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March 1972

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This Is Your Life! League Life, that Is
Land Use Units in March
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From Our President (Dee Lum)
Report from the Nominating Committee
By-Law Change
Local Program Making
Voter Service
School Committee Report
Statement to the Honolulu Charter Commission
Who Owns Hawaii's Lands?
Convention 1972
Proposed Budget - LWV of Honolulu - 1972 - 1973
Facts and Issues - Planning - March 1972

Facts and Issues - Planning - March 1972

League of Women Voters of Honolulu


Where there is no planning a community of confusion exists. We are concerned with planning the use of certain irreplaceable commodities, land and natural resources, in order that present and future generations can best use them. To meet the needs of a growing population it is necessary to accommodate demands on the land for residential, recreational, commercial, educational, and transportation expansion.

So called "natural" growth (that occurring without the benefit of comprehensive planning) usually results in sprawl, an unorganized scramble of land uses, which is not only aesthetically unpleasant but expensive, as services (police and fire), are difficult to provide and administer, and improvements (sidewalks and sewers) and utilities cost more in areas of random growth. A costly example of this is seen in street widening and sidewalk construction in the upper Kapahulu area of Waikiki.

Beyond aesthetic, health, and expense considerations is the critical field of budgeting both public tax and private funds. It is impossible to effectively utilize monies without both long and short range goals. No agency should make expenditures of money or effort without considering them as incremental steps in an overall scheme for the future.


Prior to discussing the issues we currently face, it is appropriate to review those characteristics which strongly influence planning on Oahu.

Honolulu is relatively young, not yet facing the agonies of extensive redevelopment creating seemingly insoluble situations financially, socially, and aesthetically as in most mainland metropolises. Magazines and journals regularly carry articles on 'dead" cities and areas within. What we do now determines whether this can be avoided here. For example, our transportation system is an infant; the type of system and routes, even its basic goals are still fluid.

There are strong physical constraints due to insularness and small land area which result in limitations on all natural resources. (Our electric power is generated today by burning imported fuel.) The constraints create physically a completely contained metropolitan planning area on Oahu, and the existence of a county-wide government (rather than separate city and county agencies) diminishes the opportunity for proliferation of bureaucracy which slows and clouds decision making processes in other cities.

However, the division of planning and capital improvement authority between county and state creates areas of confusion in health facilities, highways, educational facilities and other areas. Communication at the policy-decision making level is not consistent. For example, a controversy exists over the H-3 Freeway between the Planning Department of Oahu and the State Transportation Department as a result of the Planning Director stating the State needs a county general plan amendment in order to proceed with construction which has been planned for ton years. The time for this change request was prior to full scale planning. More joint participation is necessary if all State and County planning agencies are to best serve the public interest.

Further physical limitations are imposed by the state in the form of zoning established by the State Land Use Commission.

Another physical consideration is climates as it results in a tourist-visitor oriented economy and the influx demands many different areas and facilities. Waikiki is almost e city within a city or a second "downtown", being in fact larger than the city's central business district.

The climate also influences heavily the life style of the residents, and their demands, especially for recreational facilities.

Cost of construction is a consideration in all planning, especially for residential areas and is largely a function of land cost due to scarcity. the cosmopolitan character of the population with heavy Oriental influence contributes to a somewhat different attitude toward the structuring of the city, Agencies such. as Model Cities study individuals, traditional needs attempting to better meet community needs, In zoning, ethnic differences should be considered.


The Planning Commission serves an intermediary advisory position. For example a zoning or general plan change is desired by an individual owning a parcel of land, The request is formally presented to the Planning Director who can that the application be processed or that it be denied outright. he only recourse an applicant has in case of an outright denials is to apply directly to the City Council.

When an application is accepted the Planning Department studies all aspects of the request; consulting the Traffic Department, Public Works Department, Building Department, Finance Department, Sewer Division, Board of Water Supply and various other agencies as to the advisability of the change.

After study the Director recommends approval or disapproval, stating the Department's findings and passes the request to the planning Commission,

The Planning Commission examines the recommendations of the Department and some do individual background investigations. Public hearings are mandatory.

Following the hearing and deliberations, the Commission votes its recommendation and the application is sent to the City Council commission on planning and zoning. Another hearing might be held at this point, The committee makes a recommendation to the Council as a whole where final authority rests. Conceivably a third public hearing could be held at this stage.


In 1907 a permanent planning commission was established in Hartford, Connecticut which set a pattern that has been followed since. Once begun, the idea spread rapidly, and in 1960 over 90 percent of American cities with 10,000 population or more had official planning commissions. Honolulu had its first planning commission in 1915. However, there is little uniformity in the organization and function of municipal planning agencies. The existence of alternative forms of organization suggests that a number of different goals are involved , While the pattern of organization is important, it alone does not determine effectiveness. What is important is how well the planning process or function is carried out.

