From a policy and politics perspective, the recent TGI story focused on the Kauai County Council’s passage of the Kauai General Plan is an especially interesting read.
Basically one of the largest and wealthiest landowners in the State of Hawaii, Alexander and Baldwin (A&B) successfully inserted a provision into the Kauai General Plan that will save them millions of dollars and years of effort that would otherwise be involved in the land use process.
To say that A&B “Successfully inserted a provision into the Kauai General Plan” is not an overstatement or hyperbole. If there is anyone reading this who thinks these things happen by accident, I indeed have a bridge I would like to sell you.
This is how the process works. Major landowners and their paid lobbyists are active in the process and often are intentionally included by the county administration as members of key committees that consult with the county planning professionals. Under the premise of “we need the input of major landowners,” the massive inherent conflicts of interest are often overlooked.
Regular private citizens often do not have the personal time available to devote to the countless hours of meetings involved with the plan development, while the full time representatives of the companies have as much time as it needs, for that is their job.
So while the “warm and fuzzy” vision components of the plan are often driven by community members, the nuts and bolts of where growth will occur is driven by the money and master plans proposed by the corporate landowners.
It of course does not have to be this way, but that is the way it is.
Changing land use designations from agriculture to urban is a long process that starts with the General Plan.
If a projected or future development is identified on maps within the approved County General Plan, it is assumed by state land use regulators (and future county planners and residents) to be supported by the community and the county.
Council-members Brun, Kagawa, Kawakami and Kaneshiro granted A&B a huge gift this past Wednesday, successfully protecting and enhancing the company’s interests while diminishing that of the public’s. The reality of a second city being developed on the Westside and the nature of that community being changed forever, just took a huge leap forward.
You can bet that A&B’s next annual report to its shareholders will show an uptick in value from their landholdings on Kauai as a result of this General Plan designation.
As it stands now, the private landowner reaped a significant benefit and the public reaped nothing except vague promises of homes and construction jobs, wrapped around assurances that there will be plenty of time for community input at some future unspecified time.
A&B is Hawaii’s fourth-largest private landowner. In 2016 the company returned to its shareholders a 28 percent return on investment and recently announced the payment of an aggregate amount of $783 million to its shareholders. alexanderbaldwin.com
According to Open Secrets, A&B is the fourth-largest contributor of campaign funds in Hawaii and in a recent year invested approximately $240,000 in lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions. And yes, A&B contributes liberally to local Kauai political campaigns, frequently “maxing out” at $2,000 per election for Council races.
To be absolutely clear, I do not think any of our council members votes are based entirely on who contributes to their campaigns. However, the fact that each has been heavily supported by A&B in the past is relevant information the public should be aware of.
The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission has an excellent search function that allows the public to search the contributions and expenditures of every candidate and elected official. https://csc.hawaii.gov/CFSPublic/ReportList.php
Mahalo to Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura for leading the charge attempting to remove this provision from the Kauai General Plan.
While you were ultimately unsuccessful, your attempts at bringing openness and integrity to the process are greatly appreciated.
Yes, the system is rigged in favor of those who hold money and power. But you, the regular citizen retain the real power, if only you would use it. That power, is the power of a single vote.
While the courts may have ruled that “corporations are people,” they still cannot yet vote. During the 2016 elections roughly 3 percent of all registered voters in Hawaii actually exercised their voting rights.
The system is rigged because the citizens allow it to be so. If you are not happy with the system, then run for office yourself or at least volunteer for a campaign and vote for someone who acknowledges that the system is rigged and is determined to “unrig” it.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.