BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Nestled in three luxury beachfront homes just outside a local favorite surf spot on the pristine turquoise waters of Kailua Bay, President Barack Obama and his family and friends are enjoying a seemingly quiet Christmas vacation.
They could have chosen a less expensive and more secure place to stay such as a beachfront home on the Marine Corps Base Hawaii – just a two-minute drive away from the Kailuana Place property where they are now. The president visits the military base daily to workout, bowl with his kids or enjoy the more private beach there. He also could have stayed at a home 15 minutes away on the beach fronting Bellows Air Force Base as President Bill Clinton did
Instead, Obama and his friends annually pool their money to pay for the rental of three luxury beachfront homes. The so-called “Winter White House” – or Kailua home that the president rents two weeks a year – can cost an estimated $3,500 a day or $75,000 a month, according to the web site Gadling.com. The site describes the home where the President sleeps: “The 7,000 square foot home features 5 bedrooms, 5 ½ bathrooms, a media room with surround sound, a kitchen suited for a master chef, a dining room and great room, a secluded lagoon-style pool with tropical waterfalls and a lavish island spa. The ocean lanai and garden lanai showcase ornate landscaping and stunning views of Kailua Bay and Mount Olomana.”
Out of the rental fee for the three homes, owners pay for housekeeping, concierge service and other incidentals designated to them by the president’s coordinators.
Before the president and family arrive, homeowners accommodate weeks of inspections by Secret Service agents who can appear at any time. The Secret Service performs ground, sea and air surveillance of the homes and surrounding properties and background checks on the homeowners’ employees, contractors and neighbors. The telephone company spends several days adding secure phone lines underground. The Secret Service disables the homeowners’ security systems, sets up their own and erects some sort of force field that detects movement in the area.
But the preparation for the President’s arrival does not end there. Local real estate agents secure additional Kailua beachfront homes in strategic places for Secret Service, Navy Seals and U.S. Coast Guard personnel. Secret Service agents who guard the president and the president’s family have their own room at a cost of no more than $250 a day per person. Last year, the Secret Service and Navy Seals rented a total of 6 beachfront homes for the duration of the President’s stay for anywhere between $1,000 and $1,250 per day, local realtors say.
The White House will not disclose any information about this trip or prior trips, or even costs to taxpayers unrelated to security. However, residents staying near the Secret Service and Navy Seals confirm the number of rentals to be the about the same.
Also accompanying the President is an estimated two-dozen White House staff staying a 30-minute-drive away at the Moana Surfrider (A Westin Resort & Spa) on Waikiki Beach. The Moana Surfrider, one of the first hotels ever built on Waikiki Beach, is considered exclusive, prestigious, quaint and expensive. Basic rooms with either a partial or full ocean view cost between from $350 to $450 per night, plus a $20 per night additional charge and 13 percent tax, according to a call to room reservations. A spokesperson for the hotel would not confirm the number of rooms rented by White House staff, or the total cost, or if the White House secured a deal on room rates. The White House also refused to disclose this information.
Back in Kailua, the U.S. Coast Guard personnel man two 30-foot speedboats mounted with high-powered firearms. Four men are stationed on each boat in the canal that leads to the ocean, which is lined with homes. Two smaller boats continuously patrol the waters fronting the presidential rentals. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter is stationed off the tip of Kailua Bay and the Marine Corps Base Hawaii. A nearby corporate office building located on the canal across from the Kailuana homes also has been rented by Secret Service. Security checkpoints are set up at the entrance to Kailuana Place with only the residents and their guests pre-approved by Secret Service allowed access.
This year, the president’s wife and family flew ahead of the President on an Air Force C-40B Special Mission Aircraft, a 32 passenger plane, which according to a White House Dossier analysis, cost taxpayers an estimated $63,000 or $6,330 per hour. “By leaving early, she (Michelle Obama) forced a large logistical support – including a retinue of Secret Service agents – to get itself up and running,” the Dossier reports.
The president followed four days later on Air Force One, which according to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, costs $181,757 per hour to operate. The Government Accountability Office estimates the cost of a roundtrip flight to Hawaii on Air Force One at $1 million.
When the President goes on outings to buy Shave Ice in Kailua town, or to visit Hanauma Bay in Hawaii Kai, or to play basketball with friends at his alma mater Punahou School in Manoa, he doesn’t go alone.
Up to 18 automobiles accompany the President when he leaves his residence, even for a 5-minute trip, to include several police cars, Secret Service manned SUVs, and an ambulance.
Louise Kim McCoy, press secretary for Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, confirms that it is a City ambulance that accompanies the Presidential motorcade. “The City’s Emergency Services Department (EMS) expects the cost to be approximately $10,000 for this visit. However, please note the EMS for the City and County of Honolulu is funded by the State,” she says.
Last year, the Honolulu Police Department reports it spent $250,000 on overtime to guard the President and $100,000 the year before that, when Obama was the President-elect. The city has yet to be reimbursed for any of the costs, a police spokesperson told Hawaii Reporter earlier this year.
Citing security concerns, the President’s administration refused to disclose any information to Hawaii Reporter as to the cost to state or federal taxpayers for the Hawaii trips in 2009 and 2010 or any other information about the President’s visit.
However, the administration maintains costs are in line with previous vacations of previous presidents.
With estimates secured from a host of professionals, city officials and law enforcement, Hawaii Reporter estimates costs to taxpayers will at least include:
- Mrs. Obama’s early flight to Hawaii: $63,000 (White House Dossier)
- Obama’s round trip flight to Hawaii: $1 million (GAO estimates)
- Housing in beachfront homes for Secret Service and Seals in Kailua ($1,200 a day for 14 days): $16,800
- Costs for White House staff staying at Moana Hotel: $134,400 ($400 per day for 24 staff) – excluding meals and other room costs
- Police overtime: $250,000 (2009 costs reported by Honolulu Police Department)
- Ambulance: $10,000 (City Spokesperson)
- TOTAL COST: $1,474,200
- Rental of office building in Kailua on canal
- Security upgrades and additional phone lines
- Costs for car rentals and fuel for White House staff staying at Moana Hotel (Secret Service imports most of the cars used here to escort the president)
- Surveillance before the president arrives
- Travel costs for Secret Service and White House staff traveling ahead of the President
Editor’s note per a reader – add another $280,000: Hawaii Reporter was informed that we left out a major expense from this report. The cost of transporting the Presidential limos, helicopters and other support equipment on a USAF C-17 cargo aircraft. The flight time between Andrews AFB and Hawaii is about 10 hours at approximately $7,000 per hour operating cost. Round trip, this would be at least $140,000 per aircraft. (Sometimes there are more than one aircraft for the support equipment). In addition to the limousines and supporting equipment, the United States Marine Corps provides at least one Presidential Helicopter that is also transported to the site via a C-17. Add another round trip for a C-17 per helicopter, along with the cost of pilots, support crews, and test flights for the helicopter. The helicopter is brought along on every Presidential trip even if there are no plans for use, it is kept on standby for the duration of the trip. Hawaii Reporter’s estimate came up at least $280,000 short due to the omission of the C-17 use.