Poised to miss a deadline that was set 10 years ago, the county Planning Department on Tuesday got a three-year reprieve to update the county General Plan.
The General Plan is the policy document for the long-range comprehensive development of Hawaii Island. Last updated in February 2005, it was scheduled to have a new update completed by February 2015.
The Planning Department came to the County Council asking it to change the date in the General Plan so the county could start the process next year rather than complete it. It takes several years to update the lengthy document.
But the council balked at setting just a start date and letting the end date be open-ended. So on Tuesday the council voted 8-1 to amend the plan to allow 13 years between plans, rather than the current 10.
Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille wanted to give the Planning Department 11 years rather than 13.
“We didn’t do the right thing, the way it was supposed to have been done and now we’re saying let’s change it at the last minute,” Wille said.
But she agreed to support Puna Councilman Zendo Kern’s 13 years rather than there be no deadline at all.
“We’re going to set them up for failure,” Kern said. “It’s just not realistic. … Yet, we can have it so it’s accountable.”
“This thing has already failed,” responded South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford, the lone dissenting vote.
Ford said the lack of accountability she’s seen in the Planning Department just wouldn’t be tolerated in the private sector, where she came from. She laid the blame on former Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, not the current director, Duane Kanuha. Both are appointees of Mayor Billy Kenoi.
“It’s OK to fail 100 percent. It’s OK to not even try,” Ford characterized the department’s attitude. “It’s not what the people expect of us. … They expect us on the council to do our jobs and they expect the administration to do their jobs.”
Kanuha has said a combination of factors caused the delay. First, the department, under Leithead Todd’s management, was busy creating Community Development Plans to allow more community input into the planning process. That pulled staff off the General Plan during the recessionary years when furloughs and position freezes led to staff shortages.
Kanuha tried to put concerns to rest that were raised by Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi. Onishi said extending the deadline would mean the plan amendments would come due in 2018, after a new mayor and administration are put in place in late 2016.
“A process like this shouldn’t be dependent on the personalities involved,” Kanuha said. “A process set up should carry it forward.”
The amended Bill 239 faces one more council vote, where it is likely to pass with no more amendments.
The purpose of the General Plan is to guide the pattern of future development, identify the visions, values and priorities important to the people of the county, provide the framework for regulatory decisions, capital improvement priorities, acquisition strategies and other government programs, improve the physical environment of the county and “inject long-range considerations into the determination of short-range actions and implementation,” according to the preface of the document.
The 396-page plan can be viewed at cohplanningdept.com/community-planning/general-plan.