Although more extreme than some may have expected, statewide attention on the Public Land Development Corporation (PLDC) is a welcome sign and, as it so happens, necessary to the fulfillment of the intent of the 2011 law that created it.
Still, it is clear that without adequate advance explanation, the public could not help but assume the worst when the PLDC’s draft administrative rules were posted in July for public comment. But at this point in the process, calls to abolish the PLDC are counterproductive, particularly when there is so much yet to be defined.
Recognizing that there exists pervasive assumptions about its powers, the PLDC this week is considering adoption of a strategic plan that reaffirms adherence to federal and state laws on the environment (including environmental impact statements), historic preservation, transparency (Hawaii’s Sunshine Law) and restriction on the sale of ceded lands.
Detailed FAQs are available here: http://hawaii.gov/gov/faq/public-land-development-corporation-pldc.
The PLDC does not have "superpowers," as described in a recent commentary by Laura Thielen, a candidate for state Senate District 25 ("Abolish PLDC before it has chance to do damage," Star-Advertiser, Island Voices, Sept. 12). In actuality, other existing state agencies have the same or even greater authority.
Thielen’s criticisms regarding the lack of expertise or disclosure requirements of the PLDC board members and the lack of restrictions on the sale of land are all unfounded.
The board members are chosen for their expertise in land, improvement and finance issues. HRS Chapter 84, titled the Standards of Conduct, of which the Code of Ethics is a part, applies to all state employees (members of boards are considered employees under this chapter). Furthermore, the PLDC is subject to the same restrictions on the sale or gift of land as all other state agencies and corporations.
Feeding into organized fear and further disseminating myths about "unfettered discretion" distract from the truth that the PLDC would not only guarantee but expand opportunity for public input. For PLDC projects, public comment meetings are required before both the board and title agencies.
Much attention has been placed on the PLDC’s land-use exemptions, but these are not a threat. All PLDC projects are subject to conditions imposed on the proposed use of the land by the title agency. Also, the county may also impose its own conditions as part of its agreement to allow any connection to county infrastructure.
The full potential of the PLDC becomes clear when we consider that the state faces years of deferred maintenance and upgrades with finite budgetary resources. This has resulted in parcels falling into disrepair, succumbing to choking overgrowth and becoming more susceptible to invasive species.
Ironically, when Thielen was chairwoman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources under the Lingle administration, she spearheaded the "Recreational Renaissance" that included public-private partnerships for the purpose of developing land to raise revenue, acknowledging that public recreational facilities were in "dire need of some tender loving care."
This is not dissimilar to the PLDC’s mission.
The PLDC provides an opportunity to forge partnerships with the counties, businesses, nonprofits and communities to catch up and keep pace with these very real threats to public lands. It has the potential to spur and support environmental and historic preservation projects, and even agricultural ventures that literally cultivate the fruit of these lands for the benefit of Hawaii’s people.
Calling for the repeal of the PLDC throws away a genuine opportunity. Worse, it impedes an ongoing public comment process designed to ensure that all voices are heard.