James Koshiba, the executive director of Kanu, is down at the Capitol monitoring bills. He’s keeping a close eye on bad legislation, bills that “illustrate how money and connections shape policy” (“Money, Power and Politics Shape Public Policy,” James Koshiba, Honolulu Civil Beat, Jan. 23, 2012).

Koshiba ferrets out bills supported by business and labor interests, and their lobbyists. He is worried the Legislature will address our economic and housing issues by catering to those interests: by legalizing gambling, relaxing regulations on development, and providing tax breaks and subsidies.

“These proposals,” he wrote, “are unlikely to solve the jobs and housing problem, in my opinion. Government subsidies simply cannot bring the price of houses down far enough so they’re in reach of most local residents. And, no amount of casinos or other stimulus can create jobs with wages high enough to afford a home in one of the hottest housing markets in the world.”

That’s a grim diagnosis, one that I happen to agree with.

Koshiba, one of Hawaii’s brightest and best, is a graduate of Punahou School, class of 1991. He then went on to two highly regarded schools on the Mainland. At Brown University, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the honor society whose motto is “Love of learning is the guide of life.” After Brown, he earned a graduate degree at the Harvard Kennedy School.

In a photo that accompanies an interview in Hawaii Business (March, 2010), he is shown wearing faded blue jeans and a long-sleeve shirt with rolled up cuffs. The look is casual, relaxed. His hands are tucked in his pockets. His mid-distance stare, however, suggests a young man with a lot on his mind.

Asked by the interviewer what Kanu, the name of his organization, means, he answers, “In the Hawaiian language, it means ‘to plant.’ It also has an underlying meaning: ‘Passed down by inheritance from ancestors.”

Mindful of the seeds of tradition, he looks forward to future growth.

To deal with our need for housing and jobs, he wants the Legislature to “invest in our people.” In fact, he believes that this is the “only” thing government can do.

James Koshiba, meet Donovan Dela Cruz, the first-term state senator who represents District 22 (Kunia Village, Mililani Mauka, Wahiawa, Whitmore, Hale‘iwa, Mokule‘ia, Waialua, and Sunset Beach).

As a senator, Dela Cruz can introduce bills and vote. He also serves as chair of the Committee on Water, Land, and Housing

Like Koshiba, Sen. Dela Cruz graduated from high school in 1991. His alma mater is Leilehua High, in Wahiawa, a plantation town.

And like Koshiba, Sen. Dela Cruz went on to the Mainland to study. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he majored in journalism and communications.

I first met Dela Cruz back in the early oughts when he was working in public relations and compiling a guide to local eateries and okazuya. I was quite taken by his energy and his interest in traditional Hawaii-style Japanese food. He had a blazing smile, one that could match, kilowatt for kilowatt, anything put out by Wally Amos.

Dela Cruz told me that he was thinking of running for City Council. I told him that if walked the district, he’d have a good chance of winning. He won.

Last year, Sen. Dela Cruz had a good session. He introduced SB 1555, which passed and was signed into law by the governor. Now known as Act 55 (2011), the measure created the Public Land Development Corporation.

The corporation has the authority to develop land in partnership with private developers and–tan-ta-ran!–circumvent many state and county laws relating to land use, zoning, and construction standards.

In a photo that ran with a recent interview in Honolulu Weekly (Nov. 23, 2011), Sen. Dela Cruz is shown dressed in a blue pin-striped jacket, blue button-down shirt, and a white tie. His arms are crossed. His multi-kilowatt smile is on display.

Earlier, on Oct. 12, the Weekly ran a critical article about Act 55 that ended with the reporter quoting an environmentalist: “There’s a lot of ‘trust us, trust us’ coming from Dela Cruz and [the Department of Land and Natural Resources], but as we’ve seen in the past, we can’t trust you. Our interests don’t align with yours.”

A week later, the Weekly printed a letter submitted by Sen. Dela Cruz. “The focus of Act 55,” he explained, “is on underutilized lands, dilapidated state parks and economic development with the goal of creating JOBS through public-private partnerships.”

In the Nov. interview with the Weekly, which was meant to give him a chance to further air his views on development, Sen. Dela Cruz said, “All the bills related to the redevelopment of our urban core and our main streets, cutting some of the red tape…that’s why the [Public Land Development Corporation] has those exemptions, so that we can be consistent with visioning. So that government is not in the way and forcing us to have the same outcome.”

Donovan Dela Cruz and James Koshiba have a problem. Each has come up with a fragment of a solution. Two heads, they say, are better than one. The two Gen-Xers need to have a serious conversation.

Sen. Dela Cruz’s Act 55 will create jobs. It will even create JOBS, well-paying union jobs. Those jobs are welcome, but they will come at a price. Will there be full disclosure of the cost of the tax breaks, subsidies, or other public give-aways? The supply of luxury condos will increase, but that will be of little consequence to local people who need housing they can afford.

Meanwhile, what about Koshiba’s dream of government investing in people? I’d say it gets trampled on whenever the DOE straight arms teachers or the UH squanders resources in pursuit of Division-One glory.

About the author: Warren Iwasa is a long-time resident of Honolulu.

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