Navigation in the Information Age:
Potential Use of GIS for Sustainability and Self-Determination in Hawai`i
Cogswell and Schiøtz, 1996



6.0   Government GIS use in Hawai`i

6.1   City and State GIS Initiatives

In this section, we describe our most significant conversations regarding,and insights into, GIS use in the larger context of Hawai`i. We relaterelevant findings from our conversations with the offices of several governmentofficials: the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Office of StatePlanning, the Office of Environmental Quality Control, the Office of HawaiianAffairs, and the City of Honolulu Department of Land Utilization.

Through interviews with key State officials, we learned about the natureand function of the State GIS and the City and County of Honolulu GIS. Theseinterviews were illuminating and challenged our preconceptions, demanding thatwe hold several perspectives simultaneously: from the Nation's point of view,we were speaking with representatives of an illegal occupying entity; from someof the critical literature's point of view, we were venturing into the realm ofthe forces of surveillance and social control.

First, a description of a typical journey to Honolulu could be helpful togive a sense of how we got to most of our interviews. From Pu'uhonua oWaimanalo, we walked past papaya and banana groves, forest, and intermittenthouses, about one and one half miles to the main road. From there we caught abus which traveled ten minutes North into Kailua, then up the spectacular Palimountains, through a tunnel and down into Honolulu. It would usually take atotal of about two hours to get into Honolulu, and then we would often walk ortake another bus to get to our interview location. We traveled into this,Hawai`i's capital and main urban center, thirty to forty times to meet withgovernment officials, private consultants, environmental activists, and othersignificant individuals, to do University research, and to meet with Bumpy. Wewould also often catch rides into the city with John, who originally picked usup from the airport. The interviews which follow were made usually in aboutone-hour segments, with a tape recorder present.

6.1.1   GIS Systems

Our interviews with Ken Schmidt of the Honolulu City and County GISDepartment gave us a first-hand look at "the most comprehensive digitalinformation of any island in the world" (Schmidt, personal communication).Schmidt works with an $800,000 budget, ARC/INFO software, and with the activesupport of the mayor and city council, helped build this GIS since 1990. Hesuggested that his primary strategy for creating and implementing the currentGIS has been to ensure its support of basic municipalities, thereby renderingit indispensable, and able to be expanded for other purposes and functions. Wediscuss his vision and description of the system below.

Schmidt claims that the Honolulu Land Information System (HOLIS),substantially reduces the time necessary to answer many common citizenquestions. By having basic information readily available at the touch of abutton, people who would once have had to come down to an office to personallyspend an hour or more with an expert assistant looking up documents and maps,can now, get the same information, often by phone, in as little as fiveminutes. For example, a citizen could call in and find out if her house waslocated on a flood plain, the zoning status of adjacent properties, or locationand quality of local wells. Schmidt also claimed that with respect tosubdivisions of land, before HOLIS they had a backlog of 500 subdivisionpermits dating back to the 1960s, whereas now they are up to date, with thehelp of their GIS. Schmidt said that this system significantly increases theefficiency and value of many public services. He also suggested that it hadthe potential of allowing government to be proactive in planning for wisedevelopment and natural resource conservation, though the typical governmentenvironment is one of retroactivity and not proactivity.

Schmidt gave us a short tour of the system. Our experience of viewing thisGIS put us for just a few minutes in the City planner's seat, where we couldsee the City and County of Honolulu as it exists in digital form. We navigatedthe ARC/VIEW program over the multicolored base map of central Honolulu andthen zoomed in to explore various parcels and boundaries in terms of ownership,land value, permits, where the sewers and telephone and power lines werelocated (you could also find out how big the diameter of the sewer was if youwanted), how wide the streets were etc. We were amazed at just how muchinformation was represented within the different layers, and mused at how thisindeed must be a planner's dream - not to have to root around for books,tables, graphs, charts, and maps, perhaps located all over the city, but tohave the information readily accessible, all in one spatially referencedform.

