With the election a week away, the Hawaii Sierra Club is making a final push to ensure the Public Land Development Corporation is a major issue in legislative campaigns.

The environmental group, which in recent months has taken a firm position that the PLDC should be repealed, has unveiled a website called GrandTheftAina.com.

The purpose? To call out candidates and lawmakers on their position on the PLDC, which has increasingly become a hot button political issue. The group polled more than 100 legislators and candidates who are running for seats at the Legislature.

The PLDC, which was signed into law last year, enlists private companies to fast-track development and shore up aging infrastructure on public lands. Potential projects include the decaying Waikiki Natatorium and the development of a soundstage on agricultural lands in Ewa, as well as revamping small boat harbors and renovating aging public schools.

But public opposition to the PLDC has intensified in recent months, with nearly 700 hundred people turning out during public hearings in September to register their opposition to the agency. A growing number of politicians have also been calling for the repeal of the PLDC — or at least major changes to it — this upcoming legislative session which begins in January.

New candidates such as Laura Thielen, who is running for the Senate, and Keiko Bonk, who is running for the House, have vowed to kill the PLDC, making the issue a major part of their campaigns.

Meanwhile, candidates who have maintained their support for the agency have found themselves on the defensive.

“I’m just the poster child at this point,” said House Speaker Calvin Say, who has been attacked by the Sierra Club and Local 5 for his support of the PLDC. He’s being challenged by Bonk, a member of the Green Party, this election. The Sierra Club is set to drop a new ad against Say on Thursday that reads:

A dangerous new law will allow our public parks and beaches to be turned over to big developers. It was pushed by Calvin Say, who collects thousands from special interests it could benefit. Was it worth it Rep. Say?

Say told Civil Beat that he didn’t have the resources to fend off the attacks and criticized the negativity of the ads.

He said the PLDC should be given a chance to show how it can benefit the greater public by taking advantage of underutilized public lands. Say said he was open to amending the law to instill greater environmental protections or even repeal the PLDC if justified.

But while the PLDC has become a politically charged issue, he said he’s not going to back away from it.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Yes, I’m going to push for repeal,’ so people don’t bother you,” he said.

“But to tell you I’m going to repeal it now, I’m not being true to myself on a personal integrity note.”

Say is one of only two candidates in the House — Rep. Sharon Har — that is listed as supporting the PLDC on GrandTheftAina.com. For the House, 40 lawmakers or candidates are listed as wanting to repeal the PLDC and 36 others are uncertain or non-responsive. On the Senate side, only five lawmakers are listed as supporting the PLDC, 16 as being in favor of repealing the agency, with 15 either uncertain or not responding.

The Sierra Club list appears to reflect a growing reluctance of politicians to align themselves with the increasingly controversial agency. The PLDC has been criticized as having broad, vague powers that allow developers to skirt environmental checks and county oversight. It also allows for no-bid contracts.

“There are very few legislators that are willing to publicly support or commit to the PLDC,” said Harris. “It seems that most legislators are moving in the opposite direction in saying that there are genuine questions about the agency and saying we want to look at it again.”

There are exceptions, including Sen. Malama Solomon, who has joined Gov. Neil Abercrombie in vigorously defending the PLDC in recent months amid the growing attacks. She recently helped craft a strategic plan to govern the organization.

The website is the latest assault by the Sierra Club against candidates who have supported the PLDC. The group has sent out tens of thousands of mailers in three district races.

In the run up to the primary, the Sierra Club criticized Rep. Pono Chong in a mailer that said he “voted to allow our public beaches, parks, and schools to be turned over to private developers.”

But the group lauded his opponent, Rep. Jessica Wooley for supporting a repeal of the PLDC. Wooley won the primary. Harris said that he thinks the PLDC played a role in Chong’s surprising defeat.

The Sierra Club’s new ad against Calvin Say:

calvin say

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