Friday, September 4, 2009

Reps Weigh in on Hoopili

The Honolulu Star-bulletin published two op-eds on the Hoopili project, one by Rep. Chris Lee and the other by Rep. Rida Cabanilla. We've posted them here:

Hoopili project doesn't fit Hawaii's renewed focus on sustainable economy
by Rep. Chris Lee

People seem to either love the Ho'opili development, or hate it. And I can understand that. I'm 28, and will soon be looking for my first affordable home. On the other hand, I'm 28, and my generation and I will have to live with the consequences of poor planning for decades to come.

Fortunately, Ho'opili offers more than a vision of houses stretching across the Ewa Plain; Ho'opili has given Hawaii the opportunity to rethink our future priorities, today.

Last Friday the decision to rezone 1,500 acres of prime agricultural land to "urban" came before the state Land Use Commission. The commission was created by the Legislature specifically to address concerns about "the development of Hawaii's limited and valuable land for short-term gain for the few while resulting in long-term loss to the income and growth potential of our state's economy ... and the conversion of prime agricultural land to residential use ... "

While done on procedural grounds, the Land Use Commission rightfully rejected the request from Ho'opili's developers.

It is important to realize that today, Hawaii imports nearly 90 percent of our food. This dependency siphons billions from our economy each year, and as the cost of oil and shipping continue to rise, so too will prices at the grocery store. So it's concerning that Ho'opili's 11,750 new homes would be built over 14 percent of Oahu's best agricultural land, which is a major contributor to our local food supply and critical to a viable agriculture industry.

Back in 1997 when the plan for more homes in Ewa was originally developed, it may have been good policy at the time. However, since then available farmland in Hawaii has declined by more than 22 percent and the cost of shipping food to the islands has skyrocketed. As a result, in the last decade there has been a paradigm shift in public policy with a new focus on diversifying our economy and redeveloping local agriculture.

The goal is to create new jobs, reduce food prices and sustain Hawaii for the long-term. We have realized there is limited space on Oahu to build new homes — and new strategies for "smart growth" have revolutionized urban planning, and will redevelop old industrial areas such as Kakaako, instead of building over endangered farmlands.

We have to think ahead. Ho'opili is not important because it will build homes or create jobs. Construction crews couldn't begin work until well after the City and County grants approval, potentially many months or years from now, and there are already plans for tens of thousands of other new houses in the Ewa area and thousands of more apartments, condos and lofts planned for urban Honolulu.

What does make Ho'opili important is that it is a clear-cut case of competing uses. The choice pits fertile agricultural land, home to several outstanding local farms, against another 11,750 homes. In this era of new sustainable policy, Ho'opili's rejection or approval will determine whether or not the state is serious about properly managing growth and planning ahead for the long term. It will force our leaders to follow through with commitments to smart growth, renewing local agriculture and diversifying our economy — or to proceed with short-term thinking and business as usual.

Ultimately, the plan for another 11,750 homes on agricultural land is the same urban sprawl that has paved over Oahu for the past 50 years. Hawaii's population keeps growing, and the question is not whether we need new homes. We have to have new homes. The question is where we choose to build them.
Chris Lee is state representative for House District 51 (Lanikai, Waimanalo).

Rebuild rundown urban Oahu instead of paving prime Ewa farmland
By Rep. Rida Cabanilla

It is very difficult to accept the permanent changes that are about to occur in Ewa in the near future. As a representative of the people, I continually made my objections known to the Land Use Commission for the last two years regarding the development of Ho'opili, a planned residential community on Ewa farmlands. Although some of my constituents support the intent of the development, working at the state Capitol and hearing the different concerns of my colleagues, I can't help but consider not only regional impacts but also statewide impacts of this massive land development.

I recently had a meeting with Bob Stanfield of the City & County Building and Permitting Department, who is in charge of the Ewa Development Plan. His main arguments against my objections of the housing plan stem from the question, "Where else can we build more homes?"
Although a hypothetical question, I have some real answers that the city should take into consideration.

Before Hawaii starts building more homes in Ewa, creating more traffic and depleting the islands of our valuable agricultural lands, we need to redevelop the rundown areas of urban Honolulu. We need to stop sacrificing our limited precious resources.

In Kakaako, there are acres of undeveloped land with adequate underground infrastructure already in place. Last session we passed legislation mandating a certain percentage of affordable housing depending on the land area being developed.

Areas around Kapiolani, Moiliili and McCully are, for the most part, populated by very old, two-story walk-up apartment buildings. The Building and Permitting Department can remove the three-story height limitation on these areas and allow us to go vertical. Going vertical will improve the Honolulu skyline, provide fulfillment of the affordable housing need and create housing options for those who work in Waikiki and downtown Honolulu and even provide off-base living options for our military men and women who work at Pearl Harbor, Hickam and Fort Shafter.

With home prices rising and land area diminishing, the dream of a single-family home on a 5,000 square foot piece of land is difficult to achieve. Going vertical will help preserve our precious agricultural lands. We need to emulate European ideas on infrastructure. Their cities are contained, and they leave the rural areas for agriculture. The argument that we can move these Ewa farmlands elsewhere is just as absurd as saying we can move this housing development within urban Honolulu.

These areas I have suggested for development are blighted communities. Why is there not a push to modernize these slummy downtown areas so that we can be proud of our urban core?
Sustainability, self-sufficiency and food security are goals that the Legislature and the state are working toward. Today we import 90 percent of our food. Without our farmlands it would be impossible to reduce our dependency on outside resources or fulfill our goals.

The state tourism count continues to diminish daily. By building houses on the entire island, we will see even fewer tourists coming to Hawaii. Tourists vacation in Hawaii to enjoy tropical scenery and hospitality, not panoramic views of urban sprawl.

The more houses we build, the more out-of-state people will come to Hawaii to purchase homes, driving the cost of homes through the roof. I know that increasing supply will decrease the prices of homes — but, figuratively speaking, only for a day. As soon as the prices become reasonable, residents of the contiguous 48 states will be here driving the prices up again.

We cannot build more housing complexes without sufficient transportation infrastructures in place. Consider the city's light rail project. If they did not build all these houses in Kapolei, then there would have been no need for the rail. Building more, such as Ho'opili, will create more traffic woes and require more infrastructure, not just the rail.

Supporters of Ho'opili contend that it will bring more jobs to the region, thereby decreasing the amount of commuters to town. How many jobs will there be? Can the project bring more than 2,000 jobs to the region? My answer is no, and if there are jobs, the jobs will probably not pay enough to support a mortgage of these new homes.
Rida Cabanilla is state representative for House District 42 (Waipahu, Honouliuli, West Loch and Ewa).

No comments: