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Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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EVs beyond need for free parking

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A state incentive program allows electric vehicles to park for free at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. Pictured is signage at a designated electric vehicle area located in the Parking A structure across from the International Arrivals Building at the airport.

Some would say that Hawaii is perfectly suited for a large-scale conversion, over time, to electric vehicle (EV) technology. Commuting distances are usually short enough to fit within the range of a single battery charge.

Beyond that, EVs recharging for the trip home can tap some of the excess energy generated by solar panels during the hot and sunny midday, freeing space for more green energy on the grid.

So encouraging the growth of EVs in Hawaii was a reasonable action for lawmakers to take in 2012. Incentives such as free parking, legislators thought, would improve consumer demand.

Over the last five years, EV owners have lapped up the benefits: free parking in county and state facilities, and being allowed to use the less congested high-occupancy vehicle lane regardless of the number of car occupants.

However, Hawaii leaders should re-evaluate all of this and start transitioning to Phase 2. An updated set of policies should aim to make an electric vehicle network work more seamlessly, rather than merely persuade people to buy.

At the outset, when wary consumers viewed electric vehicles as an expensive, unproven technology, a boost from state law seemed rational.

But market conditions have changed. EVs have deepened their roots in the economy. The technology has improved, prices have subsided somewhat, and people here are trusting that the car’s traveling range will fill their needs.

A perk for free parking, said Shem Lawlor, is unlikely to tip the scales as much as the current reality: The total price for purchase and operating an EV now can be lower than that of gas-fueled cars.

Lawlor is clean-transportation director at Blue Planet Foundation, a nonprofit organization with clean-energy advocacy as its main focus. Where parking privileges may have helped on the margins to sell cars, the cost is less of a barrier to ownership now.

The barrier now is the lack of adequate infrastructure — not enough charging stations, strategically located to make EV use practical. Lawmakers have resisted multiple efforts to mandate improvements there.

For now, the early lure remains: free use of metered street parking stalls, as well as the even more tempting incentive of long-term parking at the airport without charge.

This seems unfair on its face. Many owners of EVs have the income to manage the cost of parking with greater ease than the average drivers, who are relied upon for revenue that, in the case of the airport, goes into state coffers; metered parking stalls generally benefit the city.

Lawlor said that deleting the benefit wouldn’t necessarily yield the full share of the avoided fees, because EV car owners likely would then change their driving habits.

Regardless, EV drivers incentivized to seek free parking, especially in the increasingly scarce street stalls, are essentially depriving others of that space without paying for the privilege.

What should happen now is a revision to the pertinent section of the law, Hawaii Revised Statutes 291-71. This not only provides incentives but also mandates one EV space, equipped with charging stations, in parking lots of 100 spaces or more. Even much larger lots, at shopping malls, still only have to provide one.

Advocates such as Blue Planet should try again next session to pass a bill that increases this requirement.

And this time, lawmakers should listen. Oahu needs more charging stations, and the state must give a push to make that happen.

The state’s job is to ensure enough infrastructure develops to support the EV sector as it expands. Otherwise, the industry has grown up enough to stand on its own.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Some urge sprinkler mandates across U.S. after Marco Polo fire

Sunday, July 23, 2017

When Moon Yun Pellerin’s parents bought a 27th-floor apartment in a high-rise overlooking Waikiki about 15 years ago, they didn’t realize the wave-shaped building had no fire sprinklers.

“We didn’t even consider it,” Pellerin said.

But a week after a massive fire broke out one floor below her apartment, killing three neighbors, Pellerin and her family “definitely want sprinklers” installed — even if it means spending thousands of dollars.

The Marco Polo Apartments were built in 1971, before sprinklers became mandatory for new construction in Honolulu.

Despite local lawmakers’ efforts to require older buildings to install sprinkler systems, officials estimate about 300 high-rises on Oahu still lack the fire prevention measure.

Across the United States, cities have a mixed bag of laws on whether older high-rise apartment buildings must install fire sprinklers that weren’t required when the towers were first built. Many — including New York, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco — still have high-rises without the safety measure.

Cost is often cited. But after Honolulu’s deadly July 14 fire, some question whether financial concerns outweigh the potential for tragedy.

