House committees vote to disband public land agency
HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers from two House committees voted to repeal the Public Land Development Corporation, bowing to strong community opposition across the Hawaiian Islands.
House committees on finance and land approved the measure Monday afternoon. The measure now moves to the House floor.
The more extreme bill prevailed over other proposals to merely reform the organization, which has been criticized for its power to override county zoning and permitting laws.
Rep. Cindy Evans, chairwoman of the House Committee on Water and Land, said opponents of the agency presented overwhelming opposition during a five-hour hearing last Saturday.
“Democracy has spoken loudly here,” Evans told The Associated Press. She said opponents of the agency made a compelling argument for repeal.
So many people testified about the issue that there was a delay in posting the testimony online, as letters continued to pour in days late.
Several bills before the House committees included proposals to reform the agency rather than scrap it altogether. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs submitted a bill to make the corporation more sensitive to Native Hawaiian culture and traditions.
But Evans said that because of public distrust, she didn’t think the agency can be reformed or fixed at this point.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie suggested replacing the Public Land Development Corp. with an organization called the Harbors and Parks Development Authority. But critics say his proposal perpetuates the same problem under the guise of a different name.
“The only way to calm this storm and to right the canoe that we always hear about so much is to pass a complete and full repeal of the PLDC,” testified Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser. “No morphing or amending or name-changing.”
Hooser said the creation of the agency, which occurred without a public hearing, has made the public distrust the state.
Rep. Mele Carroll said the lack of trust between the Legislature and the public needs to be resolved before the state can move forward with its development goals.
But Evans and Carroll cautioned that the vote on Monday was just the first of many legislative steps needed to address the public’s concerns.
“This issue is not over,” Evans said.
Much of the outcry against the Public Land Development Corp. has come from environmental groups and community leaders at the county level who say the corporation’s powers impede on their right to home rule.
The state association of mayors and county councils voted last fall to get rid of the agency.
The Public Land Development Corp. was created in 2011 with the goal of increasing state revenue through private-public partnerships.