Time to hit ‘reset’ on General Plan

“Imagine an island where basic needs like housing and access to a diversity of income generation opportunities are available for all. Imagine a self-sufficient island with a farm-to-table food economy. Imagine an island that represents a living model of our rich Hawaiian cultural heritage that honors both keiki and kupuna. Imagine living within and experiencing the rewards of a sustainable island community, serving as a model for other island communities facing the same challenges as Kauai.” From the Community Coalition – Kauai: https://www.communitycoalitionkauai.org.

We can do this, Kauai. If enough of us engage the process and take personal responsibility for the outcome, we can actually make this happen. This is not pie in the sky. It is totally doable.

The Kauai General Plan update will be coming before the Kauai County Council possibly as soon as Sept. 6. This document is intended to guide the future growth of our island, but according to many whose opinion I respect greatly, it is deeply flawed.

While the rank and file professional planning department staff have produced an impressive document, the ultimate plan approved by the Planning Commission is significantly biased toward the needs of large landowners and developers.

In other words, it is business as usual.

Our affordable housing needs are at crisis levels,and traffic in Kapaa (and increasingly so heading south and west) is at a standstill. Tourism continues to grow unabated, and our beaches, streams and mountain trails are no longer our own. We import 90 percent of our food while 90 percent of our agricultural land is used for non-food producing purposes. Employment opportunities for our young people are centered on working in tourism, for the government, or for the military.

Yet, our General Plan simply doles out more of the same stuff that has gotten us to where we are today. Yes, it is dressed in the fine clothes of vision and hope, but at the end of the day it continues to place the future of our island in the hands of large landowners and developers.

As further evidence that the plan is not ready for prime time, Planning Commissioners Kanoe Ahuna and Donna Apisa recently cast their votes in opposition to the final draft, against the positions held by a majority of their colleagues on the commission. Mahalo to them both for having the courage to stick to their convictions instead of yielding to the ever-present pressure to conform.

The ultimate approval of the Kauai General Plan represents a critical point in time, and an opportunity to “reset our compass” putting the quality of life for local residents above the profits of large landowners and developers.

We can do so much better.

We don’t need more upscale housing, more hotels or more shopping centers. We do need more genuinely affordable housing built in existing urban areas. We also need opportunities for small farmers who want to grow real food. And we need diversified solutions to our traffic woes. While our main traffic arteries must be expanded, the ultimate answer is not to always just “add another lane” but requires a comprehensive multimodal approach.

Until we resolve some of the pressing needs that our community now faces, we need to draw a line in the sand on new development. Until we can provide truly affordable housing for local residents, get a handle on traffic and start protecting those special places we all hold dear, we need to hit the “pause button” and the Kauai General Plan is the tool which can do that.

On Thursday Aug. 31 at 6:30 p.m. at the Lihue Neighborhood Center there will be a meeting of concerned and informed citizens from across the island to discuss how best to reverse the direction of our island by reversing the direction of the General Plan. I encourage all who care to show up.

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Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was a majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control during the administration of Gov. Neal Abercrombie. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is the volunteer executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.

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