Council rejects Leeward Planning Commission nominee

The County Council on Wednesday rejected a Mayor Mitch Roth appointee to the Leeward Planning Commission in what the mayor called “retaliation” over his attempt to have a commission member removed in an unrelated action.

Council members dissenting on the confirmation vote of Dana Asis, however, said their no vote stemmed from a concern that the commission, charged with scrutinizing rezoning and land use applications, was stacked too heavily with developers, leaving little voice for the more environmentally conscious West Hawaii residents.

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Asis, who has lived on the island for nine years, is a real estate professional who says on her website, “I fell in love with the luxury real estate market after managing the office of Kukio Properties and later selling at one of the Kona coast’s newest luxury projects, Kohanaiki.”

That raised alarm bells with some council members and also testifier Janice Palma-Glennie, who’s active in promoting shoreline conservation in the region.

“There’s a need for representation beyond real estate and developers,” said Palma-Glennie, adding on the Leeward Planning Commission, “there’s a whole room of people who seem to love the same thing.”

Five council members — North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba, Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David, Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball and Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder — rejected Asis’ appointment.

Villegas said there were other qualified applicants for the position being vacated by former Commissioner Nancy Carr Smith, and she was concerned Roth’s administration didn’t seek input from West Hawaii council members about what experience constituents wanted in their planning commissioners.

The planning commission has been in the spotlight after Roth sought the removal of Commissioner Mark Van Pernis, saying he’s been getting complaints from other commissioners, Planning Department staff and applicants about Van Pernis’ brusque manner. The council Planning Committee, in a tense three-hour session Tuesday evening, agreed to postpone a vote on Van Pernis’ removal until its May 4 meeting to give Van Pernis an opportunity to shape up.

Roth, contacted after the meeting, was vocally irked about the vote.

“Obviously, this is retaliation for yesterday,” Roth said. “They said they wanted diversity. She’s a thoughtful woman, a Filipina, Irish Hawaiian woman who volunteers in the community.”

In addition to her work in real estate, Asis, who left the tech industry in her native Orange County, Calif., to move to the Big Island, has volunteered in the emergency department at Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea since 2014. She also serves as a mentor with the Leukemia &Lymphoma Society and as a patient advocate for the Veterans Affairs Hospital.

Asis, who didn’t attend the meeting, said afterward that she was told she didn’t have to be present after the council Planning Committee interviewed her and recommended her confirmation on an 8-0 vote last month. David had been absent during the committee hearing.

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“I received no requests for more information, no communication from the council (since the committee meeting),” Asis said. “Perhaps I’m being judged by my profession and not by who I am.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.