Seeking compromise, a new document to be signed Friday restores environmental review, historic preservation and open meetings laws.

A new emergency proclamation related to housing will reverse the most controversial aspects of a previous proclamation in an effort to bridge increasingly divided sides, Gov. Josh Green said Thursday.

“I don’t think war over process is going to help anybody,” Green said in an interview. “I actually think we need to build housing for people.”

The new proclamation will restore environmental review and historic preservation laws and give back power to a state-level zoning authority. Perhaps most important, it will allow public testimony before a working group established to review and certify housing construction.

Green, who is expected to sign the proclamation on Friday, said he is trying to work with people who have stepped up to oppose the previous measure, adopted in July.

“My intention long before the emergency proclamation has always been to find a pathway to build housing and to honor our traditions of environmental protection and culture,” he said in an interview. “I never intended anything except to build housing we need.”

Governor Josh Green surrounded by members of his administration holds explains to the media the significance of the signed emergency proclamation and the historic moment
Gov. Josh Green, shown here at a July signing ceremony for a proclamation on housing, is walking back the most controversial aspects of the measure in a new proclamation to be signed on Friday. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The previous emergency proclamation marked a bold attempt to allow more homes to be built in the islands. The proclamation by decree suspended numerous land-use and environmental statutes as well as the “Sunshine Law” governing open meetings. In their place, the proclamation adopted a series of emergency rules with the force of law to govern housing development. 

The measure put much power in the hands of a panel, the Build Beyond Barriers Working Group, composed primarily of state and county government officials as well as non-governmental organizations including the Sierra Club. Chairing the group was Nani Medeiros, Green’s chief housing officer who previously helped develop tiny home villages for homeless people in West Oahu.

It was all done in the name of addressing a housing crisis that has driven median single-family home prices on Oahu to over $1 million, forcing a steady exodus of families from the state.

Critics immediately objected. Environmentalists including the Sierra Club sued, alleging Green’s move exceeded the governor’s emergency powers. A public comment period during the most recent working group meeting in August turned into a free-for-all of criticism. Medeiros stepped down after opposition turned into personal threats against her and her family.

Nani Medeiros, the chair of the governors housing committee answers questions from media regarding the upcoming emergency proclamation
Nani Medeiros, who chaired the Build Beyond Barriers Working Group, stepped down earlier this month in the face of criticism. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The revised proclamation will walk back the most controversial aspects of the original proclamation, administration officials said.

For example, the proclamation will restore Hawaii’s environmental review statute, which requires environmental impact statements for certain developments. The document also will restore a statute relating to conserving historical resources, including Native Hawaiian burial grounds. A provision altering the authority of the Hawaii Land Use Commission, a state-level zoning authority, also has been removed, administration officials said.

The Sunshine Law also is back, which means the public will have the opportunity to testify on agenda items at working group meetings, which will be held virtually. 

Another change: the proclamation specifically will not cover development in Lahaina.

Green said he was saddened by the criticism Medeiros faced, which the governor said became unacceptably personal and vicious.

But he said his goal is to reach out to critics and work with them.

“In the spirit of collaboration, I’m going to go 95% of the way across the debate to meet people, so that people will see I only want to build housing,” he said.  “I hope that this sends the message, that this shows that we always intended to do the right thing.”

The changes were outlined Thursday by Hakim Ousanfi, executive director of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, Linda Chow, a deputy attorney general, and Scott Glenn, Green’s senior adviser for federal affairs, climate and housing. 

Ouansafi said the revised proclamation was the “result of a group effort that took weeks to put together.” He stressed that the goal of Green’s emergency proclamation always has been to speed the development of affordable housing. The amended proclamation emphasizes that in its title, which is “Emergency Proclamation Related to Affordable Housing.” The previous order was titled simply “Emergency Proclamation Relating to Housing.”

Committee Will Replace Working Group Chair

Ouansafi said he hopes the changes will bring skeptics on board.

“I want everybody to team up with us,” he said. “Let’s build some housing.”

The new proclamation also changes the working group’s chair. Replacing Medeiros as the chair will be a three-person leadership teams composed of Ousanfi, Mary Alice Evans, director of the Office of Planning and Sustainable Development, and Dean Minakami, executive director of the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp.

Green said it is essential to have developers and environmental organizations come together.

“The conflict has boiled over,” he said. “And it’s boiled over in ways as governor I can’t allow to continue.” 

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author