Backing off the pawn reporting law

Pawnbrokers under surveillance

Pawnbrokers under surveillance

This is something we haven’t noticed before. Across the country, there has been a wave of local ordinances requiring collection of data on pawn customers, with electronic reporting to local police.

But in Columbia County, Georgia, the sheriff is backing off such a law that went into effect in April.

Kamaaina Loan already collects information (as required by state law) and reports electronically (not required but good business). In fact, we take pride in being the first pawn shop anywhere to inaugurate daily electronic reporting.

However, we have opposed efforts in Honolulu to require using a particular out-of-state vendor to process the reports.

But it gets complicated. According to the Augusta Chronicle report, the objection was that the ordinance was too broad, that it extended to all kinds of second-hand dealers, not just pawnshops.

Not long after it was implemented, however, some businesses began questioning some of the new law’s provisions and expressed concerns about its impact on business. Local lawyer, Andy Tisdale said the ordinance could be interpreted to apply to almost any business that buys and sells used goods and equipment, including used cars, calling is a “second-hand dealer law.”

In addition, Tisdale said the ordinance had conflicts with Constitutional law, where it compels business owners to comply with warrantless searches or face arrest.


But we contend that second-hand dealers should be required to report, if the intention of these ordinances really is to deter fencing or assist in recovering stolen goods. It makes no sense to watch pawnshops with an electronic eagle eye while leaving other secondhand dealers free to take in questionable goods in secret. (In Georgia, part of the objection was that the local ordinance potentially applied to used car dealers. That seems unnecessary, since motor vehicles already have adequate regulations to monitor and track ownership.)

So while at first glance, we welcome resistance to these ordinances that compel businesses to deal with vendors they do not get to choose, the actions in Columbia County don’t appear to be the kind of pushback we would hope to see.

(The issue in Georgia about gun registries is outside our scope, since we do not deal in firearms and hardly any Hawaii pawnbrokers do so.)

Boulevard of Broken Promises

Among the smaller items in the Maui County budget — which will far exceed half a BILLION dollars, we are not a small, rural place any more — but one close to Kamaaina Loan’s interests is the Iao Minipark (or whatever its final name turns out to be).

The historic Wailuku business district, which we are proud to be one of the oldest existing veterans of, was designed for horse-drawn buggies and walkers. North Market Street was not paved for many years. Then after World War II, everybody got wheels.


The county took a bold step, buying up several blocks and closing a couple of streets (alleys, really) to create the large Wailuku municipal parking lot. Since then, it’s been all downhill as far as parking has been concerned.

In other older places struggling to adapt to modern  habits, the county has added significant public parking: a million-dollar lot in Makawao and a similar one in Paia. Presumably these are partially responsible for the full storefronts and higher commercial rents in those towns. (Having top drawer tourist draws helped, too, of course.)

Wailuku languishes. Commercial rents in Paia are about four times higher than in the North Market Street area.

Much follows from low rents. Non-profits, which are attracted by low rents, swarm in Wailuku but are absent from Paia and Makawao. In those “country towns,” merchants compete vigorously for shop space and there are few vacant buildings. There has been new construction in Paia and lots of investment in keeping up the old buildings in Makawao.

Not in Wailuku. Space goes begging and comparatively less sprucing up occurs. Green Lotus has recently upgraded and reopened a vacant gas station on Main Street that had been vacant for over a decade (despite having its own parking). Only one new-from-the-foundations building has gone up in our district in the past decade.

What construction has occurred has chipped away at our parking.

Now the county proposes to chip some more.

No question the vacant, unpaved lot between the Iao Theatre and our building (in which Maui Sporting Goods is a tenant) needs to be addressed. Right now, it provides  nearly two dozen precious, in-the-middle-of-things parking spaces.

When rebuilt, paved and made to conform to 21st century codes, at least 10 stalls will disappear, maybe more.

