Saturday, October 3, 1998

Gasoline-Paying the Price

State’s suit against oil
companies is welcome

THE state's lawsuit against Hawaii's two oil refineries and major gasoline wholesalers is a welcome effort to deal with the apparent overcharging of Hawaii motorists. Star-Bulletin reporter Rob Perez has detailed in a series of articles the vast disparity between the average prices of gasoline on the mainland and the much higher prices paid in Hawaii. The gap grew even wider when crude oil prices plunged worldwide but retail gasoline prices here barely budged.

The suspicion, and the basis of the lawsuit, is that Hawaii consumers are being gouged and the oil companies are making huge profits as a result. One of the allegations is that the companies engaged in price-fixing. Of course, proving those contentions is another matter. Previous investigations of gasoline prices here have failed to show illegal activity.

Whether this lawsuit will succeed in proving illegal behavior where other investigations have failed is the crucial question. The oil companies can be expected to mount a determined defense. Whatever the outcome, the suit should bring the facts out in the open, and that is important in itself.

Although the lawsuit is welcome, the timing is suspect. The filing occurred just a month before the general election. Governor Cayetano is facing a strong challenge from Linda Lingle in his bid for re-election.

Just a couple of weeks ago, in the Sept. 19 Republican primary, Lingle received considerably more votes running against Frank Fasi than Cayetano did running virtually unopposed in the Democratic primary. The high turnout on the GOP side was a wakeup call for the Democrats, who are facing the prospect of perhaps losing the governorship for the first time since 1962.

It is impossible to believe that the timing of this suit had nothing to do with Cayetano's campaign, no matter how emphatic the denials may be. The unavoidable suspicion is that this is a political ploy designed to make a governor who is running behind his opponent look good just before the election.

Despite the highly questionable timing, however, this suit is a significant step.


Bishop Estate

IN the face of relentless attacks, the Bishop Estate trustees have made major concessions in an apparent attempt to avert their removal. It probably won't succeed.

The concessions, disclosed during a probate court hearing yesterday, could result in much-needed improvements in estate operations if implemented properly. But much would depend on details that are as yet unknown.

The most dramatic change is the appointment of a chief executive officer, in place of the current system, in which the five trustees jointly manage the estate's business operations and the Kamehameha Schools. It was the eruption of protest over the supervision of the schools by the estate's "lead trustee," Lokelani Lindsey, that led to the attorney general's investigation and the state's request for the removal of the trustees.

Other concessions, besides the appointment of a CEO, included implementation of stricter policies on conflict of interest, improved monitoring of the estate's income and commissioning of a study on "reasonable" trustee compensation. The trustees accepted 16 of 21 recommendations of the court-appointed master, Colbert Matsumoto, in his review of estate operations.

Matsumoto said the agreed changes would improve disclosure and make the trustees more accountable. But whether the concessions will satisfy either him or Judge Colleen Hirai is doubtful. The judge reserved judgment on the state's petition for the temporary removal of the trustees.

Since the Star-Bulletin's publication of the "Broken Trust" article attacking the trustees in August 1997, we have been urging the trustees to resign. The concessions they have made, although significant, come too late to salvage their positions.

Bishop Estate Archive

Vladimir Ossipoff

THE architectural profession in Hawaii has lost one of its most distinguished members with the death of Vladimir Ossipoff at 90. For 60 years he designed buildings in Hawaii -- more than 1,000 homes and public buildings, leaving an imprint that will endure for decades to come.

Info Box Among his public buildings are the Pacific Club, the Outrigger Canoe Club, the Thurston Memorial Chapel at Punahou, the IBM Building, Hawaii Prep Academy and the University of Hawaii's administration building. In the 1940s and '50s he designed many homes in the then-new suburbs of Waialae-Kahala and Aina Haina.

Ossipoff was born in Vladivostok, Russia, and grew up in Tokyo, where his father was the military attache at the Russian embassy. The family emigrated to the United States in 1923. Ossipoff graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1931 with a degree in architecture. He came to Hawaii to visit a classmate and took a job with Theo H. Davies, moving on in 1935 to the firm of Charles Dickey and then opening his own firm.

Ossipoff was awarded the first medal of honor of the Hawaii chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He received the AIA grand award in 1959 for the design of his own house and for the McInerny store in Waikiki.

He was known for designing low-slung homes with strong roof lines and deep overhangs, using dark woods and native stone, in what has been described as a kamaaina style. He had a reputation as a stickler for detail and for disdain of fads. His contributions to the best of Hawaii's buildings are immense.

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