HOLIS data layers include city potable water lines, parcel boundaries,city storm drain lines, city sewer mains and lateral lines, development planareas, flood boundaries, police beats boundaries, political jurisdictionboundaries, neighborhood board boundaries, city zoning boundaries, topographicfive foot contour lines, hydrography, major streets and highways, State landuse/Conservation subdistricts, wetland inventory survey, mean annual rainfallline, and many others. (Department of Land Management, 1995)

We learned from Craig Tasaka that his position as head GIS coordinatorfor the State, located in the Office of State Planning (OSP) was created in1987 by Governor Waihee, who had a planning background. Tasaka's job has beento coordinate the State's GIS databases, and to supply the Office of StatePlanning with a reliable supply of information.

Data layers in the State GIS range from elevation contours, place names,roads and other transportation data, land use, land ownership, well data,bodysurfing sites, bird habitat, hydrography, average rainfall, averagesunshine, vegetation, wetlands, utility information, to lava flow hazard zones,and park lands, among others. (State of Hawai`i, 1995)

Eric Kumari of the Department of Land and Natural Resources's (DLNR)Historic Preservation Division, is in charge of facilitating the development ofa database of archaeological sights on the Hawaiian islands. So far thedatabase has 2500 archaeological sites and 300 excavations on Oahu alone.Kumari emphasized that GIS could be a tool for understanding the past. TheDNLR database has as its purpose the understanding and preservation of therecords and artifacts of the historic and prehistoric Hawaiian civilization,Kumari told us. Figure 6.1 gives an example of how GIS can be used to create acomputerized map based on a compilation of historic data.

All new excavations check in through his office for the appropriatepermits. Kumari said that the database has thus far been very useful for bothresearchers and developers. GIS is well suited for this information, becausenot only can you visually see the location and distribution of sites, but forany site you can call up relevant information like the exact location, natureof the site, name of researchers, title of reports, etc. Another major use isfor pre-development site studies, to ascertain what archaeological history ispresent.

6.1.2   Institutional Dynamics

Schmidt's candid discussion of the often short-sighted,infighting-filled, uncertain budgetary culture of state and local governmentwas illuminating for us, as it reminded us that there may not be a monolithic,power-hungry entity called "the government," but that there are far-sightedpeople and policies, and there are short-sighted people and policies whichdetermine intragovernmental dynamics and potential for long-term success andfailure. Schmidt's (1995) paper entitled "Establishing GIS Functionality inthe Operations of Local Government" is also useful in exploring these issues,and the challenges of promoting a new way of doing things to slow-moving,territorial bureaucracies. Still, Schmidt felt that the days of corrupt,centralized government were over in Hawai`i, and while the system was far fromperfect, things were moving in the right direction.

Schmidt's role, he felt, was to establish the fundamental usefulness ofthe City's GIS, consistently improving its quality and range of practicalservices. Schmidt maintained that in an environment continually subject to thewhims of elected officials and budgetary fluctuations, it is essential to besmart about the introduction of an expensive information technology whichcompetes with other, previously implemented informationtechnologies/information systems. He argued that this approach ofalliance-building and practicality is what distinguishes the success andusefulness of HOLIS from the State system, which has much less support, andmuch less impact.

Today, under a new governor, not only has Tasaka's staff been cutfrom eight to three, but the whole Office has suffered cuts from 40 to 20 inone year, due to State budget cuts and different priorities. Tasaka wasclearly demoralized about the current situation, and alluded to the fact thathis job and the overall OSP may have much less than unlimited potential. "GIShas unlimited potential," he said, and discussed his high hopes for thepotential of GIS to assist long-term (sustainable) planning. However, thesehopes were clearly just that, as under a new governor (who was not a planner byprofession), the long-term Hawai`i State plan has languished and been ignored,and at the writing of this thesis, the GIS equipment and personnel at theOffice of State Planning may very well soon be subsumed by the Department ofBusiness and Economic Development (DBED).

Learning this was, for us, yet another instance of witnessing thedivision, pain, and lack of cohesion at the government level, characterized bypolicy development with little comprehensive long-term planning. This man wasvisibly distressed at the unfolding situation, and felt that the State waslosing an opportunity to make the best use of this powerful tool. Tasaka wasnot bitter or resentful toward anyone that we could see, just regretful thatthe State was going through tough times and having to make difficult decisions,including the potential of cutting his job and department.

