2021 Sour Poi Awards: Looking Back at the Loathsome, Laughable and Loopy News

We take a look at the best of the worst news as we close the book on 2021.
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Illustration: Chris Danger



Closing the book on 2021 feels a little like discovering that Trader Joe’s treat we’ve been saving was “best by” several months ago—we’re still excited but we’ve lowered our expectations. Our sense of time feels wobbly, altered, our lives still off-kilter. We go cautiously into 2022, hoping there will be many good nights and better days and the pandemic will recede.


What’s our takeaway? Let’s go with: 2021, a helluva lot better than 2020. On the COVID-19 front, most of us got vaccinated, out of the house and back into the routines that frame our lives. After another year of head-scratching news, we brace for more variants and move forward wary of what’s next. How can Honolulu’s vexed rail system—over budget and behind schedule—cost billions and still have wheels and tracks that don’t fit together? Did we really just see another executive admit to embezzling funds for personal indulgence? Thankfully—we all need a little relief—animals not only took over our homes but also some news headlines. Here we present HONOLULU Magazine’s annual Sour Poi Awards, to share outrage, an eye roll, hopefully a laugh at the things we can’t control. We know that sour poi tastes better than fresh to some of you, and to many of us as well. With that, we hope you share our taste for the irreverent, too.



SEE ALSO: Best of 2021: Editor’s Favorite Articles on HONOLULU Magazine



Up in Smoke … Again

Vandals set fire to Waikīkī surf racks, not once or twice but three times in 2021. Each blaze at the racks—located right next to the police substation, for the record—destroys the boards of many residents. Rebuilding takes time, costs the city and taxpayers.



Find Your Own Truck

The return of larger numbers of visitors sends rental car rates soaring to more than $700 a day. Some tourists respond by snapping up cheaper moving trucks and vans, leaving locals in the lurch.



What a Drag!

Dredging work contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Healy Tibbitts Corp. sparks a Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources investigation after divers report finding a path of destruction through coral colonies and a trail of debris. One coral colony shattered and toppled is estimated to be several hundred years old. The company commits to a fix: “Healy Tibbitts understands the significance of Hawai‘i’s precious natural resources, and we are committed to doing everything we can to take immediate restorative action and mitigate further damage to the coral reef.”


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Illustration: Getty Images



Where No Squid Has Gone Before

More than 120 Hawaiian bobtail squid collected from East Honolulu’s Maunalua Bay traveled to the International Space Station in June to help scientists understand how long space missions affect astronauts’ health. Turns out the lead investigator completed her doctorate at the UH Kewalo Marine Laboratory and believes that studying the squid may provide some clues to immune system problems in humans.



Off the Rails

Honolulu’s long-planned and eternally problematic rail transit system reports too-narrow wheels on too-wide tracks. And that’s on top of rising costs that ballooned the shortfall to $2 billion. City officials also say the track crossings—called frogs—have cracks and are poorly welded. After all this, the earliest possible completion of the driverless system is nearly a decade away even if the plan stops 4 miles short of Ala Moana Center.



SEE ALSO: The Best Things We Ate in Hawai‘i in 2021



Get Your Goat

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources devises a lottery to trap and distribute invasive goats that were overrunning the cultural treasure of Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. Hawai‘i Island folks respond, sending in 185 applications. In August, 14 lottery winners receive between 20 and 50 live goats each—the number of animals the state required each winner adopt—resulting in the relocation of 458 feral goats.



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Illustration: Chris Danger



The Grass IS Always Greener

Makakilo residents report the unusual sight of cattle roaming through their suburban backyards for several weeks, including on Halloween. A spokeswoman for the cattle owners says they’re working to corral the cows more effectively after they busted out of their nearby ranch to seek greener grass because of droughtlike conditions at home.



Tell Us What You Really Think

In discussing the community strain created by too many tourists, Hawai‘i Sen. Glenn Wakai asks state economists for data comparing electricity/water use by residents and visitors. After seeing that residents use more resources, Wakai tells the Honolulu Star-Advertiser: “When the tourists don’t come, people are unemployed. They stay home and locals start gobbling up all our natural resources and adding to our sewage treatment plants. So we should actually be inviting more tourists so people are staying at work instead of at home in their air-conditioned rooms watching Netflix all day.”


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Illustration: Getty Images


Red Alert

Reports of military families sickened by smelly water contaminated by petroleum prompt Gov. David Ige and the Hawai‘i congressional delegation to call on the U.S. Navy to suspend operation of the Red Hill fuel storage tanks. U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele: “The Navy is currently experiencing a crisis of astronomical proportions in Hawai‘i.” While the Red Hill facilities have long been plagued by leaks, it took nearly 100,000 people being told their water isn’t safe to drink for the larger call to action. Officials point to the even larger environmental health threat looming to O‘ahu’s water supply if the aquifer is compromised.



