The Public Land Development Corporation, under pressure from community groups, has agreed to allow the state’s public access TV channel to broadcast the meeting.

That might seem like a routine event — a public TV channel livestreaming and taping a public meeting.

But last week, PLDC officials were refusing to allow Olelo to broadcast the event, set for Wednesday evening, on its website and television channel. The Sierra Club also hoped to set up a tent outside of the small state conference room where the meeting is scheduled to take place so people who won’t fit in the room can watch it on a monitor.

In an email to the Sierra Club Thursday, Evern Williams, community development manager for Olelo, relayed the following:

I just got off the phone with Randal Ikeda, program officer at the PLDC. He is requesting that we do NOT do a live production AND that no arrangements be made for viewing of the hearing outside of the small conference room. He said that the PLDC is also taking over as executive producer of this event and reserves all rights to the footage. They have a right to do this if it is their event. They may even consider restricting other cameras in the room . . .

The PLDC, created by the Legislature in 2011, has been under fire from environmental groups and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs from the beginning. Supporters, including state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, say it can help shore up aging public infrastructure and bring in revenue for the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources for conservation projects. But critics say its powers are too broad and that the agency lacks adequate controls when it comes to environmental and cultural concerns.

PLDC officials have been holding public hearings throughout the state in recent weeks to hear testimony on the draft rules they’ve created to govern the PLDC.

It’s been a bruising tour, so far. And videos of meetings on the Big Island have been widely shared on the Internet and local news broadcasts.

People are angry and, in the video, curse at PLDC executive director Lloyd Haraguchi and Randal Ikeda, the program officer. One testifier rips the proposed rules in half while he’s standing at the microphone, throwing the pieces on the floor. “You disgust me,” a Hilo man tells them.

So when Olelo, the island’s community access channel that regularly records government meetings, approached the PLDC about taping the upcoming Oahu meeting for free and sending a signal to a monitor in an overflow tent outside, the PLDC said no.

That didn’t go over well with the Sierra Club.

“The idea that they are trying to restrict public access is just outrageous,” Anthony Aalto, a board member of the Sierra Club’s Oahu chapter, told Civil Beat on Friday.

Robert Harris, executive director of the state chapter said it was a poor commentary on the agency’s openness to the public and questioned why the PLDC would schedule a public meeting in such a cramped room.

“The PLDC’s stubborn refusal to allow a simple TV feed for people outside of the room is a sorry comment on the Administration’s willingness to listen to the public,” he wrote by email. “Apparently they just don’t care.”  

Then, later Friday, the PLDC changed it’s mind.

“We are going to allow streaming,” said Haraguchi, adding that the tent and chairs were OK, too. “Whatever they want to do.”

And he said other people could bring their video cameras.

Why the sudden change?

“In speaking through the subject with Lloyd, we made the decision that it’s in the public’s interest that we should stream it,” said Ikeda.

Trying to Keep the Meetings Focused

Public testimony at other hearings has been far-reaching, going beyond the rules to discuss broader matters such as Hawaii’s annexation, the Monroe Doctrine and Linda Lingle’s Senate run.

But PLDC officials hope to keep the focus on the proposed rules at Wednesday’s Oahu meeting. Haraguchi says the public meetings are intended to take comment on the rules — not other things.

“People get sidetracked,” said Haraguchi. “Most of the meeting in Hilo was about other things. I let it go. It was pretty emotional.”

But he said that if the situation continues to spiral out of control, he will step in.

“As we get closer, and if I don’t think it’s right, I will cut it off if I need to. I mean if they start talking about their mother and father, you know.”

The PLDC announced last month that the agency is exploring several projects, including developing lands that are currently being farmed on Oahu’s Ewa Plain, extending a land permit for a Big Island bee farmer and making capital improvements to the Olomana Golf Course.

But critics were swift to point out that the PLDC was moving forward on projects before its rules were in place, rules which are expected to provide a check on its broad powers.

At Wednesday’s meeting, testimony is expected to include suggestions on how to tighten these powers.

“We sympathize with the idea of making better use of the state’s resources as a way of funding activities like the protection of watersheds,” said Aalto. “But we are also very concerned that it be done in a way that doesn’t put making a profit ahead of everything else. And the draft rules are completely inadequate on that front. They don’t do enough to protect the environment and protect public interest.”

The PLDC meeting on Oahu will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday, August 29 at DLNR’s Kalanimoku Building — Land Board Conference Room 132. Address: 1151 Punchbowl St., Honolulu, HI 96813

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