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Proposal criticized as a ‘power grab’

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Conservation groups are mobilizing opposition to a Hannemann administration proposal that aims to do away with a 3-year-old commission that is appointed entirely by the City Council and has oversight of the Clean Water and Natural Lands Fund.

Opponents of the proposal, a resolution being heard by the City Council Budget Committee today, call it a "power grab" and an end run around the Clean Water and Natural Lands Commission, which reviews applications seeking to use fund money and submits a recommendation to the City Council.

The fund draws about $4 million annually, and officials estimate it still contains about $8 million.

Resolution 10-149 proposes to replace the nine-member commission with a Clean Water and Natural Lands Advisory Committee that would have a similar role but would be equally appointed by the Council and mayor.

In his State of the City Address this year, Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he planned to use money from the fund to create "livable communities" supporting transit-oriented development along the city’s proposed rail transit line, and for other purposes, such as planning for a Nanakuli regional park.

Commission Chairwoman Marjorie Ziegler said she does not object to the projects, but to how the commission, created by the Council in 2007 to oversee the fund, is being marginalized.

About $3 million from the fund already has been allocated in the mayor’s capital improvements project budget for the Nanakuli park.

"I think the point here is this is a power grab," said Ziegler, adding that she was speaking for herself, not on behalf of the commission. "Why would you want to get rid of a fair and transparent process that does a lot of the legwork for the City Council?

"I think the mayor or other people just don’t feel like they should have to come before the commission," Ziegler said. "I think maybe they just feel that we have too much power, or we’re not rubber-stamping what they want. I don’t know what the concern is."

Messages left with Hannemann administration officials seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Honolulu voters in 2006 approved the establishment of the fund, which receives a half-percent of real property tax revenues for land conservation purposes.

Ziegler was circulating an e-mail urging opponents to contact the mayor and Council members and to testify against the resolution.

Council Chairman Todd Apo introduced the resolution at the request of the administration, which is standard practice for administration proposals, and said he had received a fair amount of calls on the measure.

"I’m waiting to see how that conversation goes," Apo said, adding that he feels the discussion will be beneficial. "We need to look long-term as to how this is going to work for the city and county."

 

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