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Letters for Friday, October 15, 2021

Use eminent domain on Coco Palms

I have a question.

If the county can “eminent domain” 26 acres of prime ag land in Kilauea, why can’t they use the “eminent domain” process with the 20-acre site the old Coco Palms sits on and create a park and cultural center which certainly would be in the public interest?

Judith Gardner, Kilauea

Grateful for county eminent-domain action

Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use, ostensibly for the public good, such as railroads or freeways.

Mr. Stewart (TGI Letter 10/12/21) gives a historical perspective on it in the context of property rights and the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. There is another perspective in the context of land and real-estate speculation on Kaua‘i: The ownership of the Kilauea land is in the hands of an LLC in North Dakota.

I applaud the County Council for exercising the right of eminent domain over this property to build much-needed affordable housing on Kaua‘i. Has eminent domain been abused at times? Of course. But is island speculation on Kaua‘i by mainland LLCs, or anyone for that matter, more important to the public good than affordable housing on Kaua‘i?

The median price of a home on Kaua‘i is now $1.1 million. Land and real-estate speculation in combination with the rise of the short-term rental market (e.g., VRBO, Airbnb) only exacerbates this problem.

In my opinion, the only people who should be deeply concerned about the county’s move in Kilauea are the land and real-estate speculators who rarely have the public good in their business models. Further, you should talk to people who cannot afford a home or cannot find a suitable long-term rental on Kaua‘i for their families. Their voices should be as important as any others in this context.

These are complex issues with many competing perspectives, but prioritizing land and real-estate speculation over the common good is not the answer.

Frankly, I am not very concerned that the B&D LLC from North Dakota will not make as much money on their Kilauea land speculation as they would like, and I suspect they will make a handsome profit from the county nonetheless.

And, finally, if one is counting on developers to build affordable housing as part of a larger development deal, look only to Princeville to see that it took over 40 years for the Kolopua Apartments to be built.

The motivation of land and real-estate speculators is clear: profits first, the people last. The county is trying to reverse that in this case, and we should be grateful that they have the courage to do so.

John Brekke, Ha‘ena

On the state’s broken emergency-powers law

If there is one thing more powerful than COVID-19, apparently it’s a winning football team.

Just a day after Gov. David Ige extended his coronavirus state of emergency for two more months, the University of Hawai‘i Rainbow Warriors football team played an exciting, nationally televised home game at its new Ching Field in Manoa, and that changed everything.

The team beat a nationally ranked rival for the first time in more than 10 years. Yet virtually no fans were in the stands. Neither were there any crowds at its nationally televised home game two weeks before. As the game announcers made clear to their viewers during both events, that’s because UH football was the only major-college program in the country that wouldn’t let anyone attend its local football games, not even family members.

But on Friday, Oct. 9. the governor relented. He and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced they are loosening restrictions on public gatherings, including UH football and volleyball games. Friends and family members will be able to attend the next home football game, and the general public should be able to attend the final games at reduced capacity.

What happened? Did the situation change so much in a few short days?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know for sure. We are constantly being told that all coronavirus restrictions have been crafted in consultation with experts, but the public still knows very little about who those experts are or what data they are using to make their decisions.

On Thursday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that the state Department of Health is refusing to share detailed COVID data with local researchers and epidemiologists, leading to the conclusion that state health officials don’t want independent scientists reviewing their work.

What we do know is that public pressure started building to allow fans into the UH football games even before the Rainbow Warriors’ latest winning game. Newspaper sportswriters had complained about the empty stands and artificial crowd noise, and House Speaker Scott Saiki implored the governor just the day before the latest game to allow fans to attend.

Nevertheless, the governor defended his decision to keep Hawai‘i’s sports stadiums empty. He made vague statements about reopening “various sectors” at the “appropriate time.”

Now, of course, it appears that the “appropriate time” for reopening sports has arrived. And thank goodness for that. But there still is the issue of public trust.

For more than 19 months, critics have been pointing out the logical inconsistencies, lack of fairness and lack of transparency regarding the various state and county lockdown measures. Meanwhile, the official goalposts for a return to normalcy have been moved so often that it’s a wonder anyone takes the official pronouncements seriously anymore.

It didn’t help that in the governor’s latest proclamation, those goalposts seemed to vanish altogether when he abandoned vaccination percentages as the standard for lifting restrictions and said that no “single metric” would determine the end of the emergency.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, all of these problems are the result of Hawai‘i’s broken emergency-powers law. It was never intended to create a system of unaccountable executive rule that would last for nearly two years. We have created a precedent wherein any threat to our state can legitimize the seemingly endless abuse of executive power.

This will not be the last emergency Hawai‘i faces. But it can be the last time that due process, transparency and the state’s constitutional balance of powers are tossed aside for months on end. The Hawai‘i Legislature must reform the state’s emergency-management law to create a check on executive power and end the possibility of a never-ending emergency.

Yes, it is possible the Legislature could reform the statute, step in to end executive rule, then pass a series of objectionable laws. But if that happens, at least it will be done openly, with the opportunity for public debate and public testimony — and by elected officials who will have to defend those decisions at the ballot box.

Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawai‘i.
Source: The Garden Island

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