Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Real Challenges

Since I've come back on island I hear all the time, from the radio, the TV, I read it in the paper, and I hear it in offices, businesses, about the incredible and massive challenges that Guam is facing over the next few years. Challenges could mean anything, but in this context is almost always means, how are we going to prepare for the massive population increase, which the most recent conservative estimate claimed would be 43,000 people, that will result from the proposed US military buildup to the island?

The challenges are things we all think about, utilities, economy, education, social well being, roads, pollution, environment, etc. But these challenges are divided into two dangerously narrow categories. The first is, how can we change ourselves and improve ourselves in order to best take advantage of the coming invasion? The second is, how can we mitigate the inevitable damage it is going to cause to just about everything on the island?

Although we can see and feel the poor planning and over developing of the central part of the island, this has no place in these conversations. These conversations have no memory, just as they have no ability to implicate the United States or make demands of it. Everything is on us, the military buildup will succeed or fail based on how well we are prepared, how well we take advantage of it, or how well we don't let it destroy the island. There are so few real discussions, directed at the actual passing of laws or making of demands designed to control how this buildup effects us.

The real challenge as I see it, which is far harder than training thousands of local workers or approving the immigration of thousands of workers from the Philippines, is to change the mindset through which we are welcoming, waiting or hating this buildup. Even amongst those who may not really want it, there is still a feeling of inevitability, as if it will happen no matter what, so what can I do? One of the biggest problems is that those people who have power in this matter, aren't doing enough, or are drunk with their own forms of deluded excitement over the prosperity that the Marines will be bringing to the island in their duffel bags. Politicians are paralyzed between hating being disrespected by the military and treated as if they aren't in control of the island they are leaders on, between alienating voters over appearing to be anti-military. Going to funerals and Chamorro and Filipino ethnic pride events probably won't help you overcome an "anti-military" label come November.

On the other hand, those island "leaders" who aren't politicians, but are simply the reach and the powerful, appear to be the most useless of all. They will profit from this build up, as I've said before, if you already have plenty, the buildup is going to give you plenty more. If you don't, get ready for a lot less. The buildup may bring some opportunities, but you will have to compete for those opportunities with corporations and investors from the states and from Asia, and from the already wealthy who just want more and have more capital than you to get it with.

I was forwarded recently an email sent by one of those "powerful" people on Guam, who are in positions to help shape the way the buildup affects the island, but chose instead to celebrate it and pander to any military personnel or Federal official who will listen. This email is not extreme, but this is the way these powerful people are representing the direction of our island to each other, to all of us and worst of all to the Feds. The real challenge for Guam is getting rid of this image of Guam becoming a paradise through the intense period of militarization it will undergo.

By the time the buildup is complete, we will not have near as many military here as we did during Vietnam . And that went off very smoothly – not even considering the fact we has about half as many people as we do now. So during Vietnam the ratio of military to civilian was twice as much as it will be when the move it over. You wait and see, they will integrate very smoothly into the community while bringing tons of money (probably too much!) to our Gov’t. Every other State in the Union would give up their statehood if they could keep all the personal and corporate income tax like we do; they would also give up their statehood if they were able to receive Section 30 money. No place else gets to keep the income taxes and the Section 30 money – what a huge give this is to us – so what do we do with it? We blow it in a 1000 different ways!

There are so many things wrong with this person's email that I can't go through them all now. I'm late for a class at UOG I'm guest lecturing in. But before I go, I have to draw out one truly idiotic statement from this email. I have heard this line many many times in the United States, and it has been something which people who work in Washington D.C. and in Congress have said they hear. "Every other State in the Union would give up their statehood if they could keep all the personal and corporate income tax like we do; they would also give up their statehood if they were able to receive Section 30 money."

During a radio interview I conducted in San Francisco, I was asked this very question, namely that since Guam doesn't pay Federal income taxes, but gets Federal monies, isn't that a pretty sweet deal? Isn't that worth the disrespect and inequitable status? The fact that you get to dodge the taxes all the real Americans get to pay?

Robert Underwood once told me that this sort of response is something he and his staff would get in the halls of Congress. Attempts to talk about how Guam is mistreated or left out by the Federal government would be rejected through a fake excitement and fake jealousy over the fact that Guam doesn't have to pay Federal income taxes, and that they and their constituents would gladly give up their statehood and privileges of full citizenship if they could have the same deal. One person told me that whever they heard this remark they would push the person on it and say, really, you would rather be a territory or a colony of the United States then be a state? Ga'o-mu mafa'ga'ga' kinu ma'fatatao kontat ki ti manapapasi hao kontrabusion?

When confronted with the actual proposition and not that fake facade meant to pretend that your subordinate position is better than it actually is, they would naturally admit no, there is probably no one in the United States, people or politicians who would prefer to be treated like a territory or come from that position of powerlessness.

Everyone should beware of these sorts of things. These sorts of charming illusions which dress up your oppression, because you exist in the "fantasy" space of those who have to pay taxes. Everyone in the states may fantasize about your status, in the narrow way of not paying Federal income taxes, but would they switch their reality with you? When I am discussing Guam in the United States and trying to get people to understand why I might not be so happy with our current relationship with the United States, I ask them to switch my reality with theirs in another way. I ask them to imagine what it would be like if 30% of their state was occupied by the United States military or that their population was going to increase by 25% because of a military incerase? Would they feel so patriotic or loving of the United States military if it had that sort of existence?

My reason for writing this post is because of the article below, which appeared in the PDN last week. Which states very blandly and without the sort of urgency it should that ""Guam will experience 20 years of population growth in just five years with the military buildup."