Planning commissions generally have 5-7 members and may have as many as 50. It may be entirely ex-officio, consisting of designated public officials, or made up of citizens serving without pay, or a combination, Once realtors sought to dominate the commissions and wore often successful in doing so or imposing the developer viewpoint on decisions, Gradually a broader representation has developed with various community interests including home-owners represented, Commissioners are subject to pressures from all facts of the community, but are not in a position to have to answer to voters at the polls.

In Honolulu there Is a 7-member voting body with 2 ex-officio non-voting members, the Budget Director and the Managing Director. Previous to 1962 ex-officio members were allowed to vote. At one time the State Legislature specified that 3 of the members would be a practicing architect, a realtor and an engineer. Partially due to repeated charges of conflict of interest this specification was omitted in the 1959 Charter, which specifies only that members should be "in sympathy with and believe in the principles of sound city planning."

Commissioners are appointed by the Mayor with consent of the City Council, Currently, there is an architect, a union official, a minister, a businessman, a community organization worker, a Better Business Bureau official and an attorney represented. One member has served fourteen years. Terms are five years and staggered, Since commission members serve without pay, and it is a time-consuming responsibility, it is nearly impossible to have a true cross-section of the community. Individuals in lower socio-economic groups could not afford this responsibility if they had the interest. This leads to charges that the commission does not represent all areas of Oahu equally.

The duties of the Commission as specified in the Charter include:

  1. Advise Mayor, Council and Director in matters of planning programs

  2. Review general plan and development plans and their modification - the Commission shall transmit such plans to council for action with recommendation

  3. Review land subdivision and zoning ordinances and shall transmit such ordinances to the Council for action with recommendations

  4. Adopt regulations with force of law pursuant to the subdivision ordinances

  5. Prepare a capital improvement program

  6. Consult the State Planning Director with reference to the general plan and CIP

The general plan, prepared by the City Planning Department, states the long-range goals for the physical development of Oahu. Development Plans are detailed elaborations of the land use pattern and public facilities indicated in the General Plan. Zoning regulates the use of land, and the arrangement, size and use of buildings placed on the lend. Zoning runs with the land, and when the Land is sold, the zoning does not change, Zoning guides the growth of Honolulu according to the General Plan. The main purpose of zoning is to promote a sensible pattern of land use and building, The Capital Improvement Program is a schedule of the public projects that the City intends to construct during a six-year period.

The Comission is almost entirely an advisory body, It does not in reality prepare the CIP. This in done by the Planning Department staff. The Commission is primarily a place where issues can be aired in public hearing, One of the serious questions we must consider is the powers and existence of this body, Should it have some real powers or is it best as a purely advisory agency?

The functions of the Commissioners are subtle and den=t lend themselves to the legal language of charters. The following is a sampling of the comments expressed in interviews with a wide variety of individuals involved in the planning process. Some indicate satisfaction with the "cross-section" because diverse educational backgrounds are present; many expressed the feeling that the Commission allows the public to "blow off steam," Some feel the Commission hearings ore a waste of time because the real authority lies with the Council. Some feel the Council hearings are too formal and awesome for the average citizen to go before and express himself, Some feel the Commission is educative and probing, Some fool it is less subject to political pressures and therefore more fair in its judgment, Some feel the lay viewpoint and the questions asked by Commissioners is critical and prevents the professional planners from telling citizens what is best for them. The charge was made that professional planners get locked into a particular approach and fail to try new methods., Some felt that the intermediary position of the Commission allowed the Council needed time to find solutions acceptable to the most people. Others felt the Commissioners ill-informed and not understanding of good technical planning processes.

Another arm of the planning "octopus" is the Zoning Board of Appeals. This quasi-judicial body consists of three members appointed by the Mayor with Council consent who serve three-year terms. The duties include:

  1. Hear and determine appeals from the actions of the Director In the administration of the subdivision and zoning ordinances and any regulations adopted pursuant thereto, An appeal shall be sustained only _f r, ao board finds that the directors action was based on an erroneous finding or a material fact, or that the director has acted in an arbitrary manner,

  2. Hear petitions for variance of zoning ordinance with respect to a specific parcel of land. It may grant such a variance upon the ground that unnecessary hardship if the record shows that (1) by reason of peculiar and unusual circumstances pertaining to the physical characteristics of the property, the land in question cannot yield a reasonable return if used only for the purpose allowed in that %ore, (2) the plight of the owner is due to unique circumstances and not to the general conditions in the neighborhood which may reflect the unreasonableness of the zoning ordinance itself and (3) that the use sought to be authorized by the variance will not alter the essential character of the locality nor be contrary to the intent and purpose of the zoning ordinance.

The ZBA powers are considerable and leave much to the discretion of the individuals who sit on the board.

[Due to mechanical difficulties the following information was not clearly printed. These two pages are part of the Planning Facts and Issues in the March 1972 Aloha Voter. Please replace or add pages 5 and 6 to the material received.]