Here’s a look at how the sprinkler debate is playing out in several U.S. cities:


In the inferno’s aftermath, Honolulu’s fire chief said sprinklers would have contained the blaze to the unit where it started, possibly saving the lives of those who died in nearby apartments. Mayor Kirk Caldwell introduced a bill a few days later that would require all high-rises to have sprinklers, even older ones.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take for apartment owners as well as associations to see the value of human life,” said Hawaii state Sen. Glenn Wakai, who plans to introduce legislation offering homeowners incentives to install sprinkler systems.

The fire was not the first one at the 36-story Marco Polo building — and not the first time the question of installing sprinklers has come up. After a 2013 fire, the building’s association asked an engineering firm for cost estimates to replace the fire alarm system and install sprinklers.

The company concluded it would be about $8,000 per unit to install sprinklers, or about $4.5 million for the whole building. Sprinklers were never installed.

“It’s a tough issue for these associations because they are grappling with a lot of different costs,” said Evan Fujimoto, president of the Building Industry Association of Hawaii. “When you’re dealing with an association, you might have 500 different people. How do you get people to agree on it?”

Constraints on city and state budgets also play a role.

Wakai first introduced legislation in 2005 after another deadly fire, proposing incentives that would cover 35 percent of the cost. But the budget was tight, and the bill ultimately failed after the incentive was reduced to just 5 percent.


A pair of deadly 2015 fires in San Francisco prompted city leaders to look at requiring automatic sprinklers in older residential buildings. But the idea faltered after landlords and officials raised concerns about the cost and logistics.

“The sprinklers work — we know that — but the problem is, you’ve got these old buildings, and it’s expensive, and there’s going to be resistance on the part of the landlords,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, director of counseling programs at the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.

In 1993, San Francisco required that high-rise commercial buildings and tourist hotels be retrofitted with sprinklers, but the mandate excluded residential and historical buildings.


In Chicago, a fire that killed six people at a downtown county government building in 2003 prompted officials to enact a host of safety measures.

Just weeks after the fire, in which victims died in stairwells after doors locked behind them, the City Council passed an ordinance requiring that the doors of the high-rises remain unlocked.

Two years later, the city passed what is called the Life Safety Evaluation Ordinance, which requires residential buildings 80 feet (24 meters) or higher that were built before 1975 to be equipped with various safety features such as voice communication systems and fire-rated doors and frames in stairways. But it does not require them to retroactively install sprinklers.

The city requires most of its older commercial buildings to be retrofitted with sprinklers, but not residential buildings.


New York City requires sprinkler systems in new construction and in older commercial towers. But it mandates residential high-rises to retroactively install sprinklers only if they undergo significant renovations or change the building’s use, according to the city’s Department of Buildings.

Alan Schulkin, 68, lives in a 39-story building in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood that was built in the 1970s and does not have sprinklers.

“If (sprinklers) save lives and there’s one fire, of course it’s worth it,” Schulkin said.


The city of Dallas said the fire department has 89 high-rise residential structures on record, and 23 have some but not complete sprinkler coverage.

Three residential high-rise buildings in the city have no sprinklers at all, though they met the requirements of building and fire codes in effect when they were constructed, according to officials.

If a structure’s occupancy use stays the same, and the building has had no significant renovations, the requirements of the code under which it was built continue to stand, the city said.

Associated Press writers Jennifer Sinco Kelleher in Honolulu, Karen Matthews in New York, Janie Har in San Francisco, Don Babwin in Chicago and Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.

New law requires life-saving devices in most new buildings on Oahu

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A bill signed into law Thursday will require life-saving devices in most new buildings on Oahu.

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, all newly constructed buildings with 50 people or more must have an automated external defibrillator (AED) on every floor.

The devices must also be on every floor of City and County buildings.

AEDs are devices that can restore a regular heart rhythm during sudden cardiac arrest.

“You cannot put a cost on anyone’s life, especially in close proximity to an AED, and now we have that option to save a life which will truly make a difference,” said Honolulu City Councilman Brandon Elefante.

According to the American Heart Society’s website, while the price of an AED varies by make and model, most cost between $1,500 and $2,000.

The Honolulu City Council passed the bill last month with a unanimous 9-0 vote.