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20 years of growth in 5:
Guam population will add 42,000 by 2013
By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno
Pacific Sunday News
September 14, 2008

During rush-hour traffic in Dededo, Tamuning and Tumon, cars often move at barely a crawl in bottleneck areas...

That's Guam today, with its population estimated at close to 173,000.

Add more than 42,000 people to that figure five years from now, according to data from a draft transportation plan.

"Guam will experience 20 years of population growth in just five years with the military buildup," the 2030 Guam Transportation Plan states.

The plan, which takes into account the U.S. military buildup, outlines massive projects that include widening and building new roads for civilian as well as military needs. The plan includes a mass transit system that would work for a lot more people than its current small pool of riders.

The military buildup has been projected to cost as much as $15 billion, and would include: relocating thousands of U.S. Marines and their families from Okinawa; expanding the Navy and Air Force bases; and building an Army ballistic missile defense facility.

By 2015, when the military buildup is expected to be complete, Guam's population will top 231,000, according to the report. Without the military buildup, it would take Guam at least two decades to reach that level of population growth.

The Department of Public Works plan proposes seeking a combination of funds from the Department of Defense, the Federal Highway Administration and other pockets within the federal government.

Some members of the community have voiced a mix of optimism and concern regarding the growth.

Preparation
John M. Lee, who owns a Shell service station along Route 3, in the general area of the preferred site for a Marine base, said he welcomes the anticipated growth.

"Wow," was Lee's initial comment when he heard of the population growth projection.

A larger population means more opportunities for entrepreneurs such as Lee, who's also opening popular Japanese pastry shop Beard Papa's at Guam Premier Outlets.

But, at the same time, Lee would like to see Guam -- as a community -- prepare better to handle the projected growth. He offered the analogy of would-be parents who must learn parenting skills as best as they can before having children.

"If we are going to expect that," he said of the population surge, "we must do our homework."

And that homework, he said, includes establishing social safety nets and a system that makes sure quality of life for those who already call Guam home doesn't suffer.

Potential strain
Economist Joseph Bradley said the bottom line is that, yes, Guam can handle the projected growth.

"After all, we did so during World War II, and again during the Vietnam War," said Bradley, a senior vice president at the Bank of Guam.

Defense Department representatives have called the proposed buildup the biggest military move in Guam since World War II.

The host community, Bradley said, won't like the potential strain of that growth -- crowding, traffic congestion, sewer overflows and water shortages.

"Unless we make some rather enormous moves now, today -- which we should have made last year, or the year before -- if we don't do whatever we can in the civilian community to prepare for what we know is coming, we will come nowhere close to optimizing the benefits that we might still receive," Bradley said.

"It is time to make the tough decisions and take the aggressive actions that are needed for the prospective growth and prosperity of Guam. Given the global economic situation, we can't afford to wait," Bradley said.

Housing
Part of the challenge when 20 years of growth is compressed into five years is whether there will be enough homes for all the newcomers.

Between 1990 and 2000, Guam has seen a population growth rate of 14 percent.

In five years, if the plan's projection is correct, the number of people on Guam will surge about 24 percent -- that means one additional person for every four people who currently live on Guam.

There's no reason to doubt the population growth projection in the transportation plan, states SMS Research and Marketing Inc., a Honolulu research partner for PCR Environmental Inc. PCR has been selected to conduct a housing study for the government of Guam.

Accommodating a population of 215,000 by 2013 would require housing construction rates on Guam to increase by 40 percent to 50 percent, according to SMS.

"If ... the 215,000 projection is used, and there is no change in the housing production rate, Guam would need an additional 5,573 new units, or almost 1,115 units per year, between 2008 and 2013," SMS officials said.

Contrasting markets
The military buildup puts Guam's economic outlook in stark contrast with the gloom engulfing the housing market in the U.S. mainland.

In most of the nation, the number of new homes being built has fallen to lows not seen in decades, while home purchases have seen double-digit drops, according to wire news service reports.

In contrast, Guam faces an overall construction boom that's in the billions of dollars for both private-sector and military projects.

Based on the 2015 population projection, Guam would need about 7,500 more civilian housing units, said Nick Captain, president of Captain Real Estate. His company tracks local housing data.
The military also is expected to build houses within the proposed Marine base in the Finegayan area on Route 3. About 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents are expected to move to Guam.

The bulk of the military buildup construction is expected to start in 2010 -- if the military receives all the environmental clearances it needs by early next year.

During the buildup's construction phase, 12,000 to as many as 20,000 additional construction workers are expected to be needed on Guam, and their count is included in the 2015 population projection.

The military, in an industry forum on Guam earlier this year, floated the idea of Olympic-village-style housing for the temporary workers. The worker housing could be converted into low-cost housing for Guam residents when the projects are completed, according to initial discussions between the local government and Defense Department representatives.

Captain emphasized that Guam is in a unique position of being perhaps the only U.S. location with guaranteed and significant major boost in population and economic growth within the next several years.

"Guam is looking at a phenomenal period of population and economic growth over the next five years, and there will be good and bad accompanying that growth," Captain said. "It is a phenomenal growth."

Guam currently has about 26,500 stand-alone housing units and approximately 5,000 condominium units, according to Captain's estimates. The vacancy rate for the stand-alone houses, or single-family dwellings, is around 10 percent at this time, he estimated.

"If we play our cards right, and the government makes good decisions, the quality of life will increase," Captain said.

Developing social safety nets for local residents is key to helping Guam residents as the island transforms into a much bigger community, Captain said.

1 comment:

coupdecoeur said...

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cordially from France
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