The recent bullying of a state employee at a public meeting and threats against her family on social media is totally unacceptable. Given the passion, the spread of misinformation, and the tragedy unfolding in West Maui, the frustration and anger may be understandable, but the threats are 100 percent not OK.
Healthy public discourse is fundamental to the existence of a healthy democracy.
Suspending the Sunshine Law in the Gov. Josh Green’s Emergency Proclamation on Housing (EP) essentially kicks the public out of the discussion.
Our democracy needs more public involvement, not less.
Reducing the community’s ability to participate, and saying to them “trust me we’ll do what’s best for you,” is not the answer.
Bypassing state and county legislative processes intended to manage development, and granting decision-making power to a single person, or even a handful of the hand-picked, just adds fuel to fire.
What big business likes to refer as “barriers to development,” exist to protect agricultural, cultural, and environmentally sensitive areas that are irreplaceable. The petitions, the lawsuits, and the concerned citizens filling the room lined up to testify, are there to protect and preserve that which sustains them.
Attempts to take away these protections, whether real or imagined, and take away the process enshrined in law that protects the peoples voice, will unfortunately, inevitably, and unacceptably result in anger and harsh words.
Green and his advisers are now in a position to learn from this and reset the process, or put it aside altogether.
If you believe as I do, that thousands of people living in cars, bushes, doorways, at the side of the road and under bridges, constitute a crisis and true emergency, then that should be the focus. If you believe also the fundamental lack of affordable housing is the core reason people are houseless, then emergency efforts on creating permanently affordable housing must be the clear and unambiguous priority.
Perhaps the place to start is the title. Instead of the Emergency Proclamation Relating to Housing, perhaps insert the words permanently affordable.
With this new clear unambiguous mission in mind, going back to stakeholders and the general public, for more not less input, would also be valuable. If a thorough conversation is conducted many strategies will emerge that don’t require cutting out public protections in order to motivate new large scale development.
According to research published in 2022 by Hawaii Business Magazine: approximately 80,000 homes are likely now sitting empty across the islands. These are vacation homes, vacation rentals, second homes, third or forth homes in some cases, and often just empty apartments (so-called “investor units”). Amending tax policy at both the state and county levels could greatly influence and motivate these property owners to do the right thing and rent out their properties to local residents. We need to tax them until they scream, or until they leave (oh wait most don’t live here anyway), or hopefully they decide to convert to a long term rental.
Similarly, there are thousands of “undeveloped single family residential lots” sitting vacant on every island. Tax policy can be used to incentivize these owners to promptly build a rental or sell their lot to someone who will. In addition, there are other thousands of potential “Additional Dwelling/Rental Units” (ARU’s and ADU’s) all located in areas with infrastructure in place.
Tax incentives and/or grants to pay for septic systems or other needs, could motivate many homeowners to build an affordable rental and keep it affordable for X years, thus ensuring them retirement income or a place eventually for mom and dad to live.
There are many strategies that could be used to tackle and solve this problem. Each needs to be explored.
The answer does not have to include sacrificing important public, environmental and cultural safeguards in order to ensure developer profits.
Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Counci. He presently writes on Hawaii Policy and Politics at www.garyhooser.blog.
Source: The Garden Island