March 1994 Home   Newsletters

April 1994

May 1994

President's Message (Arlene Ellis)
Vote Count Alert
Testimony before the State Legislature
Kakaako Makai Plan
Importance of Legislative Access (Jean Aoki)
Action Alert - Firearms Control Legislation
Action Alert - Public Access Legislation
Membership
Annual Meeting

Testimony before the State Legislature

ON LEGISLATIVE ACCESS

We are very pleased that the Senate is considering participating in the Legislative Access Cable Television pilot project. We would like to make some recommendations for the selections of the committee hearings and meetings to be aired.

The Legislative Access Evaluation Committee assembled by 'Olelo after 199.3 legislative session came to the conclusion that, barring total coverage, the selection process was the most critical component of legislative access. It recommended that "decisions regarding the selection of committee meetings and hearings to be covered should be made with both the importance of the issue and the level of public interests in mind." The criteria it thought most important to be used as guidelines in the selection process were: 1) issues generating the greatest public interest, 2) issues generating the greatest controversy, 3) issues involving the appropriation of significant funds, and 4) those involving the largest numbers of people.

Diversity was not considered an important criteria. It was felt that trying to achieve diversity and balance might result in telecasting meetings of less interest and importance to the public at the expense of coverage of hearings on bills of greater importance. If adherence to these guidelines result in greater exposure for a few committees and, maybe, little or none for a few others, we must remember that it is the issues addressed by the bills that is important to the public.

The League of Women Voters urge you to adopt Senate Resolution 14 and to give the recommendations of the Legislative Access Evaluation Committee serious consideration.

ON PUBLIC ACCESS ROOM

The League of Women Voters gives its full support to HB 2730. A few years ago, Common Cause and the League were instrumental in developing the concept of the access room and were gratified that the legislature set up the Public Access Room. It enabled public interest groups and other ordinary citizens greater access to the legislative process previously unknown to many. Centralizing information services has decreased the flow of citizens wandering around from room to room, floor to floor of this building, looking for specific proposed legislation and attempting to track particular Bills.

We ask you to go one step further and to keep the Access Room open all year round. Workshops and training to enable citizens to effectively utilize the services provided by the Public Access Room should be an essential part of implementing public access room services.

The government process is a continuing one and does not end with the termination of each legislative session. so too, is the need for public access to information. To participate in democracy and have a place in shaping public policy, citizens must be informed, have an opportunity to give voice to their opinions and take part in the decision making.

We urge you to pass HB 2730.

ON ACCESS

Public access to legislative proceedings via television is a service which is long overdue. Until 1993, when the House consented to participate in 'Olelo's pilot project to cablecast some of the committee meetings and hearings and all of the House sessions, the information received by the public was filtered through the media. It was selected information: complete in some cases, incomplete in others, and meager if any, on the rest.

Obviously, the average citizen cannot attend hearings and sessions during the workday, has little interest in making the trip downtown when off to work – and the rooms here could not hold many of them if they did.

Telecasting the meetings and sessions gives citizens opportunity to view some of the proceedings at their convenience. Listening to the testimonies and the discussions help them understand the issues better. This paves the way for more informed public opinions on issues. Opinions

based on more complete information are certainly sounder than opinions based on emotions and selected or biased information.

Viewing the successes of CSpan I and II which present congressional sessions enhanced by call-in shows, panel discussions and interviews; and the increasing interest in watching the City Council in action, we believe the public expects the same access to the State legislature.

Aside from enjoying access to information on the issues, the public can view the legislators at work. Except for the few legislators who are quoted in the print media and interviewed on TV and radio newscasts, the public has little or no opportunity to know what its representatives do or how they vote on the issues and therefore has difficulty holding them accountable for their actions. Through these cablecasts the public will begin to understand how the Legislature functions: the role of lobbyists, citizen groups and others, and their impact on decision making. This might even encourage some of the viewers to make their voices heard on issues of interest to them.

While the initial cost to wire and retrofit the State Capitol may be more than this legislature may want to consider, we feel that the cost-savings in the long run will be well justified. The State Capitol, in the throes of remodeling and refurbishing can accommodate these central system improvements at a lower cost now, rather than renovating to accommodate them in the future.

