The Legislature is reconsidering whether it was a good idea to force a state agency to collaborate with a community advisory panel over how to develop state land in Kakaako makai.
The Kakaako Makai Community Planning Advisory Council has significantly influenced what gets built on the state’s biggest piece of Honolulu’s undeveloped waterfront since it was formed four years ago, but lawmakers are now considering abolishing the group known as CPAC.
A bill to abolish CPAC, House Bill 680, unanimously passed the House Committee on Water, Land and Ocean Resources last month and is up for decision-making by the Senate Committee on Water, Land and Housing today.
The bill has attracted fierce views, including written testimony from close to 80 people and organizations split on the proposal.
According to a report by the House committee, the purpose of the bill is to allow a broader range of public input shaping Kakaako makai’s future.
Critics of the panel charge that CPAC has become dominated by a few activists who are inhibiting thoughtful planning efforts and don’t reflect broad public opinion.
CPAC supporters contend that the state is trying to curtail public involvement in determining how such a valuable public asset should be used.
The panel was created in 2007 at the direction of the Legislature. Lawmakers were responding to criticism that the state agency guiding redevelopment in Kakaako had a poor history of involving the public in meaningful input.
The agency, the Hawaii Community Development Authority, had solicited private development plans for 31.5 acres largely surrounding Kewalo Basin in 2005, envisioning a mix of residential and commercial development that would pay for public amenities.
Public outcry over the winning plan by Alexander & Baldwin Inc., which included three condominium towers, led A&B to withdraw its plan. In 2006, the Legislature created CPAC and also passed a law that restricted the sale or residential use of state land in Kakaako makai.
Since then, the roughly 50-member CPAC organized meetings and in 2009 published a five-page vision statement with guiding principles for development on the 200-acre peninsula between Kewalo and Honolulu harbors makai of Ala Moana Boulevard.
But some people complain that the group, while established with good intention, has become a ruleless body of red tape dominated by a few members subjectively critiquing and opposing plans.
About 50 people submitted written testimony in favor of abolishing CPAC.
Jeff Nakamura, an architect working on plans for the University of Hawaii’s Cancer Research Center in Kakaako makai, testified that CPAC members couldn’t agree on what guidelines to uphold. “While we met the criteria presented in CPAC’s mission and guiding principles, our project was further examined against the personal agendas of certain individuals,” Nakamura said in a written statement.
Joyce Timson, a development consultant, testified that she was appalled at how CPAC has been run, with some members belittling those with different views. She said credible and passionate members have been disparaged and quit.
“I am not a politically active individual,” Timson said in her testimony. “However, I have finally decided that enough is enough. There are a few organizations in our local government that continue to make doing business in Hawaii virtually impossible. (CPAC) is one of them.”
Anthony Ching, the development authority’s executive director, supports the bill. Ching said CPAC’s main goal of establishing guiding principles is complete. The principles have been incorporated into the agency’s proposed master plan for the area. Ching also said the agency has improved its public participation protocol.
CPAC’s guiding principles include expanding shoreline parks, preserving open view planes, providing a shoreline promenade and adding cultural facilities such as museums and a community center.
A “limited number of small local businesses” such as restaurants, cafes and small shops are also part of the group’s vision to complement public facilities.
CPAC supporters say the group’s work isn’t done. CPAC is needed to keep the development authority from backsliding in the area of public input, they say.
About 30 people testified in opposition to HB680, including the Sierra Club, Hawaii’s 1000 Friends, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Outdoor Circle and the Surfrider Foundation.
Many said they are shocked by the bill and appalled by the rationale that abolishing CPAC will broaden public input, noting that anyone can participate in CPAC meetings.
“The position of the community planning advisory council must be strengthened, not weakened or disposed of,” Michael J.Y. Wong, a Honolulu attorney, said in written testimony.
Dexter Okada, a development authority board member, testified that CPAC is a better opportunity for public input compared with agency hearings because CPAC meetings allow back-and-forth debates that aren’t permitted before the agency.
Ron Iwami, a CPAC member, acknowledges that the community panel hasn’t always operated smoothly, but said the solution isn’t to abolish an important public planning tool.
“We believe in the intent of CPAC, which is to bring the public voice to the table,” he said in written testimony. “Please do not take this important right away.”