Honolulu Council likely relocating offices to Alii Place
(Source: Star Advertiser)
With or without Mayor Kirk Caldwell and his administration, Honolulu City Council members want to relocate themselves and the rest of the legislative branch to the Alii Place tower downtown from Honolulu Hale by the end of the year.
Council Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi told colleagues last week that the 2020 legislative budget includes $1,385,568 to lease the 19th and 20th floors of Alii Place for a year.
The temporary move would allow a contractor to tackle mold, lead paint, asbestos and other health concerns that employees in the Council’s second-floor offices have complained about for a number of years, Kobayashi said.
The Spanish Colonial Revival- style Honolulu Hale has been the city’s seat of government since it was completed in 1928.
The move will involve not just the offices of Council members and their staffs, but those of the City Clerk and Council Services offices. That’s about 130 employees in all.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell opposes the move and says several studies have been done that show there are no health concerns.
Nonetheless, the Council budget for the coming yearincludes $1.3 million for the leasing and maintenance fees of two floors of Alii Place for a year, Kobayashi told members of the Council Budget Committee at a briefing Thursday.
“We are moving because the Council wants to protect the health and safety of all of the employees of our legislative branch and our visitors,” Kobayashi said.
Kobayashi said the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s lease for its spaces on two separate floors of Alii Place runs out in 2020, and the hope is the Council can partner with HART to negotiate lower prices for both agencies. “If we join forces, we will be the largest tenant of the building,” she said.
The 19th-floor space contains about 19,940 square feet, and the 20th floor about 18,548 square feet, Council Executive Assistant Kimberly Ribellia said.
The first step will be to sign a contract with an individual to help the Council and HART negotiate the lease, Kobayashi said.
Councilwoman Kymberly Pine said she began developing a cough and breathing problems since arriving on the Council in 2013. “Last year I went to Canada and Japan in a two-week period, and my cough went away and my breathing was restored,” she said.
When she first got on the Council, “I once looked in the air ducts … and aged material was hanging from the sides, and dust was everywhere,” Pine said. “Our offices tested high for dust mites and pest waste. People are sick all the time. Carpets and walls are aged and dirty. No one wants to move, but the number of sicknesses is unusual.”
Kobayashi and Pine both said they and other Council employees suspect poor air quality in their offices is to blame for deaths and major illnesses among colleagues.
Ribellia said the Council is unable to remove wallpaper, due to lead paint concerns, or install new carpet because of concerns about asbestos in the tiles. No such improvements can be done “unless we have complete asbestos and lead paint abatement of our offices,” she said.
Kobayashi said that during the relocation, Council committees would meet at Alii Place but that the Council’s monthly meetings would still be held in the traditional third-floor Council chambers, which were cleaned and renovated several years ago. The Council had to hold meetings at alternate locations for several months.
Asked for the administration’s comments on the Council’s impending move, mayoral spokesman Andrew Pereira said Caldwell stands by the Oct. 12 letter he sent to former Council Chairman Ernie Martin outlining his “serious concerns” about the proposed move to Alii Place.
The letter included summaries and full reports of four studies conducted on various health concerns in the building since 2012. “Environmental assessments do not justify an immediate relocation,” Caldwell wrote, adding that he instructed the Department of Design and Construction “not to assist in planning for the move.”
Caldwell said that when the Council initially proposed the move, he included in his own 2019 budget funding to move the Department of Corporation Counsel and a portion of the Department of Budget and Fiscal Services. However, “after reviewing the studies attached, we do not intend to move forward with these relocations.”
None of the four studies call for significant repairs or renovation.
The last, analyzing air quality and conducted by Muranaka Environmental Consultants last summer, concluded there were no concerns found for airborne mold, bacteria, asbestos or lead dust.
It recommended the offices “be cleaned regularly using wet or damp floor cleaning implements, (be dusted) with wet or damp cloths, eliminate nesting places and HEPA vacuum to keep from dust buildup.”
It also recommended that humidity levels be kept to a standard level, that food and water sources be removed or be contained and that water-damaged ceiling tiles be replaced. Additionally, “clean visible mold growth with water and detergent and dry completely.”
Caldwell’s letter, separate from the studies, said that “there is no written and approved plan, vetted with the public, regarding the financial justification of moving to Alii Place, one of the fanciest office buildings in Honolulu.”
The 2020 Council budget proposal also includes $2 million to conduct a forensic audit of the city’s over-budget $9.2 billion rail project. The Council voted unanimously to approve Resolution 19-29, putting in motion the steps that would lead to a forensic audit of HART, the agency tasked with building the project.
All told, the $23 million Council budget is a 12 percent increase over the current year and is nearly 40 percent more than the fiscal 2016 budget five years ago.