Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024|
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Hawaii County will have four representatives on the new Build Beyond Barriers working group, a decision-making committee for housing development projects statewide.
The 23-member group was the result of an emergency proclamation issued by Gov. Josh Green on July 17 designed to streamline housing development projects by pausing environmental impact requirements, suspending current land use limitations and easing other restrictions.
The four Big Island representatives on the working group are Mayor Mitch Roth, Planning Director Zendo Kern, Department of Water Supply Manager-Chief Engineer Keith Okamoto and an unnamed representative from the Hawaii Island Burial Council, according to state Chief Housing Officer Nani Medeiros.
The group will have its first meeting at 9 a.m. Friday.
“The key factors we will look at to support a project are consistency with the General Plan and Community Development Plan goals and policies, as well as adequate infrastructure, either existing or proposed, that will support the project,” Kern said.
He did not mention specific housing projects in Hawaii County that would be reviewed by the new working group, but did add “at this time, we are focused on understanding the process to ensure we provide accurate information to the community and potential applicants.”
Medeiros will address additional questions and concerns related to Green’s proclamation at 2:30 p.m. today on the governor’s Facebook page.
Various groups already have raised concerns about legality of the proclamation.
“It’s unconstitutional, unenforceable, and it risks locking up our limited water and developable lands into housing projects that locals can’t afford and might very well be marketed to folks from other places that want to move to paradise,” said Wayne Tanaka, director for Sierra Club of Hawaii.
The Sierra Club will have a seat on the working group, but Tanaka hoped more environmental and cultural groups would have been included.
“The working group does not have representation that reflects the breadth of expertise and intimate place-based knowledge to make proper assessments,” Tanaka said. “I think the Sierra Club is the only environmental group on the working group, and I don’t know every single native species habitat, every single cultural practice or site. We’ll do our best to try and flag issues, but I think it should be clear, this working group significantly lacks the breadth of expertise and knowledge that’s necessary to make the kinds of calls it’s being tasked with.”
Tanaka also noted the proclamation does not address how many of the potential development units would be reserved for Hawaii residents, or if any would qualify as affordable.
“For Hawaii County, if you look at the 40% EMI (equated monthly installment), which is the affordability threshold, that’s equivalent to $2,400 for a studio rental, and this proclamation doesn’t even target that rate,” Tanaka said. “We’re essentially looking at a proposal to suspend a whole range of environmental and cultural and good governance protections to build housing units that may not be affordable to those truly in need of housing or even to local residents.”
The expanded control of the executive branch proposed by the proclamation also is a concern for Tanaka.
“An even bigger concern is the precedent that it sets in terms of overriding our constitutional checks and balances, where you have the executive branch unilaterally suspending a number of laws that were passed by the lawmaking Legislature and then imposing his own policies that may do much more harm than good,” he said. “What’s to stop a future governor from taking another multifaceted and complex, long-standing policy issue and unilaterally proposing their own ideas of how to fix it?”
The Land Use Commission’s oversight would also be restricted. Instead of reviewing all projects greater than 15 acres, the cap would be raised to 100 acres.
“Essentially, up to 100 acres of rural or ag lands could be redistricted to urban without the careful oversight that the Land Use Commission provides,” Tanaka said. “Once the ball is rolling on these projects, the ramifications may affect our quality of life and housing situation for generations. That’s a very slippery slope that we’re sliding down right now.”
Desmon Haumea is a member of the Hawaii Island Burial Council, but clarified he was speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the group when he mentioned his top concerns were related to iwi kupuna (bones of ancestors), along with proper cultural-based knowledge of sites where development could result in the destruction of natural resources.
“Home/house-lessness has been misdiagnosed,” Haumea said, noting that overlooked problems for housing stem from economic disparities, an increase in out-of-state individuals, developments by nonresidents, and many other factors.
Another member of the Burial Council who wished to remain anonymous but was also speaking as an individual said the proclamation does not fix these underlying issues.
“The justification of this emergency proclamation is falsely constructed to bend reality in favor of unrestricted development that will only favor builders and developers,” the person said. “Every time the government tries to take a short cut, we the kanaka lose, and our ‘aina is destroyed and desecrated.”
Both the working group meeting and the informational session will be streamed at https://tinyurl.com/mr3rwpbv.
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