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A look inside Hawaii's Merrie Monarch Festival, an energetic celebration of native art, dance, and music

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A look inside Hawaii's Merrie Monarch Festival, an energetic celebration of native art, dance, and music


  • Merrie Monarch is an annual festival in Hilo, Hawaii.
  • It celebrates Hawaiian traditions with craft fairs, parades, and hula competitions.
  • This article is part of “Community in Focus,” a series highlighting Asian and Pacific Islander events.

As the sun set over the misty town of Hilo, Hawaii, on April 6, about 4,000 people stood up from their seats in the Edith Kanakaʻole stadium and joined hands.

They swayed in unison, their voices reverberating off the bleachers and walls to the tune of “Hawaii Aloha,” a song locals often sing to mark the end of a cultural celebration. This time, they were saying goodbye to Merrie Monarch, an annual weeklong festival for honoring native Hawaiian traditions such as hula and craft making.

When I was growing up in Hilo, attending Merrie Monarch was the highlight of my year. My grandmother would take me to hotels around Hilo, where my uncles would perform Hawaiian music and children would dance the hula, big smiles plastered on their faces. The hotels buzzed with excitement as artisans showcased their crafts, and the scent of traditional Hawaiian delicacies filled the air. At the Merrie Monarch Royal Parade, I was enchanted as horseback riders floated by wearing colorful leis and long pāʻū skirts.

The festival, which started on March 31 this year, is marked by a mass migration of Hawaiians to Hilo on the state’s Big Island, also called Hawaii.

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These Hawaiians — largely hula dancers who have dedicated their lives to mastering the ancestral dance — overtake the small town of Hilo, bringing with them custom-made hula garments, intricate handmade goods, delectable eats, and goosebump-inducing song and dance.

“It truly is the finest time in Hawaii,” Dillon Ancheta, a Hawaiian-born journalist who has covered Merrie Monarch celebrations for the past five years, told Business Insider. “It feels like the entire state gets excited for Merrie Monarch, and the absolute best of our culture is on display.”

Take a look inside this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival.



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Hawaii

Hawaii legislature aims to alter affordable-housing program, possibly at expense of counties – West Hawaii Today

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Hawaii legislature aims to alter affordable-housing program, possibly at expense of counties – West Hawaii Today


Hawaii lawmakers recently decided to create a new incentive for affordable housing development under a state program, but it could have a bigger negative effect on affordable housing required by counties.

The Legislature passed a bill, which if enacted, would give developers credits for affordable units completed under a state program that already has incentives that include exemptions to general excise taxes, county development fees, height limits and density in return for making at least 50% or 60% of a project affordable for moderate-income households.

Such credits could be used by developers so they don’t have to build affordable housing required by counties as part of market-priced housing projects.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1170, was primarily pushed by the Hawaii chapter of NAIOP, a national commercial real estate trade association whose members include developers. Several individual developers also testified in support of the bill.

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Opposing the bill were the the City and County of Honolulu’s Office of Housing, the city Department of Planning and Permitting, and Hawaii County’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

The state Office of Planning and Sustainable Development expressed concern with SB 1170, and said that the bill’s stated goal won’t be achieved if the bill is enacted.

NAIOP claims that higher interest rates and other development costs have made the state’s 201H affordable housing program “nearly unusable” by developers.

By adding credits to the program’s existing incentives, a 201H project developer could theoretically monetize credits to help finance a 201H project, perhaps by selling credits to another developer that needs to satisfy a county affordable housing requirement.

The state agency administering the 201H program disputes NAIOP’s claim about developers not using the program, which is known by its chapter number in Hawaii Revised Statutes.

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“While we recognize the concern that a high-interest rate environment may negatively impact affordable housing production in Hawaii, HHFDC is processing 201H applications this year when interest rates are higher than they have been in a number of years,” the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. said in a statement Friday. “In fact, the number of 201H applications that we’ve processed is actually consistent, if not higher, than in recent years.”

In written testimony while SB 1170 was being considered by lawmakers, HHFDC did not take a position for or against the bill. Instead, the agency informed lawmakers that it shares the concern about high interest rates negatively affecting affordable housing production in Hawaii, but that it defers to counties for judgment on issuing credits for 201H projects.

DPP Director Dawn Take­uchi Apuna said in written testimony that SB 1170 would benefit developers at a detrimental cost to county affordable housing programs and policies.

“We oppose this bill because it creates credit value that developers can sell or use themselves to fulfill affordable housing requirements imposed by the counties,” she said. “It amounts to ‘double dipping,’ developers of 201H projects receive fee waivers and exemptions, as well as the monetary value of credits.”

Susan Kunz, Hawaii County’s housing administrator, said in written testimony that giving developers affordable housing credits for 201H projects won’t expand the supply of housing but will undermine the county’s ability to do so.

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Under SB 1170, 201H projects that receive federal or state tax credits that require units be reserved for households with low incomes would not be eligible for affordable housing credits.

Another limitation under the bill is that credits will only be available through July 1, 2031.

HHFDC said in its statement that enacting SB 1170 may result in more 201H project applications, but that it is difficult to forecast how many more. Enacting the bill also could benefit 201H projects already planned, including Kuilei Place and Pahoa Ridge.

