City Council mandates sprinkler retrofits
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer
In response to one of the costliest high-rise fires in Honolulu history, the City Council yesterday required sprinkler systems to be retrofitted into some 33 business buildings constructed before a 1975 ordinance required such precautions.
But the Council devoted the most time yesterday hearing from the public on a proposal to ban smoking in restaurants. While the bill earlier appeared to have majority support, last night it failed to move forward, although backers say it's not dead yet.
The sprinkler law will affect business buildings more than 75 feet tall. Fire Capt. Lloyd Rogers said HFD would still like to see retrofitting required in some 300 older residential buildings, as well. "That will be the next battle," he said.
The measures are in response to the April 1, 2000, fire at the Interstate Building, which injured 11 firefighters and caused an estimated $12 million in damage. It took 125 firefighters nearly four hours to control the blaze.
The council unanimously approved the retrofit requirement, which Councilman Andy Mirikitani and Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura introduced. "Many lives will be saved by this," Mirikitani said.
Yoshimura said passing a bill to require the changes of residential buildings would be much tougher. He said businesses approve of the change because insurance savings and increased property values make the move economically palatable.
The smoking ban was up for the second of three readings necessary for it to become law.
But after more than four hours of testimony most favoring the bill only seven of the nine Council members were in the room for the vote. When four supported it and three opposed it, the bill failed to move forward.
While most of the Council members acknowledge the public-health threat of second-hand smoke, they worry that visitors, especially those from Asia, will cancel vacations in Honolulu if they can't smoke here.
The four in favor were: Duke Bainum, John Henry Felix, Steve Holmes and Gary Okino. Opposed were: John DeSoto, Mirikitani and Yoshimura. Council members Rene Mansho (who was on a flight out of state) and Romy Cachola were absent.
Felix, who introduced the bill, said he thinks the measure still has a chance to pass in the coming months. He said he expects that people who feel strongly about the bill will call or write to the council members to express their views.
In another action, the Council took the first step toward condemning the Tantalus property of a man whom the city blames for the collapse of part of Round Top Drive last year.
The Council voted unanimously to begin the process of condemning property at 2845 Round Top Drive, owned by architect Jo Paul Rognstad.