Not That Kind of Fix

Five current and former Honolulu city Department of Planning and Permitting employees are named in a federal indictment for taking bribes in exchange for preferential permitting. The department says it’s making sweeping changes to modernize and fix the system.


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Illustration: Getty Images



Sold Out

For more than 50 years, KIKU-TV offered shows beyond the U.S. mainstream: from Japan action hero Kikaida to sumo tournaments where we cheered on our Hawai‘i wrestlers. We also celebrated Filipino music and dance on Filipino Fiesta, drama and travel shows on its airwaves. This summer, current owner RNN National announced it was ending Japanese and Filipino programming to switch all its stations to 24/7 home shopping.



SEE ALSO: My Honolulu: The Magic of Magic Island During the Pandemic 



Meth-ed Up

Former Kaua‘i politician Arthur Brun pleads guilty to all federal charges for leading a drug-trafficking ring while serving on the Kaua‘i County Council. He tells the judge that he sold drugs to support his addiction to meth: “I got no excuse. I take full responsibility for it.” Sentencing is set for March.


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Photo: Getty Images



Say It Ain’t Dough

Founded in 1851, Love’s Bakery filled our bellies with sandwich bread, hot dog and hamburger buns and those addictive tiny powdered Donettes. After the company shuts down under the weight of pandemic-related financial losses, Portland-based Franz Family Bakery keeps the iconic name alive in the Islands. Sadly, some goods don’t measure up: The sandwich bread got smaller and the full-size doughnuts just can’t compare with the bite-sized ones we grew up eating.



Lani Moo-ved

After a bankruptcy court approves the sale of Hawai‘i-founded Meadow Gold Dairy by Texas-based Dean Foods in 2020, the new owners continue to promote the company as “Hawai‘i’s Dairy for over 120 Years” and “Made with Aloha.” The Hawai‘i Foodservice Alliance files a suit alleging that Meadow Gold intentionally misrepresents milk imported from California as being associated with local cows and farmers, complete with mu‘umu‘u-wearing mascot Lani Moo. The alliance contends that consumers are being misled into paying a premium price for imported milk they think comes from local dairies. Meadow Gold issues a statement that milk is processed here, “we have never claimed all our milk is local” and are committed to building more sustainable operations.



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Illustration: Chris Danger



Sew Wrong

Fashion house Sea New York prompts waves of outrage after it “creates” a Hawaiian quilt motif without crediting the Native Hawaiian designer or the cultural traditions behind the patterns. RedValentino also used a quilt design but then acknowledged its origin, working with Pa‘i Foundation and inviting three Native Hawaiian designers to present in spring. Sea drew additional heat for blocking local people from commenting online.



SEE ALSO: HONOLULU Magazine Remembers the Decade That Was: Hawai‘i Through the 2010s



Bite Me

Facing the state’s largest unemployment crisis in decades, the Hawai‘i Department of Labor and Industrial Relations keeps its unemployment offices closed to the public—from early 2020 through November 2021—citing pandemic risks. That doesn’t stop bed bugs from getting in: An outbreak temporarily closes the unemployment call center at the Hawai‘i Convention Center.



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Illustration: Chris Danger



But Hawaiian Punch is Fine

A California court dismisses a class-action lawsuit in November that alleges King’s Hawaiian misleads consumers about where its sweet rolls are made. The complaint from women in Oakland and New York charged that labeling that includes “Est. 1950, Hilo, Hawai‘i” and a crown logo resembling a pineapple led them to believe that the product is currently made in Hawai‘i with “traditional Hawaiian ingredients” such as pineapple juice, honey and sugar. The Hawai‘i-founded company clearly describes its origins and current location on its website.



Unfortunate Souvenir

First lady Jill Biden makes a short stop on O‘ahu after visiting the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The educator visits a Waipahu school vaccination clinic, a barbecue at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and an unnamed beach where she steps on something that punctures her foot.  The world finds out when she turns up on crutches after she returns home.


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Illustration: Getty Images



Mistaken Identity

A once-homeless man who fell asleep while waiting in a long line for food outside a Honolulu shelter in 2017 was locked up in the Hawai‘i State Hospital for two years, where he was forced to take psychiatric drugs. Turns out he was mistaken for a man who had an outstanding warrant related to a 15-year-old drug case. Despite the man’s continued protests that he wasn’t who police claimed, he remained confined in the mental institution until a doctor checked into the case and discovered the truth. His attorneys say the hospital quietly released him with 50 cents in his pocket.  He’s filed a federal lawsuit.



