PUHI — Gov. Neil Abercrombie is not getting many kudos from Kaua‘i residents lately. Heavily criticized for signing Act 55 last year, Abercrombie was booed several times at a meeting at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Puhi Wednesday evening, attended by approximately 200 people.
“I suggest you take a look at what the children have put on the walls around here, about respect and about self-discipline,” said Abercrombie, making a reference to posters around the school while reacting to being interrupted several times.
Shortly after the state Legislature approved Senate Bill 1555 last year, Abercrombie signed Act 55, creating an appointed five-member Public Land Development Corporation that will decide the fate of development — by circumventing county zoning laws — on roughly 1.8 million acres of public lands. The developments on those lands will generate additional revenues to the state Department of Land and Natural resources.
The meeting was Abercrombie’s first “Governor’s Cabinet in Your Community” event, a series of statewide public meetings where the governor and key members of the administration will share project updates and listen to community issues.
Abercrombie brought with him Scott Enright, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture, Loretta Fuddy, director of the Department of Health, William Aila Jr., chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Glenn Okimoto, director of the Department of Transportation, Leslie Tawata, from the Department of Human Services, and Lori Tsuhako, Homeless Program administrator.
Each department head went through recent improvements and achievements. When state spokeswoman Donalyn DelaCruz opened the floor for questions, Aila was the first to take the heat.
Jonathan Berg had concerns with fishing grounds and a proposed expansion of the Hawaiian monk seals’ critical habitat and the humpback whale sanctuary. Aila said the proposals will still go through a process, but he postponed answering about the fishing grounds.
“People certainly have rights to fish, we have federal regulations, we have federal mandates,” said Aila, adding that he will be back on Kaua‘i for a meeting Saturday at King Kaumuali‘i Elementary School in Hanama‘ulu, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., when he’ll “be happy” to answer questions.
Kaua‘i County Council Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura asked why there were no plans for small organic farmers on state lands in Kekaha, pulling applause from the audience.
Enright said the Kekaha Agricultural Association cooperative, which manages the land, will take business proposals from anybody who want to business.
“There is land available for any small agriculturist that wants to come in, we still have land in the inventory,” Enright said. “But it’s driven by entrepreneurial spirit. Who wants to go farm?”
But right now, he said, it has been “extremely difficult” to make a profit in small agricultural business. Some members of the audience shouted anti-GMO slogans, and Enright said he realizes that there is a passion against GMO.
“But the biotech industry is legal,” he said.
Someone in the audience said, “That’s the problem,” as a few others booed Enright.
Abercrombie stepped in and said the department heads were there to answer operational questions.
“The fact that there may be a difference of opinion with respect to not just the utilization, but a philosophy of the agriculture, is something we need to take up with the legislative contract,” Abercrombie said.
Ana Valdez brought her 9-year-old daughter, Jordyn Valdez, who has muscular dystrophy. Valdez said DOH denied disability benefits for her daughter because she was “too smart” to receive services. Rather than going about explaining her daughter’s daily life, Valdez passed the microphone to her daughter.
Jordyn Valdez, clasping the microphone with both hands while sitting on a wheelchair, said she stopped walking at 7 years old.
“Today, I don’t remember what it feels like to walk,” she said. “I can’t put a jacket on when I’m cold … I can’t even wash my hair or brush my teeth. I need help in every part of my life.”
Ana Valdez asked state officials how does a child like her daughter fall through the cracks because she’s smart.
Fuddy said DOH would look into Valdez’ case again and invited her to meet afterwards.
About 40 minutes into the meeting, a fisherman representing the Kaua‘i Ocean Users group said there were 7,000 signatures against the whale sanctuary expansion. He wanted to know why the DLNR was negotiating behind closed doors with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the owners of Ni‘ihau about the expansion of the boundaries of the sanctuary.
“No negotiations are going behind closed doors,” said Aila, adding that DLNR was following the proper process, including the upcoming Saturday’s meeting.
Fisherman shouted slogans against the federal government stepping in and taking over the state waters. The KOU group representative asked why the staff hired to represent the fishermen was federally funded. Abercrombie said the funding may come from the federal government, but the department is in control of the position.
“Before we get too quick to say, ‘let’s get rid of federal funding for positions of concern,’ let me tell you a good number of people on Kaua‘i would be out of work,” Abercrombie said.
About an hour into the meeting, about 50 fishermen, the majority wearing white shirts, walked out. Westside fisherman Greg Holzman said they left the meeting as protest for not having their questions answered.
Toward the end of the meeting the GMO issue came back, and then Act 55.
Abercrombie said Act 55 will allow 21st century schools and other community benefits to be built.
“I heard things like, ‘they want to build a hotel in Koke‘e,’ or something like that,” he said. “I don’t know who ‘they’ is.”
Abercrombie asked the residents to take a look at Act 55 and think about the project they would like to see.
Kaua‘i resident Rich Hoeppner said when you combine government and corporation it’s called fascism. He said if each person against Act 55 donates $10, there will be enough money to challenge the measure in federal court.
Abercrombie said if that is what the people want, go ahead. But before that, give the PLDC a chance to present the projects first.
Councilman Mel Rapozo said Act 55 may accomplish good things such as new schools, but it also allows for hotels and timeshares, because it took away county jurisdiction over zoning.
The five-member PLDC board doesn’t know Kaua‘i, the people do, he said. If they decide to put a hotel in Koke‘e, they could. Seeing Abercrombie shake his head, Rapozo said the idea may seem ridiculous but they won’t be around forever to stop that.
Aila again took the heat, defending Act 55, only to be repeatedly interrupted. “Would you just listen please,” said Aila a couple of times, while trying to explain the bill’s intent.
As DelaCruz was wrapping up the meeting at the scheduled time at 6:30 p.m., Yukimura stood in front of Abercrombie attempting to speak once more. The applause for the governor was muffled by boos. Yukimura grabbed the microphone and said that a hotel had already been proposed for Koke‘e. But Abercrombie got up and walked away while she was speaking.
He left the building shielded by bodyguards, as the boos got louder.