Longtime local lobbyist David Arakawa hasn’t registered to lobby at the city despite advocating against recent legislative proposals to reshape Honolulu’s parking and urban-planning policies.

Arakawa is the executive director of the Land Use Research Foundation, a group that lobbies on behalf of landowners and developers in Hawaii. Marti Townsend, who leads the Hawaii chapter of the environmental group Sierra Club, filed a complaint with the city ethics commission Friday highlighting Arakawa’s failure to register to lobby.

The filing comes ahead of the Honolulu City Council’s Tuesday hearing on Bill 2, which aims to make the city’s rules on off-street parking and building design more flexible and environmentally friendly.

David Arakawa testifies at the Honolulu City Council.
David Arakawa testifies at the Honolulu City Council in 2018. He’s under fire for apparently failing to register as a lobbyist with the city. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Lawmakers have recently softened language in the measure to ease developers’ concerns. Specifically, developers have pushed back against the proposed mandatory “unbundling” of future parking spaces from residential units, as well as proposed distances for building setbacks. 

Those changes followed the Department of Planning and Permitting’s regular meetings earlier this year with LURF, which Townsend cited in her complaint as an example of Arakawa’s lobbying activities. She noted Arakawa’s name is missing from the city’s list of 2020 registered lobbyists. 

It’s not the first time Arakawa has run afoul of city ethics rules. Civil Beat reported in 2018 that Arakawa had failed to register as a lobbyist. After the story, Arakawa registered. But Arakawa’s name is also missing from the city’s 2019 list of registered lobbyists. And despite registering in 2018, he does not appear to have filed a required annual report detailing his spending that year.

Arakawa paid a $2,000 fine to the Hawaii State Ethics Commission for failing to register as a state lobbyist between 2008 and 2014. He paid another $2,000 on behalf of LURF. He is currently registered to lobby with the state.

Arakawa didn’t respond to a voicemail and email from Civil Beat on Monday seeking comment for this story.

No Penalties For Failure To File

Jan Yamane, executive director of the Honolulu Ethics Commission, said she can’t comment on Townsend’s complaint due to confidentiality requirements. Typically, however, she said the commission investigates complaints and sends cease and desist letters to lobbyists who are out of compliance.

Achieving compliance can be difficult in part because the city ethics commission doesn’t have much power to force people to follow the rules.

Yamane said the commission has the power to suspend or revoke lobbyist registrations for people who violate the rules. But there are no fines for people who fail to register to lobby. She doesn’t know of any lobbyists who have had their registration revoked or suspended.

The lack of penalties is in contrast with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, which can fine lobbyists $1,000 per violation for up to three years. The Campaign Spending Commission also has a schedule of fines that it can levy against candidates and organizations who fail to file or file late.

More than three years ago, Yamane told Civil Beat she wanted to overhaul the city lobbying rules and get rid of unnecessary barriers to filing, such as a requirement that annual reports be notarized. She wanted to move the process online instead of the paper filings that are uploaded as pdfs.

But that hasn’t happened. Yamane said Monday that the reason is lack of resources.

“We’ve been so cash-strapped that it’s very difficult to make any kinds of changes because we simply don’t have the capacity to do it,” she said.

Over the past three years, Yamane has worked to get ethics trainings online and to get funding for additional staff. She said the commission has only two attorneys — and no investigators — working along with support staff. Yamane is trying to hire an investigator and is waiting for approval to hire additional budgeted positions.

The requirement to notarize forms has been extra tough for lobbyists during the pandemic, where there are fewer notaries available, Yamane said.

Yamane said the commission has set up a permitted interaction group to analyze potential changes to the lobbying rules.

Townsend says the lack of enforcement power is disappointing.

“There’s no point in having laws on the books if we’re not going to put any teeth behind them,” she said. “This contributes to the overall eroding of public faith in government.”

Civil Beat reporter Marcel Honoré contributed to this story. 

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