In the April 5, 2012 Hawaii Public Television’s forum concerning exemptions of environmental review and public participation, House Speaker Calvin wanted the public to “trust” them. After all, this was about stimulating economy, he explained.

This is an extremely tall order considering their robust record of ignoring the public interest at large and kow-towing to special interests.

How does one “trust” State Capitol legislators when it is very apparent that they do not have the public’s interest in their many deliberations. In the first place, it was disconcerting to see Mr. Robert Harris of the Sierra Club having to kindly explain to House Speaker Calvin Say the provisions of Hawaii’s environmental review laws. It appears House Speaker Say has not ever carefully read the laws in the books.

It’s very hard to “trust” when we see controversial bills being bulldozed through as if there is no tomorrow.

“Trust” cannot be found when controversial bills are posted on Fridays to be heard on the following Monday mornings. How could the public “trust” the decision-makers when votes are taken before public testimonies are posted or read? How can the public “trust” the decision-makers when specific testimonies appear to be deleted from the record? How can the public “trust” when politicians’ words have multiple meanings or they all repeat the same mantra?

Why should we “trust” when legislators are hasty to deny due process and shut off public engagement and participation? But these same politicians are careful “to provide indemnity for any county, its officials, or employees for actions taken regarding exceptional planning projects.”

Why would politicians and bureaucrats need this legal indemnification to shield themselves from their decisions?

Where is the “trust” when bills are systematically manipulated and mutated into unrelated beasts? For example: Senate Bill 755 was first introduced as a Small Business Caucus package to help small businesses in Hawaii. SB 755 was to create an annual exemption from the general excise tax on purchases of: school supplies of less than $15 per item; computers, computer software, and computer supplies of less than $1,500 per purchase; clothing of less than $100 per item; and books of less than $50 per item and so forth.

SB 755 was also to establish a Hawaii peer to peer gaming commission authorized to issue two 10 year licenses to operate peer to peer internet gaming operations.
Now in 2012, the intent of SB 755 SD2 HD2 is to promote economic development by temporarily removing regulatory restrictions on certain state and county projects.

And Calvin Say wants us to “trust” them?

Additionally, House Speaker Calvin Say talked as if these bills were only about exemptions for minor school projects and airport repairs which already have exemption options in the books. His assurances are incorrect. Second term Senator Dela Cruz is already lining up all the ducks in a row to prepare his Transit Oriented Development (TOD) for all of us.

For example: SB2927 SD2 HD1 RELATING TO COMMUNITY PLANNING

Report Title: Hawaii Community Development Authority; State-wide Planning

Description: Establishes planning districts and creates a process for developers to apply for residential and commercial exceptional planning projects. Establishes the transit-oriented or main-street redevelopment program. Authorizes state and county incentives for exceptional planning projects. Establishes a discretionary review process for the transfer of floor area within the planning district. Effective July 1, 2050. (SB2927 HD1)

Say that again, House Speaker? These exemptions are about minor school repairs and fences?

House Speaker also complained about environmental review duplication at state and federal levels. But it’s important to note that not all state and county projects have federal funding or are on federal land. Also, the National Environmental Protect Act (NEPA) is a blanket review for all states and does not include a historical compoment in its review. So, some projects would be free from all public scrutiny and due process under these exemptions.

Calvin Say continues to market these bills appear as harmless and manini as these exemptions are only “temporary”. Even if these exemptions are intended to be a “temporary” for three years, many long-term developments could be initiated and approved during this window period. The public is smarter than to buy into this “temporary” exemptions gimmick.

So far, many island groups have come forward to oppose these measures that seek to subvert laws that protect the public and help ensure logical and effective planning of projects. They include:

  • Hawaii’s Thousand Friends
  • The Sierra Club – Hawaii Chapter
  • OHA – Office of Hawaiian Affairs
  • O’ahu Council Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs
  • Office of Environmental Quality Control
  • Conservation Council for Hawai’i
  • Kaka’ako Makai Community Planning Advisory Council (CPAC)
  • Hui Ho’okipa Network – Kauai
  • Defend Oahu Coalition
  • Keep the Country Country
  • Life of the Land
  • The Outdoor Circle
  • Hawaii Chapter For the Protection of Hawai’I Native Wildlife
  • Permaculture Maui
  • SEED
  • HawaiianKingdom.org
  • Office of Planning, Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism
  • Kailua Neighborhood Board

Additionally, there are over 600 public citizens from all walks of life and affiliations who have stood up and made their voices heard.

Is any legislator taking notes and listening to their constituents or are they following marching orders?

“Trust” the politicians at the State Capitol?

We would like to, but we can’t. It’s easier to trust finding a $100 bill on Beretania Street than to find “trust” at the Hawaii State Capitol.

These legislators’ contorted bills may be politics as usual at the Ledge but to the public, it feels like they are serving the public pungent onions for dessert.

Sweetheart deals should be between lovers; not between politicians and elite exceptional groups.

Trying to convince the public that these sweetheart exemptions are for stimulating the economy does not cut it. The laws that protect the public, Hawaii’s fragile environment, and due process cannot be randomly compromised. Developers and planners need to become more organized in their project management and timelines. It has been stated enough that the environment reviews are not the obstacles. Due process must be an integral part of democracy to ensure equality and protect all concerned. No one should be above or exempted from the law. These exemptions clamoring can be likened to a few exceptional school children wanting exceptional exemption to start school at 7:50 am because they don’t have the discipline to wake up on time, like the rest of us.

There are many equitable ways to work together for a win-win situation for all. It requires all stake holders having a seat at the decision-making table.

Do not bulldoze these bills through and put Hawaii’s future at risk so you can pamper a few.

For this session, we gently offer three immediate solutions for these exemptions – table, burn, or line the birdcage with these problematic bills.

For readers who wish to have a say in this, please share your mana’o.


About the author: Choon James is a member of the Ko’olauloa Sustainable Communities Planning Committee. She has been a real estate broker for over 20 years.