Editorial: Don’t delay moves to replace OCCC
Any land-use permit process gives government a chance to examine a project before giving the go-ahead.
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Any land-use permit process gives government a chance to examine a project before giving the go-ahead. However, there is a point at which withholding a permit accomplishes little more than needlessly delaying a critical project.
The Honolulu City Council appears to have reached that point, in its current positioning to postpone a permit for the relocation of the county’s jail.
The Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC) has been in dire need of an overhaul. The pending work on the Honolulu rail project, to be done near its current Kalihi location on Dillingham Boulevard, makes the time right for reimagining the area without the correctional center sitting there.
And yet the Council, through its Zoning, Planning and Housing Committee, is leaning toward halting the relocation effort, at least for the near term. The administration of Gov. David Ige needs a Plan Review Use (PRU) permit to advance the project, but some Council members see it as “premature” and oppose its issuance.
The question is: Does the city have a genuine land-use policy rationale as the basis for withholding the permit? If so, the Council has not yet made a convincing case for it.
State officials have debated the future of OCCC for at least 15 years, due largely to its overcrowded and dilapidated conditions. Ige has wanted to fast-track it, due in part to the advent of the rail project, and in his 2016 State of the State address pledged to move the jail to Halawa.
Pressure to correct the problem intensified further in 2017 when the ACLU filed a complaint with the federal Justice Department seeking an investigation about “overcrowded, unsanitary and unsafe” conditions at the state’s correctional facilities, including OCCC.
The state went through a site selection process, settling on the location of the Department of Agriculture’s animal quarantine station, near the existing Halawa prison. Also, a year ago Ige signed off on the project’s environmental impact statement.
But the legislators have balked at the project cost, estimated at $525 million. One reason: A state task force on corrections has sought to reduce the prison population as well as the need for a large correctional center that is primarily geared for pre-trial detentions. The jail population also would decline, over time, if the recommended policy changes are implemented.
Councilman Ron Menor, who chairs the Council zoning committee, said the panel still is weighing its PRU decision. That is a permit required of government institutional projects that could have “a major adverse impact on surrounding land uses.”
Menor said the city considers the position of the applicant — in this case, the state — as a factor, and state leaders are not yet aligned on it. The Council also wants to show it has “done its homework,” he added, by reviewing site selection and considering solutions with less impact.
However, that is the state’s role. The city may have crossed the line between due diligence and duplication of effort.
Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, whose district includes Halawa, said residents of adjacent neighborhoods have raised traffic and safety concerns. At the Capitol, some lawmakers have favored alternatives such as purchasing the Federal Detention Center near the airport.
Those are legitimate issues to discuss — but by the state, and once the project moves along to a more detailed phase.
In the meantime, the City Council should move the PRU permit along. The state has had enough trouble resolving its pressing correctional capacity problems without the city redoubling its review process, keeping a critically needed project grounded.