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Annual Meeting 1999
President's Message (Grace Furukawa)
Ballot Recount (Arlene Ellis)
League Sues the City (Astrid Monson)
League Honors Marion Saunders during Women's History Month
Brown Bag Seminars

League Sues the City

Hawaii's explosive population growth during the past half century (from 350,000 in 1950 to 872,000 by 1996) led to the unplanned and uncontrolled development of tens of thousands of acres of previously vacant land. As early as the 1960's demands were made for better planning and zoning, with various attempts to find ways of doing so while both permitting businesses and land owners to meet the demands were made for better planning and zoning, with various attempts to find ways of doing so while both permitting businesses and land owners to meet the demands of growth and attempting to preserve the environment for future generations.

Though in the 1960's Oahu had a "Comprehensive Zoning Code" and a city plan of sorts, by 1973 these had been found ineffective and a new City Charter, a new General Plan for Oahu, and a series of eight Development Plans were adopted in the 1970's and 1980's. After considerable discussion the 1973 Charter and Map amendments in 1992 considerable discussion the 1973 Charter and Map amendments in 1992 clearly differentiated between city planning-the formulation of objectives and policies to guide the location, nature and density of development -- and zoning -- the regulation of the actual building to implement these objectives and policies in terms of building heights, required open spaces, and specific uses to be made of the land.

The 1973 Charter set up two City departments to carry on these two functions -the Department of General Planning and the Department and Land Utilization. Their functions were clearly described. Development plans were to be consistent with the island's General Plan, and zoning was to be consistent with the Development Plans.

During the 1980's there were constant attempts to revise both the General Plan and the Development Plans to accommodate numerous building proposals which were incompatible with the planning objectives. In many cases the Plans were revised to enable the desired zoning changes to proceed. Some of the most basic principles of the General Plan were sacrificed. Development Plans were amended year by year and eventually were just a record of land uses approved, rather than a plan of what the island's future should be.

As could have been expected, land owners and developers pressed for speedy zoning approvals of the projects they desired to build, while environmentalists and community activists emphasized the need to control growth and protect the natural environment. The first group called for elimination of long range planning or combining it in the same City department as zoning; the second called for more emphasis on long-range, comprehensive planning in its own Department.

During the 1992 Charter Revision, serious consideration was given to combining the two functions into one department. In the end it was decided to keep them separate, but further clarify the functions of the two. The Charter required a revision of the Development Plans to make them more comprehensive and longer in their vision. Rezoning was to follow.

By 1998 complaints of the length of the process were being made as a cause of the economic recession, with the claim that simplifying it and streamlining it would lend to economic revitalization. As a part of the Mayor's streamlining program, hopefully to make city functions more effective and less costly, a Resolution was introduced. Resolution 98-69, introduced on 3/20/98, initiated a Charter Amendment to establish a department of Planning and Land Utilization and to make Related Conforming and Clarifying amendments. This was followed by an alternative Resolution 98-88 on 4/9/98, proposing a Charter Amendment to eliminate the Planning Department and assigning its duties to the Planning and Permitting Dept. The latter was to be the renamed title of the then current Department of Land Utilization, which was responsible for zoning.

Along with several other organizations - the local chapter of the American Planning Association among others-League opposed both resolutions. We testified that both Resolutions were undesirable and unworkable and almost guarantees that no comprehensive planning would be possible. It was correctly charged that when Planning and Zoning used to be in the same department, the staff was too busy processing zoning applications to any real planning. The 1992 Charter recognized this and clearly differentiated the comprehensive planning function from zoning regulations. The savings hoped for by combining the two functions may not be realized and we could be back where we were in the '60s and early '70s.

Similar testimony was given to various Council Committees and the full Council. Claiming to be cooperative with the Mayor's reorganization plan, five of the nine Council members voted for the merger of the Departments. The measure was defeated for referral as an amendment for public vote on the ballot, which required a 6/3 vote of the Council. The Mayor decided in June, backed by the Council's 5 votes, to convene a Charter Commission to present proposed amendments at the 11/3/98 election.

League in testimony pointed out the considerable differences in the objectives, implementation, and procedures involved in planning and zoning, and in the kinds of professional training and experience required in each. We reminded the Council that the `92 Charter recognized this and clearly differentiated the comprehensive planning function from zoning regulations. We emphasized that Charter Amendments being considered should have careful analysis and public input.. Proposals that are impractical, unreasonable, unworkable, inappropriate or contrary to the public interest should be screened out. The Commission should be more than a passive conduit between a proponent of an amendment and the public. It should not be a rubber stamp.

We urged the rejection of the charter Amendments, to no avail. Thirteen Commissioners were appointed and slightly over two months later the Charter Commission put eight Charter Amendments on the 1998 ballot and is preparing to continue placing Charter Amendments on the 2000 ballot

The Honolulu City Charter, like the U. S. Constitution, is not supposed to be changed lightly, frequently, or to accomplish purposes that could be brought about through the legislative process. Therefore, special provisions govern the conditions under which a proposed Charter or Constitutional amendment can be proposed.

Charter Commissions are supposed to be appointed every ten years. The last Commission appointed in 1991, worked for 16 months and held 45 public hearings before presenting 32 proposed amendments that were voted on by the people at the 1992 General Election. Determining that the 16-month period was inadequate to complete the work, the commission provided for the next Commission to be appointed by February 1, 2001, adding 2 months to the schedule to prepare for the 2002 General Election.

The Commission appointed in June intends to do its job in barely 2 months. It has been publicly stated that its main task is to formulate Charter Amendments needed to implement the Mayor's reorganization plan at the 1998 election.

We think this is a travesty of the Charter Amendment process and nothing more than an attempted end-run around the Charter's own amendment provisions. We submit that it is not only ill-advised, but illegal.

League began the process to file a lawsuit against the city in July. Final results are still pending.

Astrid Monson
Planning & Zoning

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