View Point

By James V. Hall

Wednesday, August 25, 1999

Census takers lose
count in Honolulu

Recently the Star-Bulletin printed two stories using statistics from the Census Bureau that gave a false impression of Honolulu's actual population.

In both stories, the population of Honolulu was given as 395,789. One story said new data showed a "decline" in Honolulu's growth, bemoaning the "fact" that "Honolulu has actually dropped from 39th to 41st place on the list of the country's biggest cities."

Nonsense! Honolulu includes the entire island of Oahu and is the 11th biggest city in the U.S. with a population of around 900,000.

The Census Bureau's population figure is a statistical anomaly. The number is not the true population of Honolulu, but the population of a Census Designated Place (CDP).

What is a CDP? It is a census bureau shortcut for dealing with one of the largest (in area) unincorporated and municipally run areas in the world. In fact, in terms of area, Honolulu is bigger than Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Miami, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. -- combined!

The bureau explains this anomaly thusly: It says that in 1980, the term "census designated place" (CDP) replaced "unincorporated place."

It added, "Legally, the city of Honolulu, which is not recognized for census purposes, is coextensive with the Honolulu County." It also says that the Honolulu CDP is "coextensive with the Honolulu Judicial District within the city and county of Honolulu," adding that "there are no political boundaries (for Honolulu) or any other place (on Oahu), but statistical boundaries are assigned under state law."

In the least, this leads to chaotic statistics.

Take the World Almanac. In one recent edition, it disclosed that Honolulu had a population density of 613 persons per square mile. It got that figure by dividing the area of Oahu (596 square miles) by the population of the Honolulu CDP.

It also reported that the population of Honolulu was 365,272 and that 403,877 persons were employed (huh!?).

There are several ways to get rid of this nonsense. In the short term, we should help the Census Bureau catch onto reality. The boundaries of Honolulu include all of Oahu. Census figures for Honolulu should be based on the total population of the island.

In the long term, we should seriously consider incorporating, at long last, the various municipalities on this island.

I was aware of this anomaly 20 years ago and lobbied hard for such provisions at the 1978 Constitutional Convention. Such proposals were placed on the ballot and passed by the voters of this state.

The provisions are Article VIII-Sec. 1, which allows the Legislature to create counties and other political subdivisions within the state and "provide for the government thereof." Sec. 2 states that "each political subdivision shall have the power to frame and adopt a charter for its own self-government within such limits and under such procedures as may be provided by general law."

This means that Kapolei-Ewa, or Wahiawa-Mililani, or Kailua-Kaneohe could become incorporated municipalities.

Goodbye, neighborhood boards! Hello, true self-government!

This doesn't mean a duplication of government. All major functions -- police, fire, refuse collection, etc. -- would remain centralized under a county government. But individual municipalities could control their own zoning and vote to change other island-wide ordinances to fit their situations. (Need the same laws apply to Kahuku and Waikiki?)

Goodbye, county councils and mayors! Hello, home rule!

The 21st century is upon us. Let's get with the times! The territorial days are long gone.

James V. Hall is a Honolulu author and researcher.

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