Council Urges Legislature to Repeal Controversial Law
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by Dave Smith
The County Council today unanimously approved a resolution asking the state Legislature to repeal Act 55, the law that created the controversial Public Land Development Corp.
The vote came despite requests to postpone action on the measure.
The requests came in person from the corporation’s executive director, Lloyd Haraguchi, who asked that the council postpone action on the resolution at least until the agency has an opportunity to meet Oct. 11 on proposed changes to its rules, and by mail from state Sen. Malama Solomon, a strong proponent of the PLDC.
The move follows the lead of the Kauai County Council, which last week unanimously approved a resolution urging Gov. Neil Abercrombie to repeal Act 55. The Maui County Council is scheduled to take up a similar measure Friday.
There has been strong anti-PLDC sentiments expressed at public hearings across the state, and some legislators have said they will attempt to rescind Act 55 when the Legislature reconvenes.
Before voting the council heard more than four hours of testimony on the resolution and other matters.
Roughly two dozen people testified in support of the non-binding resolution introduced by Councilwoman Brenda Ford, who represents South Kona.
“This bill with the stroke of a pen is killing democracy,” said Puna resident Geoffrey Last.
Jon Olson of Pahoa called Act 55 and the PLDC “certainly the greatest land fraud and land grab since the days of the monarchy.”
“This takes the public business away from the public view,” Olson said. “This thing needs to be taken off the books.”
Paul Kaykendall called Ford’s resolution “a vote in favor of the people instead of corporate interests.”
Moanikeala Akaka pointed to what she called a “groundswell” of opposition against the new agency.
“This PLDC thinks we’re a bunch of big fools, Mr. Haraguchi,” she said referring to the agency’s executive director who was sitting in the audience.
Akaka, a former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, said a protest against PLDC was being planned for Monday afternoon at the Department of Land and Natural Resources office on Kawili Street in Hilo. Others testified that the Hilo protest is one of several statewide scheduled for the same time.
The only testimony in opposition to the resolution came from a representative of the Puako Community Association, which supports one of PLDC’s first proposed projects, a broad expansion of a state lease for a beekeeper using a kiawe forest near Puako. Those projects have since been put on hold.
Following the public testimony, council members expressed their concerns about the PLDC.
Ford said the wording of Act 55, also known as Chapter 171C of state law, worried her, particularly the part that exempts the corporation from county zoning and subdivision laws. She said the law’s language – which says that PLDC activites will “be coordinated” with county planning agencies – “may not mean anything when it gets down to the bottom line.”
Haraguchi attempted to dispel council members’ concerns, saying that much of the negative information attributed to the corporation is untrue. He said the PLDC’s mission is to establish partnerships between the state and the private sector, with resulting revenues returning to the Department of Land and Natural Resources or other state agencies involved.
He said for example, while the PLDC may lease public lands, it will not sell them. Haraguchi said it is also untrue that the public will not have opportunities to testify on projects it proposes, saying that there will be seven chances for public input during the approval process.
Haraguchi also said that it was “totally, totally not true” that the PLDC doesn’t have to follow environmental laws. He then read a list of about a half-dozen laws the corporation must adhere to.
However, the Sierra Club has said there are other state laws dealing with environmental approvals from which the PLDC is exempt.
Ford and most of the others were not swayed by Haraguchi’s arguments. Several said they were concerned about vague wording in the law and the corporation’s proposed administrative rules, and the quickness with which the law was passed in 2011.
Ford said the law should be repealed.
“If they really want to do this, start over and do it right,” she said.
Council Chairman Dominic Yagong said he had never seen “this kind of backlash” from any previous law.
“We’ve got to pay attention to that,” he said.
Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi appeared sympathetic to Haraguchi’s plight, asking him several times to elaborate on his positions.
During the final tally all members voted in favor of the resolution except Onishi and fellow Hilo Councilman Donald Ikeda. They both voted “kanalua,” which means in favor but with reservations. Two kanalua votes are counted as a “yes.”