Recalling the City GIS, we could not help but feel that Ken Schmidt hasmade some useful points. Moving the GIS coordinating/State planning office outof the Governor's office is perhaps symbolic of a significant lack of vision -if budget cuts because of hard times are the excuse, then perhaps it is time tore-explore the importance of planning and sustainable economic policy - madepossible in part by the comprehensive information coordinated and displayed byGIS. Sending the GIS coordinator position from the Office of State Planning tothe Department of Business and Economic Development, (aside from the shift inpriorities this move connotes), perhaps demonstrates again that direct GISusefulness is important for survival. If the GIS environment is not proactiveand prevents even the exploration of GIS' potential for proactivity andcomprehensive planning and policy making, it is perhaps just a matter of timebefore the system gets axed, moved, or broken down for parts.

For his part, Eric Kumari at the DLNR wished for a larger staff, but wasevidently grateful for the integrative tool that GIS has provided in the lastseveral years to his department. With a background in archaeology, Kumarismiled when he suggested that when archaeology uses GIS, "you know everyonemust be using it!"

6.1.3   Information Access

Schmidt told us that one must lease the right to access the City andCounty's data layers from the Department of Land Utilization, that one may usethe information for one year, cannot give it to anyone else or make anyreproductions of it, and must pay a varied fee for each layer depending on datasize and comprehensivity: the cost is approximately $35,000 for all the datalayers of the City and County of Honolulu. Schmidt said that the cost ofleasing this information, collected through taxpayer funds, was necessary torecoup the investment and maintenance of such a comprehensive database. Hepointed out that it is quite valuable information to many interests, and thatthe public sector needs to ensure its own sustainability as well. When askedabout the issue of public access, he maintained that he wanted to see publicaccess terminals installed in which people could have free access to City andState data layers, and ultimately he hoped that the City and State wouldactually give away the data in some form to the public for their own use, butthat for now, the decisions were made "on higher levels," and he had to followthem.

The State of Hawai`i not only has no vision of public information access,but it has no current policy: State data layers used by OSP and otherdepartments, also collected with public funds, cannot be purchased at anyprice.


6.2   Reflections and Criticism

In reflecting on our experiences with City/State officials, we are struckby two things: first, the extent to which these people were frustrated bytheir inability to utilize GIS more fully, for several socially beneficialpurposes, and second, that GIS must be supported by shared vision and necessarylong-term support for it to live up to its potential. In Hawai`i today, thereseems to be little long term sustainable vision initiated from any level ofgovernment, except for ever-increasing tourism, golf courses, and hotels.

(Consider the pending move of the Office of State Planning (OSP) and itsGIS to the Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED).) GIS maynot in and of itself be able to create a change in paradigm or status quo orforce a new way of managing ourselves sustainably. Its potential is determinednot only by its social construction, but also by the terms of itsimplementation and ongoing support.

An essential issue we would like to reflect on is that of the creation andmaintenance of information. Hardware and software are foundations of a fullGIS, but without information, a GIS is of little value. However, in ourresearch, we discovered the existence of a number of GIS initiatives byindividuals at the grassroots level, as well as within the government itself.We will discuss several of these initiatives below: The Nature Conservancy'sendangered species database, Gary Gill's Office of Environmental QualityAssessment CD, Andy Tomlinson's work with a prisoner data entry program, WillFreeman's public water quality GIS initiative, OHA's water resource assessmentand comprehensive GIS initiative, and the Ahupua`a Action Alliance's proposedinformation trade suggest that there exist a myriad of pressing and significantissues in Hawai`i around what data there is?, who has access to it?, and whatdata is actually needed by different groups for different purposes? How shouldit be collected and coordinated? What drives the collection of State data? Towhat extent is the State's data constructed from the top down, and what are theeffects of this? How does the current information influence or limit Hawai`i'ssocial and policy debates?

We start with Will Freeman; one of the initiators of a public waterquality GIS initiative. Freeman intends to redress what he considers to be aglaring omission in the State and City databases: the lack of systematicmonitoring and public availability of water quality information. We spoke toWill several times about this initiative, and he emphasized that he was verydissatisfied with the types of information the State collected, and what heinterprets as the deliberate withholding of that information. A 1995 draft ofhis GIS initiative proposal criticizes the difficulty of access to City andState information.

