Council committees discuss affordable housing, land preservation, floriculture on Big Island
March 8, 2023, 5:00 AM HST
The Hawai‘i County Council met Tuesday for several committee meetings. Agenda topics included affordable housing, preservation of 3 acres in Hilo and the importance of the floriculture industry to the Big Island.
Here’s a closer look at those three agenda topics.
Bill 18, Relating to affordable housing
During a previous meeting of the Policy Committee on Planning, Land Use and Development, Council members expressed concerns about Bill 18, which amends the County Code relating to affordable housing.
The measure would add definitions for “qualified resident,” “qualified returning student” and “qualified worker” as well as establish eligibility preferences for those seeking to rent or own affordable housing funded by the County. It also identifies who qualifies under the new definitions.
Preference for up to 10 percent of county-funded affordable units for rent or sale would first be given to county or state employees. Next, preference would go to qualified residents followed by returning students and finally workers as long as they meet the income eligibility requirements for such housing.
The bill was introduced by Council Chairwoman Heather Kimball and Council Vice Chairman Holeka Inaba. Kimball on Tuesday pulled the measure from consideration, citing issues brought to her attention including some constitutionality concerns, especially in respect to giving preference for affordable housing based on the time someone has lived in Hawaiʻi County.
There also were concerns about the “qualified returning student” part of the bill and giving state and county employees preference, for which the public also seems not to have an appetite. Furthermore, there were some logistical issues with the measure.
“Thank you for pulling the bill because there’s a lot of work,” Councilwoman Cindy Evans said.
Kimball likely will bring another version of the bill to the committee at a later date after getting additional feedback, correcting issues and addressing other concerns.
Resolution 60, To preserve 3 acres in Hilo
Introduced by Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, this resolution would authorize Hawaiʻi County Finance Director to negotiate the acquisition of a conservation easement, essentially purchasing the development rights, to preserve 3.02 acres of the Waiākea ahupua‘a (subdivision) in Hilo, also known as Kaumaui.
The property would be paid for using Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation funds.
This property, which fronts Kalanianaole Avenue between Kōloa and Oeoe streets in the Keaukaha area of Hilo, was the No. 2 priority for the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission in its December 2021 annual report.
This also would be the first Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation acquisition in Hilo since the program began.
Kaumaui, owned by Hui Hoʻoleimaluō, is unique in that it has loko wai, or fresh water ponds, and anchialine ponds that contain many species endemic to Hawaiʻi. A conservation easement would ensure permanent protection of the ʻāina and loko, which would be used for environmental, educational and cultural benefits, along with a sense of place for the community.
“We have to protect this microcosm, this precious ecosystem that is connecting ʻōpio and the rest of the community closer to ʻāina,” said Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz. “This would be huge for our Keaukaha community.”
During the meeting of the Committee on Legislative Approvals and Acquisitions, Council members gave the resolution a favorable recommendation. It will next go before the Council at a regular meeting.
Communication 111, Report on floriculture
The Communications, Reports and Council Oversight Committee had a presentation from Eric Tanouye, president of the Hawaiʻi Floriculture and Nursery Association and vice president of the Hawaiʻi Tropical Flower Council, about how the floriculture and ornamental horticulture industry impacts the Big Island’s economy.
Tanouye is a second-generation flower farmer in Hilo and president of Green Point Nurseries, which was started by his father Harold. He said the floriculture industry, because it is non-food agriculture, can sometimes be taken for granted.
“We’re like the Rodney Dangerfield of agriculture, yeah?” Tanouye said. “We sometimes don’t get the respect.”
However, half of the revenue generated by the industry in the state comes to the Big Island each year. Many jobs also are created by the floriculture and nursery industry.
Revenue hit $109 million in 2007 throughout the state, but there have been setbacks since, including the Great Recession of 2008, Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014 and the 2018 lava flow from Kilauea volcano that destroyed Kapoho, a former hub for orchid growers on the island. Still, in 2020, the state saw nearly $82 million in revenue from the industry, meaning about $41 million was pumped into the Big Island’s economy.
“That revenue gets spent in Hilo, in Kona, in Waimea, in lower Puna; you know, everywhere on this island,” Tanouye said. “And that’s every year.”
Funding from Hawaiʻi County also has allowed growers to make gains on those earlier setbacks.
The industry helps provide economic diversity while complementing the visitor industry by providing flowers and plants grown in Hawaiʻi for destination weddings, meetings, conventions and other travel-related events. However, growth in the export market will be a key to growing the industry.
Tanouye said the industry is focusing on the high-end market because competition from around the world in the broader floriculture market is tough. Colombia and Ecuador control about 80 percent of the U.S. market. Of the remaining 20 percent, California controls about 75 percent. There is demand for Hawaiʻi flowers and plants, though; with the correct grading and pricing, growers can sell everything they have.
Selling to those not only in the state but abroad who want Hawaiʻi flowers, whether for a wedding, event or gift box to their home, they will pay for them — and that’s the market that will drive the industry.
The industry also supports a flower breeding program through the University of Hawaiʻi College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and is working with the Hawaiʻi Department of Education by providing video programs that can be used by FFA and agriculture teachers as part of their curriculum. Growers also invite students and teachers to events throughout the year.
Following Tanouye’s presentation, Council members expressed their support for the industry and offered to help when and if they can.
“We really appreciate and we want to mahalo you again for your continued support and we ask that you continue to support our industry,” Tanouye said.