The area lost at least 23 when North Market was gentrified. In our view, we have gotten down to a point where 10 or 12 fewer spaces is a really big deal.

Don’t get us wrong. We support the minipark, for safety reasons. People we know have stumbled and fallen and been injured there.

But the history of the county’s work in the historic business district has been to promise more parking and then not deliver. Before the devastating rebuilding of North Market, the business owners and managers were promised that before North Market was to be taken in hand, something would be done.

That something was prominently to be a parking garage on the municipal lot. Never happened. Nor did anything else.

People really do need parking. A big fraction of the activity in the area is governmental. The county’s own staff grows year by year, till it has overflowed the nine-story county building into the One Main Plaza building.

Those people don’t (for the most part) walk or bicycle to work. They drive. Then they park.

The Chinese used to practice a form of slow execution called the “death of a thousand cuts.” That’s what’s happening to business in Wailuku.

#mauitraffic #mauibudget #mauibusiness

Fair’s fair

You may not realize it, but Hawaii law requires second-hand dealers to follow the same rules as pawnbrokers — keep records of all incoming merchandise, and of the IDs, addresses and other information about the sellers (or borrowers in the case of pawn customers).

The reason you may not know this is that island second-hand dealers routinely ignore the law and enforcement is slight. Pawnbrokers, and our Maui pawn shop for sure, follow the rules strictly.

Why not? Our owner helped write that statute decades ago.

If you think it makes little sense to require pawn shops to keep careful records to discourage fences but to allow second-hand dealers a free pass, the idea is gaining some currency. For example,  this Boston Globe story explains the outcry when police advised consignment stores — often selling expensive goods like Prada — that they, too, needed to cooperate in deterring thieves.

Reporter Beth Healey provides a good overview of the competing arguments, including one from a defense attorney about civil liberties. He’s going to lose that one.

Unusually, though, Healey ends by revealing one of the dirty little secrets of the anti-pawn shop mindset — it’s about scorning working people:


Goldstein [a pawnbroker] said that out of fairness, consignment stores should follow the same rules.

If stricter measures are being applied to people in less affluent neighborhoods with lower economic means, he asked, “Are they being implemented with people on Charles Street and Newbury Street?”

Your personal info and us

OK, this is a little bit inside baseball,  but in the age of digital promiscuity, everybody should be interested in who gets their personal data and why.

A chain of New York pawnshops is suing the New York police for $61 million in a dispute about a national pawn reporting database.

According to the New York Post, the cops want to force the pawnshops to hand over their customer information to a company called LeadsOnline.

Gem’s owners say they stopped using the Texas-based LeadsOnline because they feared the service violated federal privacy laws, which they are required to follow.


At Kamaaina Loan, we’re concerned, because the Honolulu police have been trying to persuade the state Legislature to force island pawnshops to also participate in a national database (the big ones are LeadsOnline and BWI).

Long before Leads or BWI, Kamaaina Loan set up the first Internet reporting service, which lets Maui police see what items we have taken in on a pawn loan or a sale. The local cops can match this list with any information they have about stolen goods.

If there’s a hit, the police can 1) come pick up the allegedly stolen goods; and 2) find out the name, address, phone number, driver license number (or other ID), and thumbprint of the person we obtained it from.

This is, we believe, a useful protection for honest customers and for ourselves.

But we are very worried about what happens if some national or international ” big data” company is given access to our records. They won’t say what they do with the data. Who they sell or give it to. Or why.

We believe our sales records should go to the local police. It’s required by state law. But we don’t think it should go any further.

Other pawnbrokers, like Gem in New York, agree.


The TAT kabuki

Every year for the past two decades, the state Legislature considers whether to appropriate all or part of the counties’s share of the Transient Accommodations Tax. This is the tax imposed on visitor rooms, and it’s a virtually universal way that attractive destinations have to soaking tourists.

Hawaii’s TAT rate of a little over 9% is actually on the low side.