The following is a compilation of the suggestions for Charter changes made to the Charter Commission and in interviews held by this committee with reference to the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals. What is really at stake in this Charter discussion is the distribution of planning power in Honolulu. Who is going to make the decisions that establish policy? Following each proposal is a summary of the pertinent pros and cons.

  1. Abolish the planning commission.

    1. Commissioners don't comprehend costs when passing favorably on "good ideas."

    2. It really serves no valid purpose.

    3. Planning is too complicated for lay people to understand.

    4. Not well informed on modern planning methods.

    5. Committees of the City Council could do the job of holding hearings just as well.

    6. Attendance indicates that it is really too time-consuming for people with other responsibilities.

  2. Retain planning commission.

    1. Serves as insulation between Department and Council and developers and Council.

    2. Longer range response possible because not worried about elections (as are councilmen).

    3. Council is unwilling to try new ways.

    4. Council uninformed on planning matters, Commissioners can devote all its time to one subject.

    5. Commission provides support for Council in situations where "best" solution is not necessarily the most popular.

    6. Commission offers lay viewpoint - represent a prestige level of citizen participation.

    7. Without the Commission, the planning process becomes purely an administrative, technical and political process.

    8. The more citizen input, the more the product will reflect the desires of the community.

    9. Citizen participation is desirable at the beginning of an idea, and if no Commission existed the Director might have to hold public hearings.

  3. Transfer preparation and evaluation of CIP from Commission to Planning Department.

    1. Have been doing this job all along.

    2. Have staff already trained.

    3. CIP needs to reflect General Plan goals and this is best evaluated by the Planning Department.

    4. Commission doesn't have time to comprehend the whole program.

  4. Transfer preparation and evaluation of CIP from Commission to Budget Department.

    1. CIP must be closely integrated with Operating Budget which is handled in Budget Department.

    2. Larger staff in Budget then Planning.

    3. Budget Department would have difficulty evaluating the CIP in light of the General Plan without hiring professional planners already employed by Planning Department.

  5. Give ex-officio members of Commission voting privileges.

    1. Would assure better participation.

    2. Value of position is dubious without vote,

    3. The purpose of these men being involved is to facilitate communications within government.

  6. Drop ex-officio members from Commission.

    1. Administration would lose benefit of knowing from the inside the Commission's long-range viewpoint. It is beneficial to be aware of future possibilities within which daily responsibilities revolve.

    2. No need for ex-officio members on a purely advisory board.

  7. Change Planning Commission's CIP role to one of review rather than formulation.

  8. Drop requirement of obtaining Planning Commission recommendations on proposed amendments of the capital, budget and program

    1. a. Same reasons expressed for eliminating Commission participation in formulating GIP,

  9. Transfer legislative authority over subdivision rules and regulations from Commission to Council. to Council.

  10. Increase Planning Commission authority over zoning changes, since such charges are to be in conformity with the accepted guidelines of the General Plan.

    in conformity with the accepted guidelines of the General Plan_.

    1. Would remove some of the work load from City Council,

    2. Zoning isn't policy but implementation and the Council should really be concerned with only policy decisions.

    3. Avoid a duplication of work.

    4. In case a serious conflict occurred, a provision could allow an appeal to the City Council.

    5. There are few instances when the Commission and the Council now arrive at different decisions on zoning matters.

    6. Politicians would not be able to exercise arbitrary powers.

    7. Zoning is policy and rightly belongs under Council authority.

  11. Delineate the qualifications for Commissioners in detail in the Charter.

    1. This would insure a more knowledgeable Commission, planning-wise.

    2. It is difficult to fill positions on appointed boards already, and would make it doubly difficult if there were extensive qualifications.

  12. Reimburse Commissioners for time spent.

    1. A wider cross section of the community might be obtained.

    2. If more power and extra duties are given to the Commissioners, they deserve remuneration. c. Traditionally citizen boards are not paid, it is considered a form of citizen service to the community.

  13. Eliminate the Zoning Board of Appeals.

    1. This body could be replaced with or exist in conjunction with a Zoning Administrator who would initiate all zone changes and be responsible for official zoning maps, all of which would be handled through public hearings held by a zoning administrator. His office could be divorced from that of the Planning Director. The zoning administrator might be granted the authority to allow variances under the ordinances and zoning codes or the Zoning Board of Appeals might continue to exist, being placed under the zoning administrator's agency. The zoning administrator might be able to impose conditions when granting a variance. In some cities appeals from his decisions can be made to the Zoning Board of Appeals, in others it is to the City Council. This allows the appeals board to concentrate on really difficult cases. In some instances the administrator makes a recommendation to the Council, in much the same way our Commission makes a recommendation. The Council has final authority.

      Other suggestions concerning Zoning Board of Appeals.

      -Should have own staff so not relying on Planning Department since Department is advisor and litigant in ZBA cases.

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