Editor’s Note:This op-ed was written in direct response to Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s recent remarks defending the beleaguered Public Land Development Corporation.
Governor Abercrombie calls the public rejection of Act 55, which created the Public Lands Development Corporation, a “conspiratorial hysteria” (Honolulu Star Advertiser, September 13, 2012, A1) one day after Mililani Trask writes that the uproar is the result of fears that are needlessly “hysterical.” (HSA, September 12, 2012) I do not need to speak for the environment-conscious members of the public who have their own reasons for being leery of a state corporation that gets to exempt its projects from county zoning and state land use designations, except to say that they seem more prudent than hysterical. I will speak only as one of the plaintiffs in OHA v HFDC, the so called “Ceded Lands” case.
What Act 55 calls Public lands are almost entirely the Crown and Government lands of my country. The State Supreme Court in 2008 admitted that we Kānaka Maoli have an un-relinquished claim on these lands, and briefly enjoined the state from selling these lands, pending a resolution of the claims of Native Hawaiians. After Governor Lingle appealed to the US Supreme Court, the state court dropped the issue in favor of legislation (Act 176) in 2009 that made it more difficult to sell the Crown and Government Lands.
What all of this means legally remains unclear. What it means politically is that the State of Hawaiʻi and the Hawaiian Nation have unresolved differences over the lands that legally belonged to the Crown and to our Kingdom’s government.
For purely practical reasons—I’d like to avoid being labeled hysterical—I do not want five appointees of the Governor and the Legislature, whose interests are not necessary mine and every other Hawaiian beneficiary, to be in charge of developing these lands. The same 2009 legislation that supposedly made it slightly more difficult to sell Crown and Government lands, also facilitates exchanges of our lands with private property owners. Now the PLDC’s ability to circumvent zoning laws makes it even easier for individual parcels to be exchanged with corporate partners, with the added attraction of being freed from even having to pursue zoning changes. I predict that numerous exchanges will be taking place, and the Department of Land and Natural Resources will increasingly be managing lands that other people and companies do not want. Crown and Government lands that have been preserved and maintained as conservation or agricultural lands will be urbanized, and the most remunerative of those lands will wind up belonging to developers, their clients, and their customers. I certainly think that is the intent of Act 55.
Now I will be passionate. The Crown and Government lands of the Kingdom belong to the descendants of the citizens of the Hawaiian Monarchy. If the Governor and the Legislature want to manage our lands more effectively for the benefit of every resident in Hawaiʻi while we sort out our legal disagreements, I support that. But exempting a government agency or a private company exempt from law is not effective management, and all of your finger pointing, Governor Abercrombie, will not make it so.
About the author:Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwoʻole Osorio is a professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
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