Still, because tourism makes up such  big part of our economy, the total take of TAT forms the second biggest fraction of Maui County’s government income, after property tax.

This year, in a newish wrinkle, the Legislature is also making noises about appropriating the utility franchise tax that has always gone to the counties. In an editorial, The Maui News called this piracy.

It is that, but it is also a form of kabuki, highly stylized theater. Every year, the four mayors rush to Honolulu to demand that the state keep its mitts off the county TAT money. As The Maui News said:



Last week, Mayor Alan Arakawa and County Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa were at the Legislature testifying against SB 359, which is this year’s version of “Let’s Steal The Counties’ Shares” of the transient accommodations tax. A Friday story in The Maui News said the TAT is Maui County’s second largest revenue source at $20 million to $25 million.

Write, phone, text, email or send a smoke signal to our state legislators and tell them to stop these attempted raids on county budgets.

State and county governments are supposed to cooperate to solve problems. Constituents need to remind our state legislators they expect a partnership – not a looting of county coffers.


This may be the year, but never yet has the Legislature actually done much about grabbing the TAT money. What is really going on is that the Oahu-centric legislators make scary noises about grabbing the TAT, panicking the mayors, who then expend all their efforts during the short legislative session defending the TAT, rather than using their time to ask the state for help for their local issues.

This allows the Oahu senators and representatives to go ahead with their own local schemes without questioning from those pesky Neighbor Islanders.

This happens because of the big imbalance in size between state and any county, even the City and County of Honolulu. Losing the TAT would be a huge blow to a county, but picking up the few tens of millions would hardly show up in the multi-billion-dollar state budget.



Why we should welcome water rate increase

Alan Arakawa has got religion when it  comes to water rates. When he was on the County Council, he, along with all the other members, thought it best to keep water rates as low as possible. So when the semi-autonomous Board of Water Suppply (as it then was) came in with requests, the council would take pride in holding rates down.

As a result, the water system deteriorated.

It’s a rule of thumb that businesses ought to spend about 3% of the value of their physical plant in maintenance each year. More if you’re an airline, maybe. The reasoning is that most things you own last about 30 years.

Cars don’t last that long, but water pipelines last 50 years or more before needing to be replaced.

So if your water system is worth around a billion dollars — which is a fair guess at the value of Maui’s public system — you should be spending $30 million, give or take, just on replacing and repairing your pipes, trucks, treatment plants, computer systems etc.

In recent years, the department has spent at that rate, or better, but for decades and decades, the entire operating budget hardly equaled 3% of the value of the plant. So there’s lots of catching up to do.

Whether the 5% rate increase the mayor called for in his State of the County message is the right amount is up for discussion, but at least the necessity for greater spending on maintenance is getting through to the ninth floor. It will be interesting to see whether the eighth floor gets it.

Maui clout

Twenty-five years ago, Maui County was riding high in the state Legislature. Mamoru Yamasaki was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the Senate, and Joe Souki was speaker of the House.

State government thought it was rich, because of $500 million a year in payments from Duty Free Shoppers, and the political word was that this would be the last time that Maui, or any Neighbor Island, would be so well placed to get state funding for local projects. Once the unusual combo of Yama and Joe ended their dominance, Oahu would take over.

And for a generation, so it seemed.

Then, one month ago, it looked like 1988 all over again. Well, almost. Souki was slated to be speaker again, after some years on the outs with Democratic House leadership. Yama had passed away, but young Shan Tsutsui would continue as Senate president.

Then Dan Inouye died. Brian Schatz was appointed to the U.S. Senate, and Tsutsui accepted an appointment to replace him as lieutenant governor.

So, although Maui County came within days of regaining its legislative clout, suddenly it dissolved.

Of course, DFS is out of the picture and the state no longer thinks of itself as flush. Gil Keith-Agaran, who is nominated to move up to the Senate; leaving a hole in the House leadership where he had a shot at majority leader.

