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HOOSER: Koloa Day at the planning commission

It was Tuesday July 11, 2023, and the room was packed. The issue at hand was a luxury residential development proposed for Kaua‘i’s southside. The majority were in opposition, their attendance driven by deep concerns for Kaua‘i’s future. Most of those in support were, directly or indirectly, paid to be there.

It’s of course, all about the money. Those who have money want more of it, those without it mostly just want to have a decent life, and not have their homes and backyards screwed up.

The story is typical, and the same on every island. The landowner/developer, who already has money, wants more of it. He (it’s almost always a he) makes more money by selling luxury homes to other people with money (who are almost never from here, but do visit occasionally).

To maximize profits (la-di-da words for making even more money), during the permitting process the developer/owner seeks to reduce provisions requiring investments in infrastructure, affordable housing, parks, drainage, sewer, parking, public access, etc.

Greenwashing environmental reviews and minimizing historical and cultural impacts are also standard operating procedure.

They hire former government insiders (locals, preferably Hawaiians), so when negotiating with current government insiders, it’s all just friends talking with friends (let’s go down to Roy’s, knock back a few and sort this all out).

Once the owner/developer secures the required permits on the very best terms possible, they either “flip” the property to another faceless owner/developer, and/or they break ground and start construction.

The “how to make money in real estate” playbook then calls for the landowner/developer to go back to the various government agencies, plead hardship and unforeseen costs, and “seek further concessions.”

Out of one side of their mouth, they assure us they mean well, promise this time it will be better, and ask us to trust them yet again. Out of the other side, they not so subtly begin waving around words like, “If you guys cause us to lose money we are going to sue you and it won’t be pretty.”

The various government agencies (who in the back of their mind are afraid they may have neglected to cross some “t’s” and dot some “i’s”) then go to the county attorney (no, not the attorney who’s representing the owner/developer, that’s the former county attorney or former deputy county attorney). The real and current county attorney then advises the agency to be careful and do what they can to help the former county attorney and/or former deputy county attorney navigate the challenges (read — make more money for the owner/developer) and avoid a messy lawsuit.

Yes, unfortunately it’s all very predictable, and it’s why people in the room that day were so angry, sad and disillusioned.

The old-timers had seen it all before. They made no attempt to mask the disgust, the cynicism and anger in their voices.

Others spoke with passion describing the desecration, the deceit and the sordid history of the project — pleading with the planning commission to do the right thing.

It was the voice of a young kanaka woman testifying from deep within her heart about the ugly, historical and ongoing injustice of it all — that moved the room for many of us.

Fortunately, the planning commission voted in support of allowing community groups Save Koloa and Friends of Maha‘ulepu the right to intervene and deferred action on the owner/developers request.

For the community, it was a win. It’s a long way from being over, but on this day the community won. Mahalo to planning commissioners and staff.

Mahalo most of all to those in the room who took the time to show up.


Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control.
Source: The Garden Island

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