Two of the top leaders of Honolulu’s beleaguered permitting office have resigned from their posts, effective Tuesday, Mayor Rick Blangiardi confirmed on Wednesday. 

Department of Planning and Permitting Director Dean Uchida and Danette Maruyama, the city’s former deputy managing director who was installed as DPP’s chief innovation strategist in January, are no longer in their jobs.

Department of Planning and Permitting Director Dean Uchida.
Dean Uchida’s tenure as DPP’s director is over. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Deputy DPP Director Dawn Takeuchi-Apuna is now the acting director. 

For months, DPP has been under fire from its customers for what they say are unprecedented delays in obtaining residential and commercial permits, and that frustration appears to have reached a boiling point. As of last month, more than 8,000 projects were pending, according to data released by City Council member Andria Tupola. 

The resignations come just one week before Blangiardi is scheduled to meet with a group of construction industry professionals to discuss the problems with DPP, according to an industry source. 

In a statement, Blangiardi alluded to differences of opinion between himself and the departing DPP leaders.

“As in every difficult leadership challenge, those responsible for producing successful solutions must be aligned in thought and strategy,” he said. “We are moving forward in a different direction to address and correct the decades-old challenges facing this department.”

However, he said Uchida and Maruyama have his “utmost respect and sincere gratitude” for their effort to improve DPP.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi talks to the Civil Beat Editorial Board and reporters, Aug. 3, 2022, at Civil Beat's office.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said the city is moving DPP in a “different direction.” Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2022

“Dean and Danette both know they have my heartfelt best wishes in all of their future endeavors,” he said.

Civil Beat requested an interview with the mayor to clarify how exactly his vision for DPP differed from his former employees. He declined.

Uchida and Maruyama did not return messages seeking comment. But their resignation letters, copies of which the mayor’s office provided, echo the mayor’s statement.

“It has been quite an eventful 21 months with your administration,” Uchida wrote. “Unfortunately, we have some philosophical differences on what is needed at the Department of Planning and Permitting to correct the decades of poor management and leadership. I believe it is an appropriate time for me to step away and allow you and your administration to move in a different direction.”

In her resignation letter, Maruyama said there is “uncertainty” around DPP’s strategic direction and its “city-wide support” that makes it difficult to achieve positive outcomes.

The delays are twice as bad as they used to be – and sometimes even worse, according to DPP data. 

In August 2017, it took an average of about three months to get a residential permit. In 2022, it took more than twice as long, over seven months. 

The outlook is even bleaker for commercial projects. In July 2017, it took an average of about five months to get a commercial permit. In 2022, it took more than a year. 

In an editorial board interview with Civil Beat last month, the mayor said DPP’s problems are one of the things that keep him up at night, and fixing them is of “monumental importance.”

“I’m looking at it right now on how do we solve the fact that people have got to wait inordinate amounts of time, and time is money,” he said. 

Nevertheless, Blangiardi spoke highly of Uchida, saying the director was “doing a very good job in what was a very difficult assignment.”

In a recent interview with Civil Beat, Uchida acknowledged customers’ complaints and didn’t dispute their contention that the department is in the worst shape it’s ever been in. 

“It’s probably true,” he said. “But a lot of it is not necessarily DPP’s fault.” 

During Blangiardi’s tenure, the City Council authorized the filling of 80 positions and the creation of 80 more. Half of the new positions are intended for plan review to decrease the permitting backlog, Uchida said. But the department struggles to hire people to fill those roles in part because the city’s human resources department takes several months to pass along applicants

By that time, anyone worth hiring has already found another job, he said. The department currently has a 30% vacancy rate.

DPP’s antiquated technology also inhibits permit processing, he said. The department is in the process of contracting with a new software company that can speed up operations. 

The department could pay employees more to promote retention and recruitment, but doing so would require additional work with HR and the employees union, Uchida said. 

Contractors told Civil Beat they initially had high hopes for Uchida, who comes from a development background. 

Before taking his DPP role, Uchida was a senior project manager for SSFM, an international consulting and engineering firm. Previously he was the executive director of the Land Use Research Foundation of Hawaii, a pro-development lobbying organization, and former vice president of DR Horton. He was also a land administrator at the Department of Land and Natural Resources. 

DPP needs someone willing to dig into the mechanics of its broken bureaucracy, Tupola said in an interview last week. Uchida had good intentions, but he isn’t that person, she said.  

“Dean is a planner,” she said. “When he worked with DR Horton and all those other guys, he did big picture stuff. He doesn’t do minutiae of broken systems, policy changes, legal jargon. That’s just not his thing.” 

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