KAPOLEI — A riddle, of sorts: If the overwhelming majority of community members testify in favor of a proposed action, and the City Council member representing that community agrees with them, how can a vote on the long-term vision for that community go the other way?
That’s what dozens of Waianae Coast residents are left scratching their heads about, after the Honolulu City Council on Wednesday voted to approve the Waianae Sustainable Communities Plan with the controversial “purple spot” of light industrial zoning in Lualualei Valley inside it.
“This vote is just another indication of the way in which politics are done in Hawaii,” Marti Townsend, program director for KAHEA, the Hawaiian-environmental alliance, told Civil Beat after the 6-3 vote. She wiped tears from her eyes and paused to thank citizens who had taken hours out of their day to come to Kapolei Hale to testify.
“It’s not transparent, it’s not straightforward. The developers were not in the room today, they did not testify,” Townsend said. “People testifying in support of the purple spot were far outnumbered by those opposed to the purple spot. And yet the purple spot lives. And that’s because there are puppet masters outside of the Council hearing room that are pulling strings, pushing the Council to vote.”
The decision is important to the Waianae community, but it also sheds light on how similar processes will play out around the island throughout 2012. This year will be a year of community planning as six of Oahu’s eight regional planning documents are up for review.
Townsend chalked the vote up to campaign contributions from absentee developers, but there was another key player in the room Wednesday. Planning Director David Tanoue has been accused by opponents of sidestepping the public process and ignoring the community’s will when he inserted the purple spot late during the planning process.
Neither Tanoue nor any the six Council members who voted in favor of the final plan really made a full-throated defense of the inclusion of the purple spot during the packed meeting. Much of the Council’s post-testimony discussion focused on whether the Council should re-insert a small park (the “blue dot”) near the PVT construction landfill. (The final answer: No.)
Tanoue was called the podium to answer questions, and explained the timing of the Oahu General Plan and the consequences of not approving an updated community plan in some form. Civil Beat noted in November 2010 that Tanoue, a lawyer by training, has never opposed a major development project.
Vice Chair Ikaika Anderson came closest to arguing in favor the purple spot, and even his remarks stuck mainly to process. He’s chair of the Zoning and Planning Committee that opted to keep the purple spot in the plan last week. After that vote, Anderson told Civil Beat the community hadn’t vetted alternatives to the purple spot.
Some members of the community did testify in favor of keeping the spot in, saying they hoped Tropic Land LLC’s industrial zoning of 96 acres would allow for the development of a vocational training school or would create some jobs for the area.
Kimo Kelii, a member of the Nanakuli-Maili Neighborhood Board, was among those pushing for the purple spot to stay. He cited educational opportunities in both his oral and written testimonies.
Kelii and others were drowned out by agriculture advocates — many associated with or sympathetic to Mao Organic Farms. They talked about how little of Hawaii’s food is grown in the islands, and warned that urbanizing agricultural lands would only make self-sufficiency less attainable.
“Allowing urban development in this small area, which is at the back of Lualualei Valley, deep inside the agricultural district, it’s going to act like a cancer, an urban cancer, that will spread through the farming community in Lualualei,” Townsend said. “While it is true that there are thousands of acres everywhere else to farm, the reality is that there is an intact farming community in Lualualei Valley.”
District 1 Council member Tom Berg, who represents the area, agreed, and tried multiple times to remove the purple spot from the plan. He was joined in dissent by Tulsi Gabbard and Breene Harimoto. Just months after asking that Berg be stripped of his voting privileges, Harimoto explained that his vote was largely in support of Berg because “the council member of the district is closest to the ground and understands his or her district best.”
That’s a similar sentiment to one expressed by Anderson to Civil Beat in December, when he said he generally tries to defer to the council member of the district and that he was open to removing the purple spot from the plan.
But yet, the purple spot lives.
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