazooka?

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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