So it remains to be seen how well Maui County will do in the jockeying for state funding, especially for CIP (capital) projects. Keith-Agaran notes that since the days of the Yama-Joe duo, the budget has been restuctured so that CIP is rolled into the overall spending program.

Maui County would dearly like to return to the days when the state picked up a big part of water, solid waste and sewage treatment obligations; but the outlook for that looks slightly less rosy than it did late in 2012. 


The beginning of the end for Mount Trashmore?

According to The Maui News. the county is issuing a request for trash-to-power proposals in order to divert a lot of opala from the Central Maui Landfill.

It will be interesting to see who applies and what technologies are offered. The county put on an all-day seminar 20-some years ago when trashpower was a hot item, but the then-director of  public works preferred to bury garbage. That got expensive in the ’90s when EPA began requiring environmental safeguards on dumps.

Oahu went ahead with H-POWER, against a lot of skeptics, but it seems to have been successful enough. At least, Honolulu is expanding it in a big way.

A question for Maui will be, do we generate enough trash? When plastic recycling was attempted, there just wasn’t enough plastic garbage.

By definition, garbage has low unit value, so you need a lot of it in order to make money, or to justify the considerable overhead of a biggish power plant. Unlike wind or solar, though, trash is firm power, available anytime.

Trash can have unusual properties. In Virginia Beach, Virginia, which is a flat as the back of your hand, the city piled up trash several hundred feet, covered it with dirt and grass and turned it into a park, called Mount Trashmore. (The city officials didn’t like that but the name stuck.)

Once they had a hill a couple hundred feet high, the city could finally have a Soapbox Derby competition. Before, it was too flat for the cars to roll.

Are you too slow to vote?

Frank Tanabe votes againAt the very least, you should vote because that other guy who’s for all the wrong things is voting this time, and you’ve got to cancel him out.

A more civics-class-positive view of voting is this story from Honolulu that’s catching the world’s attention (or, at least, that part of the world that uses the Internet):

Frank Tanabe, 93 and sick, is voting.

A bad recipe for our reefs

The Maui News–mend-coral-reefs.html?nav=10reports that after a lot of work, a local group in alliance with NOAA has come up with a summary of what is causing decline of West Maui’s reefs.

Unfortunately, diligence is no substitute for knowledge, and the West Maui Watershed and Coastal Management task force blew it. While some of their conclusions are valid, the big, expensive one is baloney. The Maui News says:

The county’s Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility role involves pouring 3.5 million to 5 million gallons a day of nutrient-rich treated water underground using injection wells, Hood said. These nutrients have been blamed, at least in part, for killing coral and feeding algae blooms that strangle it.

The truth is, the treated wastewater is not rich in nutrients. It is very low in nutrients. If it weren’t for the yuuck factor and the slight possibility of disease organisms, you could drink the stuff. Hundreds of millions of people drink water a lot worse that what goes down the injection wells.

For years now, and notwithstanding the EPA spent a million dollars back in the early ’90s trying to convict the wells and failed, a band of environmental zealots have been running a campaign against the effluent. If they had merely visited the Central Laboratory and observed the testing of the effluent (done daily), they’d know better. It’s not too late. The lab operates every day of the year.coral reef

There’s a lot of bogus “information” out there about the oceans. The same Sunday The Maui News helped publicize the wrongheaded West Maui report, the Los Angeles Times ran a,0,7494056.storystory about the dangers of an acid ocean:

Rising acidity doesn’t just imperil the West Coast’s $110-million oyster industry. It ultimately will threaten other marine animals, the seafood industry and even the health of humans who eat affected shellfish, scientists say.

Not worry though. The ocean is not turning acid, if you go swimming, your suit won’t dissolve. The ocean has been alkaline for billions of years and it will continue to be alkaline until the sun expands and burns us to a crisp.

The ocean is about as alkaline as a glass of Alka-Seltzer.