The State of Hawai`i and the City and County of Honolulu have theresponsibility to make GIS and water quality data available to the generalpublic. These are data that we have already paid for, are public record, andhave no reason to be withheld as a matter of confidentiality. However, gettingaccess to this digital data is easier said than done. The State and County arenot yet freely available to the general public. These are data that we havealready paid for, are public record, and have no reason to be withheld as amatter of confidentiality. However, getting access to this digital data iseasier said than done. As (the City and State's data) are housed in variousoffices (County Office of General Planning, State Office of State Planning,USGS, SCS, etc.), access is more cumbersome still. (Freeman and Niederer1995: 1, 10)

Freeman's initiative will be elaborated on in the next section.

Royce Jones is a main GIS consultant for the State and City government whoshed light on the status of the City and State's data by pointing out that Oahucounty is the only county with up to date information, and that all othercounties (and islands) are 5-7 years behind in terms of completeness andusability. Jones addressed the issue of accessibility by pointing out thatthere was only one buyer of all the City/State layers last year - BishopEstate, a wealthy trust/corporation active in many aspects of Hawaiian cultureand politics.

One of the most dramatic indications of the lack of public informationaccess was the comments and work of Gary Gill, Director of the Office ofEnvironmental Quality Control. Gill oversees the review of EnvironmentalImpact Statements (EIS), which he suggests create the basis for among "the mostparticipatory forms of government yet invented." A second generationenvironmentalist and government employee, Gill passionately emphasized theimportance of the free exchange of information for a functioning democracy. Hesaid, "This (GIS) is the next major tool the public will have to reallydecentralize the planning process and decentralize the review process so thepublic themselves will become experts." However, he pointed out that the onlylessee of City of Honolulu data layers this year is the Bishop Estate, whichcan afford the $35,000 one-year lease fee. As one example of the advantagethis information provides in a political/land use struggle, he pointed out theuse by Bishop Estate of the State GIS information in the creation of acontested development planning map near the Sandy Beach area on the southeastcoast of Oahu.

In discussing the government, Gill stated, "...the State is not ascoordinated as I would like them to be. And it won't get better soon becausethey got their GIS staff cut in half." It was clear that many departments werebeing hit hard by recent budget cuts, and Gill's was no exception.Nevertheless, he is proceeding earnestly with a very daring project, which hehopes will open the way for public GIS data access. We will explore our candiddiscussion with Gill over this project in the next section.

Andy Tomlinson, a geography student at University of Hawai`i who alsoworks with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, is currently involved with avery important potential development involving the input of GIS data for theState. As Tomlinson related it, an inmate approached him about the possibilityof creating a program in Hawai`i to train inmates to enter and update State GISdata. The inmate had done research into a similar program in Texas whichseemed to benefit all sides: the State got very cheap data entry; theprisoners got some wages and potentially marketable future skills; the prisonswhich in Hawai`i are a private corporation, would become "more economicallysustainable;" the taxpayers would arguably get passed along these benefits inreduced State expenses and prisoners better prepared to integrate back intosociety.

In a meeting in late March, Tomlinson said that he was surprised to seethe turnout of government officials and consultants who were interested inexploring the program further. In the months since then, the State has movedforward on this plan, and is preparing to implement it under the direction ofCraig Tasaka at the Office of State Planning.

Tomlinson also commented on the impending removal of the Office of StatePlanning as an entity in the governor's office, and incorporation into theDepartment of Business and Economic Development. Calling it "horrible,"Tomlinson suggested that it meant a still greater emphasis on developing theshort-sighted, unsustainable infrastructure that brought Hawai`i to thedistress characterized by the present day economy, ecology, and culture.

Jon Goss is a professor at the University of Hawai`i who has donesignificant recent research on the use of GIS by business and government forsophisticated marketing and surveillance purposes, in what are calledGeodemographic Information Systems (GDIS). Goss communicated with us about thepotential use in Hawai`i of prison labor for GIS data entry, suggesting that it"smacks of exploitation," and that the argument that it would confer "usefulskills which they will be able to sell on the outside and so become productivemembers of society ... I think ... is a fairly cynical rationalization for ameans to obtain cheap labor. It may be that my pessimism is unfounded and thatit could work if the right people are involved, but I have serious doubts, andI do not believe that in this case the ends justify the means." (Goss, personalcommunication)

Ira Rohter (1992) is also a professor at the University of Hawai`i, andwhile we have not had the opportunity to speak with him personally yet, we havestudied his seminal book on the creation of a sustainable Hawai`i, calledGreen Hawai`i. In this book Rohter gives an insightful analysis of thecurrent order of power in Hawai`i, from an ecological perspective.

