General Plan must address tourism, growth

The Kauai General Plan is supposed to be a vision of what people who live here want Kauai to be like, and not to be like, 10 years from now.

Recent General Plans have largely failed. Those General Plans called for preserving a rural and local environment and culture. Instead we got a worsening housing crunch and traffic gridlock. Population growth has outpaced infrastructure growth.

The next General Plan is being drafted in the Planning Department right now, and the most promising area where, by enforcing the General Plan, the county can address these problems and manage population growth is in the tourism industry.

General Plans have been well meaning, but they don’t have teeth. For example, the 2000 plan called for, at most, 2,500 tourist unit permits to be issued over the following 25 years. Instead, in only eight years, the Planning Commission approve 4,000 units. There was no provision in the law to stop them. The result: an in-migration of hundreds of job seekers filled surplus jobs beyond what could be filled by locals, exacerbating the affordable housing shortage and traffic congestion.

The county government is not clueless about this. From an April 2015 “General Plan Socio-economic Analysis and Forecasts” report: “Excessive growth in the tourism sector is creating the need for more residents rather than meeting the needs of residents.”

This time, the General Plan needs to be accompanied by enforcement mechanisms so that it is active, not reactive, in addressing growth. There is substantial community support for this. The 2008 “Keep Kauai Rural” ballot initiative, limiting tourist unit construction, passed by a 64 percent to 36 percent margin.

Significantly, every precinct on the island voted in the majority. (The ordinance created, Ordinance 912, was ruled illegal be a District Court judge, saying zoning cannot be determined by ballot initiative.)

The new General Plan draft, to be unveiled in a few weeks, will be altered and shaped by the next County Council in their image. Will it reflect servility to self interests or dedication to an overwhelming community desire to pass along a rural environment, slower pace of life and unique-to-Kauai Culture to future generations?

We should ask council candidates to commit now, before the election, to approve the next General Plan only when it is conditioned on concurrent approval of a package of actions and ordinances that implement the plan.

We don’t want to be another Mililani on Oahu or Kahului on Maui. We need statesmen and women, not politicians on the next County Council.

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Kip Goodwin is a resident of Kapaa.

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