It’s an innocuous, two-word term on page 10 of the current draft version of Kauai County’s general plan update.
More on what it is supposed to mean later. It has roused the (unsuccessful) opposition of County Council Chair Mel Rapozo and attracted the critical attention of Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura.
But then, Alexander & Baldwin, the giant, powerful landowner, resurfaced just a few days ago an idea first proposed by a planning team in 2007 and updated in 2011. It would create what Tom Shigemoto, A&B’s vice president, took to calling a “second city” on the Westside, taking in Hanapepe, Port Allen, Eleele and surrounding areas. It would cover, according to A&B, a total of 480 acres.
Ignore for the moment the fact that creating a new “second city” on Kauai might enrage the current residents of Kapaa. And also ignore the fact that we don’t have cities. In terms of factual and legal accuracy, the Westside project would more likely be Kauai’s third town.
It would, eventually, become a population center to rival Lihue, with its own port, under A&B’s vision. It would propel the direction of Kauai’s development on a strikingly different trajectory than what exists today. The development would require Kauai Coffee to take some of its land out of coffee production to make way for development of a new town center, the firm has said.
A&B, however, waited until what is, essentially, the 59th minute of the 11th hour in terms of imminent approval of the general plan update, to spring the “second city” concept on the community. It would take advantage of language in the plan that creates a “provisional area.” That term does not now exist in planning documents.
The immediacy of the situation is underscored by the fact that the general plan update is on the County Council agenda for possible final approval on Wednesday of this week. The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m., though it is not known when this particular item will be called.
The plan draft doesn’t identify any specific party or community that might benefit from having a “provisional area,” which means its fundamental designation could be changed “via a future community planning process due to the sensitivity of its potential regional impact.”
What seems to be driving local opposition is that the power dynamic of large land owners on Kauai gives A&B a significant advantage in getting its way in terms of land use. The company has abundant power and money, which, it must be acknowledged, it has often used for purposes that advantage the community at large, like its solar generating plant in Port Allen.
But for a land owner to drop creation of a second city into the planning process this late in the game, without warning or community input, is bound to create the impression — justified or not — that A&B is gaming the planning process and intends to use the “provisional area” designation to shift the approved focus for land near Hanapepe from agriculture to residential and industrial.
The issue provoked a heated discussion at a meeting Jan. 25 of a committee of the whole County Council, chaired by Councilmember Mason Chock, at which Shigemoto first introduced the idea that A&B wants to create a second city on the Westside.
Shigemoto also sent Chock PowerPoint presentations produced in 2007 and 2011, when he said A&B convened a committee to advise the company on what such a project would look like. Page after page of maps was included. But he insisted that A&B has not even calculated the population of such a second city. “This is too conceptual for me to give you density,” he told the councilmembers.
Councilmember Derek Kawakami was quick to point out that there could be advantages to such an arrangement if jobs, schools and infrastructure were coordinated so any new, evolving community would not be so dependent on Lihue for employment, shopping and other needs. It might mitigate growing Westside traffic congestion. Kawakami was on the panel convened by A&B.
Other councilmembers wanted to leave any discussion of what a second city could mean to the island for some time in the future when A&B submits a formal plan. That would trigger a Planning Department review and start a process likely to take at least five and probably closer to 10 years, Kawakami estimated.
So it is not as if A&B has bulldozers massed under camouflage netting outside Hanapepe ready to move the minute a general plan in which “provisional area” is a surviving term is enacted. “We have no specific build-out plan,” Shigemoto insisted. “We develop as the need occurs.” But, he said, “we have the land” and that “creates an opportunity for a second city.”
That’s not really the point, though. This second city would forever alter Kauai. Possibly for the better. Possibly for the worse. Yet what is alarming about this is how it has snuck into public debate at the last minute. If A&B really wanted a thorough public vetting of the idea, it might have issued news releases, built a website to completely explain the proposal and take the concept out into the community — regardless of the fact that it did organize an advisory group a decade ago.
Planning Director Mike Dahilig rallied to A&B’s defense, noting that any such proposal would undergo an extensive community planning process, but after the new general plan is adopted. Yukimura wasn’t buying it. She said she had seen a letter from A&B that also referred to the second city as a “satellite” urban area.
It is a somewhat breathtaking reality that such a major proposal could emerge from the shadows at the last possible minute, with no real opportunity for community debate. Few spectators were in the council chamber when the discussion occurred. No word of it reached the media or the public, though there is archive video of the meeting on the county website: www.kauai.gov
Something just doesn’t feel right about how this has all come about. This is often the way projects desired by private interests are snuck through the public process at the last minute.
If there is to be a second city, or a third town, this is not the way to make it happen because it creates the appearance of the community being trampled.
Allan Parachini is a former journalist and PR executive. He is a Kilauea resident.