Who makes the decisions in Hawai`i? Tourism is increasingly becoming owned byvastly powerful international conglomerates. Their intensifying control ofHawai`i's hotels, real estate, commercial properties, and housing has led to ahigh concentration of economic power in the hands of off-Island investors. Butwhether major economic decisions are made in executive offices located in Tokyoor Chicago, San Francisco or New York, matters little; in all instances,choices are made on the basis of making maximum profits for their corporations,not on the welfare of Hawai`i's citizens. The links between powerfultrans-national hotel chains, banks, and airlines, and local real estatedevelopers, construction companies, financial institutions, businesses, andlocal political leaders are significant and lucrative for all actors.

Beneficiaries of growth - architects, contractors and engineers, bankersand financiers, developers and realtors, landowners, lawyers, hotel owners,labor unions - are major campaign contributors to sitting politicians. Evenforeign-owned corporations directly contribute to officeholders. These fundsgive incumbents an enormous advantage over challengers. no wonder that in the1990 election, none of the 12 Senate incumbents met defeat (five ran unopposed)and only three of 51 incumbent state House candidates lost (with 17 of themrunning unopposed). So the tourist industry and growth will continue to bepromoted at all cost. (Rohter, 1992: 49-50)

That Hawaiian government is corrupt and controlled by the "Democraticmachine" was argued to us by John Kelly, the husband of Marion Kelly, thewell-known anthropologist and Great Mahele scholar at the University ofHawai`i. Kelly is the primary organizer and leader of one of the oldest andmost successful environmental preservation groups in Hawai`i. Raised nearWaikiki in the 1920's, Kelly has seen firsthand the development changes onOahu, and being an avid surfer and fisherman, he organized local oceanenthusiasts into a powerful coalition that has stopped more than 3 billiondollars worth of development projects threatening valuable coastline, in threedecades of activism. Having battled most State and City agencies, he has notonly become knowledgeable about the intricacies of State power, but he hasdeveloped a reputation for getting things done, and being worthy of absoluteconfidence.

One night in the 1960's Kelly was awakened at 3:00 a.m. from sleep by aphone call from a woman asking to remain anonymous, who wanted to give Kellysomething of potentially great importance to his work. Kelly met the woman ina secluded part of town, where he was given a rolled-up document. It turnedout in the light of day, that Kelly had been given an in-house 1965 map of oneof Hawai`i's largest contractor's proposed building projects! Spanning thewhole city of Honolulu, Dillingham Corporation's projects were shaded blue, andmany were years away while many were already underway, though not yet announcedpublicly. Kelly used this map to show people the extent of the constructiongoing on in Honolulu, whether they knew about it all or not. Kelly told usthat of all his collection of images and pictures, this particular map turnedmore people on to "Save our Surf" than any other. In saying this, Kelly drovehome the power of a map to tell a story; to capture the imagination.

This story is relevant here for several reasons, but we will describejust one: secret maps have existed for millennia, but they always have achance of being discovered at some point. However with GIS, private databasescan exist unbeknownst to anyone but its creator / assembler and those withaccess privileges: no artifacts ever need be produced. This is demonstratedin Hawai`i in the case of Bishop Estate (one of the largest landowners inHawai`i). The map it created for the "Sandy Beach conflict" in its"Environmental Impact Report" of its proposed development utilized informationit had purchased from the City of Honolulu, though generally its GIS data isonly implied in certain situations, but probably never fully revealed.

In the same way, Geodemographic Information Systems (GDIS) used by privatefirms and governments combine and manipulate vast datasets, creatinginformation - consumer maps - for marketing so valuable that they are kept veryprivate, and sold to corporations for "intelligent" focused marketingcampaigns, said to be much superior to traditional marketing methods (Goss1995a, 1995b). One of the intricacies of this research is that there is noguarantee that we will ever be aware of all the relevant GIS and GIS data inHawai`i to study; for unlike maps, GIS can be totally discrete andsurreptitious, accessible to only a select few. We can probably be sure thatJohn Kelly is glad that the Dillingham construction map had not beencomputerized - who knows if it would ever have been printed, and then he wouldbe minus a star organizing tool for two decades....