Oahu voters in Tuesday’s general election approved three amendments to Honolulu’s City Charter — changing the future makeup of the Planning Commission, bolstering the Clean Water and Natural Lands Fund, and incorporating the Office of Council Services.
A fourth, addressing affordable housing, looked likely to fail after the second round of election results late Tuesday night.
APPROVED: PLANNING COMMISSION
The move to diversify the nine-member Planning Commission’s makeup arose as the panel skewed over the years toward those with real estate and development interests.
The amendment requires that four of the members each bring a different skill set to bear: one with experience in Native Hawaiian customary and traditional practices, Native Hawaiian law or traditional Hawaiian land use; one with expertise in land-use planning, principles and policies; one skilled in land development and construction; and the other with knowledge of climate change and sea-level rise causes, effects and solutions, or environmental preservation and protection.
Since the Planning Commission has no shortage of members experienced in land-use planning, construction and development, the amendment will likely bring aboard new voices in slots designated for climate change and Native Hawaiian culture, law and land use as early as 2023 or as late as 2025.
APPROVED: WATER, LANDS FUND
City Charter question No. 3 will provide operating dollars for the city’s Clean Water and Natural Lands Fund, which receives a 0.5% allocation from real property tax revenues. In the current fiscal year, that amount would be about $7.5 million.
The fund allows the city to purchase real estate and easements for conservation, outdoor recreation and other purposes but doesn’t provide money to spruce up the properties for public uses such as parking lots and restrooms or landscaping and environmental remediation.
APPROVED: COUNCIL SERVICES
City Charter question No. 4 will write the Office of Council Services into the Charter.
The office researches and drafts legislation for the Honolulu City Council and is the only legislative agency not formally established in the City Charter. While the Charter recognizes the City Clerk’s and City Auditor’s offices, it grants only the Council the authority to establish an Office of Council Services.
“The main thrust,” said OCS Director James Williston, is “to put us on the same plane as the other legislative branch agencies of the city.”
The amendment will also explicitly grant OCS the authority to provide the City Council with legal advice.
LIKELY TO FAIL: AFFORDABLE HOUSING
City Charter question No. 1 on the ballot would have doubled the amount of money directed to the Affordable Housing Fund from real property tax revenues. The fund would receive 1% of that revenue, or about $16 million — a bump up from one-half of 1%, or about $8 million, as it stands.
The Affordable Housing Fund provides rentals for people making 60% or less of the median household income in Honolulu, but expanding its coffers would enable the development of more housing projects, according to a council resolution that proposed the amendment.
Recently, the city steered about $30 million from the fund toward constructing nearly 1,000 units across six affordable housing projects.
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