Kuilei Place is a planned 43-story tower complex in Moiliili with 1,005 condominiums being developed by Kobayashi Group and BlackSand Capital.

In return for making 603 Kuilei Place units, 60% of the total, affordable to households with moderate and high-moderate incomes, the developer received benefits that included about $12 million in city fee exemptions plus building height and density beyond what zoning permits in the area.

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Kobayashi Group testified in favor of SB 1170.

Pahoa Ridge is a 211-unit tower planned near Old Waialae Road. Benefits approved under 201H for Pahoa Ridge in January include density, height and lot coverage bonuses. The tower is to be about five times more dense, can exceed the area’s 150-foot height limit by rising 210 feet and can cover 85% of the lot instead of a maximum 40% under zoning.

One of the developers of Pahoa Ridge, Form Partners, testified in favor of SB 1170, saying that the cost to produce affordable homes is well above what they can be sold for.

Lawmakers hardly engaged in public discussion of the bill during two committee hearings in the Senate and two in the House.

A joint House-Senate conference committee meeting to agree upon a final draft of the bill resulted in one concession to counties. The committee on April 26 amended the bill so that 201H credits may be applied to satisfy only up to 50% of affordable housing obligations imposed by a county unless a county wants to allow more.

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Final votes approving SB 1170 on May 1 were 46-5 in the House and 22-2 in the Senate.

Gov. Josh Green has until July 10 to sign bills into law or let them become law without his signature. For Green to veto any bills, he must give notice to the Legislature of such intent by June 25.





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Hawaii’s only resident Michelin-starred chef shares what inspires him to create his food

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Hawaii’s only resident Michelin-starred chef shares what inspires him to create his food



























Hawaii’s only resident Michelin-starred chef shares what inspires him to create his food | News | kitv.com

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After retirement announcement, state adjutant general Hara reflects on 40-year career

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After retirement announcement, state adjutant general Hara reflects on 40-year career


HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Hawaii adjutant general Maj. Gen. Ken Hara has led the state’s emergency management agency for five years, capping a 40-year military career with three combat deployments.

In his first one-on-one interview since he announced he would retire on Nov. 1, Hara sat down with Hawaii News Now to talk about why he joined — and what he would have done differently over the years.

“I’ve been pretty much an infantry guy watching the helicopters fly by and seeing like, Oh, that was a big mistake. I should have stayed in aviation,” he said, reflecting on what he called one of his regrets. “I still wish I was flying.”

“I tried a few times [to get back], but just things didn’t work out. It was like this was my destiny and and ended up being an infantry guy most of my career,” he said.

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Hara says he is a man of faith, which had a huge impact on his career.

“How else am I successful as like no skill says not the smartest guy in the room. But you know, I’ve been really blessed and had opportunities that came at the perfect time. Literally all of the stars aligned on how I got my college education and some really, really critical military assignments is pretty, pretty amazing,” Hara said.

The Hilo native graduated from Waiakea High School and enlisted in the Hawaii National Guard, as his father and uncle did. His older brothers also joined, and the Hara military legacy was well-known and respected.

“Initially, I think it was great having older brothers and a father and an uncle that served so many mentors I could go to,” he said. “Oftentimes, it was reverse nepotism, like you have to do better and the standards are higher, just because the last name was Hara.”

“My son swore in in the National Guard that definitely was the proudest moment. The next generation in line following the Hara legacy. So my son is a first lieutenant now in the Army National Guard,” he said.

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Hara also talked about how his three combat deployments prepared him for his career, transitioning from infantry to politics, from war on the ground to the halls of politics. “

“Three deployments, the first one to Baghdad, Iraq, second in Kuwait, and a third one in Kandahar, Afghanistan, all three really, really challenging and dangerous missions,” he said.

“The mission kind of shifted from that combat operations to more domestic and Hawaii focused disaster response. So I got a lot of experience in that, you know, not just the war fight.”

“What’s tough, what no one can prepare for is dealing with the politics that I dread during the legislative session, but I can tell you that I am I have a great relationship with every single one of the legislators and they treat me with dignity and respect,” he said.

As Hawaii adjutant general, he oversees Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency and National Guard, and has led the state through back-to-back natural disasters, from hurricanes to eruptions, the COVID-19 pandemic and even the false missile alert.

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Looking back, he says he says he’s satisfied with how HIEMA handled the pandemic.

“I don’t think there’s anything, I would have changed, especially for me and what we did. We didn’t know what we didn’t know, we learned along the way. And as we learned, we adjusted,” he said.

“You make decisions, a lot of people aren’t going to be happy about it. But we made decisions based on the information understanding we had at the time,” he said.

“The biggest lesson is, if you’re going to be successful, it’s about the relationships. And try to build that relationship and hopefully forge that into trust before the disaster,” he added.

Hara concluded: “I’m proud of my career. I’m proud what I’ve accomplished. I’m proud of my family and the Hara legacy. But I’m human. I look back because I could have had an easier life. My class, my close classmates, they’re super successful. Living the life,” he said with a laugh.

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