SEE ALSO: A Degree of Homelessness



Still Disconnected

When customers of troubled internet provider Sandwich Isles Communications—which serves 4,000 people living in Hawaiian homestead communities—ask about their eligibility to receive federal emergency broadband subsidies to keep up their connection during the pandemic, disgraced convicted felon and former CEO Albert Hee emerges briefly to answer the call: No. This is the same Hee who was convicted of funneling company money to maintain a lavish lifestyle, complete with houses, vacations and massages for his family, including daughter Breanne Kahalewai, now listed in FCC filings as company president and interim CEO.


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Illustration: Christine Labrador



But Look at That Smile!

Former Hawai‘i County Council member and public access TV CEO Stacy Higa pleads guilty to embezzling $38,000 and bribery involving pandemic relief money. Federal officials say “Higa betrayed his neighbors, the people of Hawai‘i, and American taxpayers to serve his greed and vanity by embezzling funds set aside to help communities in need.” Higa admitted to using the money for personal expenses, including “$20,000 worth of elective aesthetic dental care.”



 Really WRONG Way

A federal judge sentences a 31-year-old Honolulu man to more than three years in prison for assault on a law enforcement officer. It started when the man drove a rental car the wrong way on Nimitz Highway, then made a shooting motion with his hand at a deputy U.S. marshal before crossing the median to drive in the correct direction. The officer called Honolulu Police and pursued the man, who rammed the deputy’s vehicle and struck another car before being stopped and arrested.


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Illustration: Christine Labrador



A Moment of Silence, Please

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends removing eight birds and one plant from its endangered species list, saying they’re likely extinct. They are the Kauaʻi ʻakialoa; Kauaʻi nukupuʻu; Kauaʻi ʻōʻō; kāmaʻo, or large Kauaʻi thrush; Maui ākepa; Maui nukupuʻu; kākāwahie, or Moloka‘i creeper; poʻouli, or black-faced honeycreeper; and Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensis, a plant from the mint family that was found only in Hawai‘i.



SEE ALSO: Meet the Guardians of the Nēnē Who Are Helping to Save Hawai‘i’s Endangered Bird



Just Testing

The Hawai‘i Health Department orders Embry Health to stop conducting unauthorized COVID-19 testing on two islands and issues a $207,000 penalty after it determines the company’s test sites weren’t certified.  Then in December, the Health Department orders another company, NextHealth, to stop conducting unauthorized COVID-19 testing at the Four Seasons Resort Maui in Wailea and sets a $58,000 penalty.


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Illustration: Christine Labrador



Seeing Red

State health officials close downtown Honolulu’s Döner Shack for a second time after employees are reported for not wearing masks. The defiant owner tears down the red “closed” placard issued by the officials, refuses to close and is cited for failing to renew a state permit and failing to pay a $3,000 judgment levied in June.



SEE ALSO: These 10 O‘ahu Restaurants Had Zero to More Than 50 No-Shows on Saturday Night



Buzz Kill

Hawai‘i’s homegrown coffee industry is hit with another threat. This time it’s coffee rust, a devastating disease reported on local plants for the first time. Meanwhile, the coffee berry borer remains a threat.



Who’s Counting, Anyway?

Hawai‘i Senate President Ron Kouchi meant to celebrate the increasing diversity of the legislative chamber when he issues a statement saying the appointment of Lynn DeCoite would make her the ninth woman in the Senate. Oops, she’s the 10th. He quickly sends out a correction.


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Illustration: Christine Labrador



Brake for Nēnē

Nesting season for the world’s rarest goose gets a deadly start at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park when three nēnē are killed by vehicles on Chain of Craters Road within two weeks. Park officials caution against feeding the native birds and urge drivers to slow down, especially from October through May when the geese are foraging to nest. Two more die later in the year.



SEE ALSO: 10 Things You May Not Know About the Endangered Nēnē



Vax for Cash

The Hawai‘i prison system struggles to deal with a shortage of workers amid COVID-19 case flare-ups among inmates and staff, statewide as well as those held in private prisons in Arizona. To encourage vaccination, officials offer $50 account credits to inmates. Republican state Sen. Kurt Fevella, of ‘Ewa Beach, objects to using federal relief funds as vax incentives.



Prescription for Controversy

A longtime state health official for Maui County, Dr. Lorrin Pang, comes under fire when he defends the right of doctors to prescribe unapproved COVID-19 treatments despite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s rejection of the use of two drugs commonly used to treat malaria and heartworm in livestock. Some lawmakers call for the doctor to lose his job and license. Pang says he supports vaccines and hasn’t prescribed the controversial drugs himself.




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Photo: Courtesy of Natalie Pestun



Chris Danger is an illustrator originally from Hawai‘i. After graduating from Leilehua in ’06 (Go Mules!), he attended the School of Visual Arts in NYC, worked in television for a few years, and now runs a successful illustration business creating books for kids and art for magazines. He regularly whips up award-winning work for HONOLULU magazine, thus getting a little taste of home. Chris currently lives in Portland, Oregon with his fiancée, Eva.