The public will benefit greatly by these improvements for many years to come. Amortized over the period of these many years the annual cost will be minimal. Project by project costs of time, labor and equipment can be greatly reduced.

An informed and involved citizenry is important to the proper functioning of a democratic form of government. we urge you to pass HB 2731.

ON STATE CONVENTION CENTER

The tremendous traffic congestion, air pollution and noise created by the convention center, plus the thousands of participants will greatly impact the surrounding neighborhoods. It is reasonable that the people in these neighborhoods should have some meaningful and effective way to influence the design, management and operation of the convention center.

Frequently, boards, commissions and authorities are filled with representatives of government, big business and big unions with little input from the ordinary citizen. We hope that the advisory committee being formed by the Convention Center Authority or by this Legislature will have adequate and not just token representation from members of the affected neighborhoods.

We are in full support of increasing the Convention Center Authority with two members from the neighboring

communities who are not affiliated with hotels, travel agencies or in any way involved with the visitor industry. The citizen's viewpoint, we feel is a necessary ingredient toward the achievement of a convention center which will be a friendly neighbor to the thousands of residents in the surrounding areas.

The League of Women Voters therefore urges that legislation be enacted to ensure neighborhood participation in the planning and implementation of building the center and in the operation and management of the center.

ON ETHICS

The League of Women Voters fully supports the intent of HB 3290 to let "sunshine" into the Ethics Commission's proceedings. The entire enforcement process has been too long one of "confidentiality" and secrecy, eroding the public's trust in the system.

Opening the proceedings up to public scrutiny allows the public some measure of confidence in the process. They can view the actual Commission functions and hear the discussions that lead to its findings. Making the complaint, the answer to the complaint, the hearing, and the Commission's decision – whether or not a violation is found – a matter of public record, may well act as a. deterrent to violators of the Code of Ethics. Many would shy away from the glare of public scrutiny and the demand for accountability.

We think this Bill finally addresses the safeguards necessary in democratic government proceedings-by letting the public in, and urge you to pass it.

ON HOUSING

Though we applaud your efforts to get more affordable housing built, we feel that this bill is redundant, unworkable, and not relevant to the real problem. On Oahu enough land has already been given Development Plan approval to provide some 75,000 homes by the year 2010. Only-some 3,000 units a year are being built, and at prices far above what people can really afford.

It is primarily financing, infrastructure, and marketing problems which are keeping housing from being built on this land. In the vast majority of cases, zoning has not even been applied for. The excuse given is often that it is "government planning and zoning regulations" that are to blame. We do not agree.

However, it should be noted that, at least in Oahu, developments containing an affordable or publicly assisted component of housing already get special fast-track handling under our County planning ordinances. They are also given special handling under State law. Furthermore, Oahu's zoning law already permits concurrently processing of planning and zoning amendments in many cases.

In Oahu's 1992 Charter revisions of the planning and zoning processes,. the former duplication between planning and zoning approvals has been eliminated. Specific development projects will no longer be handled on an ad hoc case-by-case basis at the planning level. Changes in Development Plans will be made only for general areas on a broad basis. Specific projects will be processed only at the zoning level.

Even at the State level, H.B. 3437 proposed that the Land Use Commission, which now is approving specific projects, be abolished in favor of a State Planning Commission, which would delineate broad categories of land use, within which the Counties would plan, and eventually zone for urban development. We have supported this aspect of the bill, but there were so many objections to other provision that it does not seem likely that the bill will pass in its present from.

Even under present Oahu processes, if a developer wants to speed up the processing of a specific project, he can apply simultaneously for planning and zoning changes -and, we are told, for State LUC approval. In the future, if his project complies with both State and city plans, he is free to apply for zoning at any time.

We see no feasible way, however, for these three processes to be combined in any workable manner. The objectives and criteria for State districting, County development planning, and zoning are not the same, though each has its place in sound planning and land use management.

There are constant requests to exempt this or that project, this or that type of development from the process. We have opposed these on the grounds that planning is not the enemy of development, but a tool to improve it. We urge you to reject this bill.

ON LAND USE

We wish to address that portion of the Bill that refers to the exemptions from State land use laws for the development of the University of Hawaii, West Oahu.

