The People’s Dialectic – Development and Local Awareness

August 30th, 2009 by peoplesdialectic

I’ve always been impressed with the quality of events Kanu Hawaii puts on to help the community and raise awareness about important issues.

The Eat Local Challenge is no exception. In fact, it strikes at the heart of possibly one of the most immediate and important questions for our islands. Eating local is beneficial on both an economic and environmental level. And the light the Challenge shines on food channels couldn’t have come at a more crucial time.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin featured on Wednesday, August 12, an article discussing plans to develop 1,500 acres of some of ‘the best ag land’ on Oahu for a 12,000 home community. The loss of this prime agricultural land to tract housing, shopping centers, and business parks will be a significant loss of our ability to grow food for ourselves.

There was a day when the economy of our islands didn’t depend on visitors from around the world. While no one suggests we return to the plantation culture, we do need to diversify our economy away from tourism. With a revenue stream that is so fundamentally tied to the vacation plans of people around the world, Hawaii is particularly vulnerable to economic hard times and recessions. We can no longer afford to depend so heavily on the disposable income of others. Hawaii must once again become self-sufficient.

Additionally, and simply put, growing and buying local produce is smart on a number of different levels. For starters, buying food that is locally grown keeps all (or at least the vast majority) of the money spent on food in the state, adding to the overall health and diversity of our local economy. Such locally grown products will be more fresh, obviously, than similar crops shipped from elsewhere. What’s more, the more produce grown and purchased in the islands means less is shipped to us, reducing the environmental impact of buying produce from out of state.

When talking about issues that have the potential to affect the lives of all of us, I can’t help but mention that I am not a life-long Hawaii resident. I’ve lived in the islands for nearly seven years and have come to call this place home. I have a deep appreciation and respect for the culture, the history, and the ‘aina of Hawaii and want to do what I can to preserve it.

This is an issue that requires more awareness, more discussion, and more commitment from all of us.

On Friday, August 28th, the Land Use Commission (LUC) ruled that D.R. Horton-Schuler Homes isn’t in compliance with state laws because their development plan extends 20 years to completion, instead of the ten required by law. This is ultimately a victory for those opposing the development of Hoopili, though it seems the set-back is a result of a technicality.

According to an article in the Honolulu Advertiser on Saturday, the 5-3 ruling by the LUC is, at a minimum, nothing more than a set-back and that the developer still has the ability to petition for partial, or even complete development of the site.

In addition to the LUC ruling, neither the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Transportation support the development. Admittedly, both agencies have proposed compromises to the current plan, which is unfortunate and shows an unwillingness, in my mind, of the State to stand firm on the need to maintain prime agricultural land for agricultural purposes.

The Department of Agriculture, should the development of Hoopili be ultimately approved, suggested the developer ‘obtain an easement committing 1,407 acres of equivalent prime farmland elsewhere on Oahu for farm use in perpetuity.’ To me, this suggestion shows the State is willing to put off discussion, until some future date, or forever, on the important topic of a Hawaii that is self-sustaining in the area of food production. It would seem to me that if the State is willing to compromise on this area of development, what would keep it from compromising in the future on the 1,407 acres for which it is suggesting the developer obtain the easement?

Aside from the loss of prime agricultural land, the Department of Transportation says the developer hasn’t yet resolved issues related to the significant increase in traffic congestion the development would create. It is this issue, for better or worse, and not the loss of prime ag land, that may ultimately keep the land zoned for agriculture. The Department of Transportation has also said that the developer has, as of yet, not presented any ‘reasonable proposal’ to deal with the traffic concerns raised by the department.

All in all, the ruling by the LUC is a victory, however temporary, for those opposed to the Hoopili development, but I have little doubt that there is more work to do to raise the profile of this issue and to bring more people to the side of the Friends of Makakilo.

You can find additional information about the development of Hoopili and the LUC meeting here.

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