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May 1998

Annual Meeting 1998
President's Message (Grace Furukawa)
Reproductive Choice (Grace Furukawa)
State Land Use Commission (Astrid Monson)
What About the Woman? (Suzanne Meisenzahl)

State Land Use Commission

The House Finance Committee recently held a hearing on HB 2558, which implemented the State Economic Revitalization Task Force's recommendation to abolish the State Land Use Commission. For many years developers, large land owners, some City planners, and many county officials have wanted to abolish the Commission, which was established decades ago to implement the first state-wide land use control law in the United States. Initially, its purpose was to protect the sugar and pineapple industries from the pressures of urbanization upon the land needed for agriculture. Later, those interested in urban planning and in protecting natural resources and the environment joined in its support.

The Land Use Commission, an unpaid body appointed by the Governor, has the responsibility of districting all lands in the state for one of the four general uses – conservation, agriculture, rural, or urban. The counties are then free to make detailed plans and enact zoning ordinances and standards governing specific land uses in urban and rural districts, while conservation and agriculture districts remain under LUC control.

Every five years the LUC was mandated to review the amount of land and boundaries of the four districts and to enlarge or change them as needed to provide enough land for urban development and other uses for the next five years.

As might be expected, the commission's decisions were often unpopular with some planners, land owners and developers, or with the general public, or with the counties. Applications for district boundary changes were permitted between the five-year reviews and were often approved on a case-by-case basis. League's past president Carol Whitesell served on the commission for a number of years, often on the short end of 8-to-1 votes.

As time went on, the lines between the State's planning responsibilities and those of the counties were blurred, so that, for example, sometimes the counties zoned State agricultural land for urban development. A large number of procedural and substantive amendments were made, but the Commission continued to receive criticism, with one of the most frequent complaints being that the LUC designations and county zoning were duplicative and created costly delays and impediments to development. The counties demanded "home rule" and wanted complete control of their own planning and zoning.

In the current Legislature a number of bills were introduced to try to clarify the respective land planning responsibilities of the LUC and the counties, or to abolish the LUC entirely. SB2063 proposed to rename the LUC as the State Planning Commission and to redefine its functions, establishing clear lines of responsibility, so as to promote the uniform application of State policies to protect the environment and the economy, to provide shelter and the basic necessities of life to all, and to establish a method for the State and the counties to resolve competing interests.

On February 3, League testified before the Joint/Senate Committees of Water, Land and Hawaiian Affairs, and on Economic Development, on SB 2063, that we welcomed its retention of land use planning at the State level and its provisions to clarify the respective planning responsibilities of the State and the counties. We asked that action on the bill be delayed "until the various community organizations interested in land use planning and environmental protection have had time to compare various bills and analyze the consequences of their implementation.

On 2/27 SB 2558 was heard by the House Finance Committee. Our State Land Use Chair, Jackie Kido, prepared testimony for presentation at the hearing, but due to a mix-up in communications, we did not present oral testimony. Her written testimony, however, was submitted.

Excerpts follow:

The League of Women Voters of Hawaii strongly opposes HB 2558, which proposes to eliminate the State Land Use Commission. While an effort has been made to push dismantling the commission under the guise of duplication of government services, clearly no duplication exists. What we are really talking about is throwing out long-term, comprehensive planning to improve developer convenience.

With a much broader perspective than any one County can hold, the LUC decides on general appropriate uses with in the categories of agriculture, conservation, urban and rural. The Counties make development plans within the areas designated urban and rural, make detailed zoning classifications to implement the plans and serve as permitting agencies.

The LUC is charged with broad, comprehensive planning for the state's limited land resources. The most important of the commission's mandate is ensuring that resources are not plundered away without concern for future generations. While the Land Use Commission is responsible for the inter-generational stewardship of Hawaii's limited land resources, no similar mandate exists on the County level.

Though we recognize the home rule issues involved and the desire of Counties to be free of State restrictions, we cannot support the abolishment of the Land Use Commission. The pressure on the Counties to develop, including things like job generation and increases in taxable valuations, is enormous.

The League of Women Voters has for many years been a strong proponent of comprehensive land use planning. We have not agreed that it takes seven, or ten, or twelve years to get a development project approved, nor that it is government restrictions which are responsible for the high cost of housing. We have repeatedly pointed out that for years there has been a vast amount of land with approvals already in place. Yet due to financial or other reasons impeding development, such as lack of infrastructure, the land remains undeveloped.

In closing, the League of Women Voters of Hawaii urges this committee not to pass HB 2558. It would be unconscionable to sacrifice the long-term interest of our state and future generations to provide short-term financial gain to a few.

Evidently, the opposition to abolishing the LUC by League and other public interest organizations made some impact. On 3/19, the Senate Committee on Water, Land and Hawaiian Affairs held a hearing on an amended HB 2558, HD l which did not abolish the LUC. We testified our opposition to the bill, even as amended, because it still turned the control of agricultural lands over the Counties. Our case was greatly helped by an 11th hour opinion from the State Attorney General that such action would be unconstitutional.

At the close of the hearing, the Committee took no action on HB 2558, deciding instead to move ahead with further amendments to SB 2063.

Astrid Monson
Chair, P & Z

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