We understand the urgent need for expanding the University-after all, it has been under consideration for at least ten years – but we are concerned that the exclusive authority being established is exempted from all State land use laws and question why such total exemptions are necessary to accomplish the purpose of this development. We have become increasingly worried at the tendency to exempt areas and development of many kinds from planning controls, such as Kakaako and the Convention Center.

League has consistently opposed all such exemptions. We feel that land use planning is not undesirable or unnecessary obstacles to development, but is the only way to achieve desirable development while protecting all of us. We have seen no hard evidence that such controls stand in the way of desirable development.

ON LAND USE

Like so many others, we have long been critical of the land use planning system at both the State and County levels. We were active in achieving the major City Charter changes recently adopted by Oahu's voters to substitute comprehensive planning for our former project-by-project approach. To the extent that the subject bill changes the Land Use Commission and its piece-meal land control system to a State Planning Commission mandated to do comprehensive planning, we welcome its intent.

We had hoped, however, that the bill would also address other major shortcoming – such as the over-lapping and duplication of State and county planning processes, the ineffectiveness of our efforts to protect conservation and other lands inappropriate for urban development, the lack of fundamental land use policies as guidelines for land use decisions. The first three pages of the bill. clearly delineate the inadequacies of the existing system; unfortunately, in our opinion, the next forty pages do not, in many respects, correct them.

A few examples:

  1. The bill points out that the counties are now more able to plan and manage the use of their land than when the original Land Use Law was adopted, but we think it enhances the role of the State and makes the counties more subservient to it than they now are.

  2. The bill states that the State's land use and growth management system should be revised to be more effective, but then sets up a tri-partite allocation of functions between the Commission, the Office of State Planning, and the Counties which, we fear, will inevitably lead to conflict, confusion, lack of clear accountability, and delays.

  3. The bill calls for revision of the present system to be more responsive to the concerns of neighborhoods, communities and counties, and then sets up a top-down process with, as we interpret it, less opportunity for public participation than at present.

  4. At least on Oahu, the new system would disrupt the detailed process of development plan revision already under way to carry out the mandates of the 1992 Charter revision.

  5. We see a potentially serious conflict between decisions of the State Planning Commission as a "quasi-legislative" body not elected by popular vote, and the elected County Councils responsible for planning and zoning of their land.

  6. We are concerned that the bill establishes some eight or nine State defined districts with lists of permitted land uses in each, which appear to be more like zoning than criteria or guidelines for planning.

In light of the above, we are not able to support the present bill. We are not even sure that we need to make so far-reaching and complete a change in the present law at this time, at least until we have a clearer understanding of what is wrong with the present system as it affects the various Counties and what needs to be done to "fix it."

For example, we think we need a clearer distinction than the bill sets forth, between the respective functions of the Office of State Planning, the State Planning Commission, and the Counties. Perhaps the State should be concerned only – or at least primarily -with the broad interests of the State's citizens as a whole – such. as, areas to be kept out of urbanization -either permanently or for a stated number of years; areas to be kept in reserve for agriculture, not only sugar and pineapple but the many possible innovative crops that may come into use, or which may be needed as the world trend toward self-sufficiency makes itself felt – even if that is fifty years from now; areas essential for economic development, regional recreation, or other functions affecting more than one county.

Consideration should be given to the advantages and disadvantages of delineating all such areas and then leaving the other land uses to the counties, particularly because there are such wide differences between the needs, problems, and opportunities characteristic of each. The State's function can then be to establish policies, guidelines, and standards to be followed by the Counties, rather than trying to fine-tune what each county designates to go on which piece of land.

We therefore suggest that this bill be held in abeyance while the appropriate authorities go back to the drawing board and determine the basic purposes of land use planning and management at the State level, the extent to which these are or are not being met at the present time, the reasons for any failure, what would need to be done to remedy the situation – and only then, draft a bill which will carry out these purposes with a minimum of duplication or conflict between State and counties and a maximum of opportunities for public participation in the process.

ON TRANSPORTATION

We are in complete support of SR 29/SCR 38. We believe that it sets forth the right policy for improving our transportation facilities, especially on Oahu. It is only by planning and implementing a comprehensive and coordinated island-wide system of HOV lanes and throughways that we can hope to improve the capacity and efficiency of our transportation facilities at a cost we can afford.

Such a system is in accordance with the findings and recommendations of two important recent studies. One is a Report of the Honolulu City Council's TRANSPORTATION AND TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT PLANNING TASK FORCE, published last July. The other is the final Report of the TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS MANAGEMENT STUDY published in January by OMPO.

It is also in accordance with the findings of the US Department of Transportation's 1992 Report entitled "INCREASING THE PRODUCTIVITY OF THE NATION'S URBAN TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE".

This latter Report analyzed the busways, transit ways, commuter lanes, HOV, and rail systems in seven major metropolitan areas. It concluded that exclusive and shared busways, when compared to new light and heavy rail systems, have lower capital cost per rider, greater flexibility, and in many circumstances, provide lower door-to-door travel times than even in high performance grade-separated rail systems. Construction costs per rider were far lower than rail's – ranging from 1 to 27%.

The Honolulu Task Force Report concluded that the bus is and will continue to be the backbone of the City's transit system, but that additional capacity is needed to lessen overcrowding, provide more frequent service, and improve on-time performance. It pointed out, however, that to merely increase the bus fleet is not enough. The first step toward improving the capacity, comfort and convenience of current bus facilities is by giving priority to transit by promoting the development of a comprehensive HOV program to serve all neighborhoods throughout the island of Oahu.

The Task Force also recommended that buses and HOVs should be allowed exclusive rights-of-way on all major arteries into and out of major work centers. This means a change in the ways in which existing streets and highways are used. Thus capacity of buses and other HOVs would increase and make them more competitive with single occupant vehicles without applying compulsion or imposing burdensome monetary penalty.

OMPO's TSM Study came to similar conclusions. Among its recommendations-the very first one is "provision of a network of properly functioning HOV lanes though the congestion bottlenecks in the suburban commute corridor into the Central Honolulu employment centers."

Oahu has had some HOV lanes for years, but they have been piecemeal, do not come all the way into the City's Central Core, and are rightly criticized as creating bottlenecks where they disgorge into already congested highways or streets. We feel that the proposed study can and should develop the means to bring these facilities into the Central Urban Core and start an action program for an island-wide network of HOV lanes and throughways.

ON SCHOOLS

The League has a long standing support of an elected Board of Education and there is nothing in the current scene to change this consensus. We believe the public deserves the opportunity to vote for their Board of Education, granted it functions less than perfectly. We see no evidence that an appointed Board would work better. Look at the Board of Regents of the University of Hawaii, an appointed Board. When do you see any response to the public about what they have done? Almost never!

They work in secret and students have to try to ferret out what they are doing – even though they are paid by public funds and their meetings should be open and reported. They feel no obligation to the public – only to the Governor who appointed them.

Do we want our Board to function like that? Absolutely no! With all its faults our Board of Education is open and hears the public at every meeting. Their actions are regularly reported in the news and parents and citizens can keep up with what they are or are not doing.

The League supports an elected Board of Education with power to appoint the Superintendent. We favor a limited contract for the Superintendent. We strongly oppose a Superintendent who is answerable to the Governor. We do not favor county Boards. This would fragment statewide services, and put each county in competition with the others. There are features of our statewide system we should keep, especially financial equity.

The Board is an easy scapegoat for what are defects of the DOE. They need to use the power they have. They MUST remain a board of last resort for the public and employees of the DOE. Keep the DOE accountable to the Board.

ON VOTER REGISTRATION

The easiest way for citizens to participate in democracy is to register to vote: to become involved in elections and government decision making; to have a place in shaping public policy.

The National Voter Registration Act, popularly known as the "Motor Voter Bill" was signed into law on May 20, 1993, removing barriers to voter registration and creating a "Voters revolution" empowering citizens to assume their rightful role in the center of American democracy.

Senate Bill 2824 asks you to go one step further and allow citizens of Hawaii to register and vote on election day.

The State of Hawaii ranks among the lowest in voter turnout in the last several elections, among the 50 States. The citizen who registers to vote on election day will cast a ballot.

The question of fraud comes up each year that same day registration is proposed. Other than the safeguards cited in the Bill we recommend that the penalty for fraudulent registration be high enough to deter anyone from contemplating such action.

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