No accountability, no bill

What can you say when the county planning director introduces legislation that she admits can’t be enforced? What about when the freshman County Council Planning Committee chairman essentially kills a bill that was carefully amended to contain protective language finessed from reams of public input? All I can say is, “Mahalo, Councilwoman Ford, for sticking your neck out — time and again — in the public interest.”

Councilman Zendo Kern initiated the trashing of an amended ag tourism bill that reflected a monumental improvement over the draft originally introduced by then Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd. The original bill had few, if any, protections for real farmers, their neighbors and neighborhoods, not to mention critical ag lands. After over a year of public hearings, testimony, and finessing by councilwoman Brenda Ford, the ag tourism bill that will be voted upon Thursday by the Hawaii County Council’s Planning Committee is essentially the original zombie revived and reverted to its scary, administration-initiated self — a promise of spreading tourism rather than protecting farmers, ag land, our food supply and a diverse economic base.

As did I, many members of the public turned out over the last two years to provide manao based on their lives spent farming and/or living in Hawaii’s agricultural areas. Horror stories and great suggestions abounded; and Councilwoman Ford responded proactively to those voices. She heard that there needs to be daily — not monthly or weekly — limits on visitor count. She saw that noise restrictions were lacking, mechanized amusement rides were allowed, while legal road access and adequate supporting infrastructure (connector roads, police, fire), as well as adequate restrooms and sewer were overlooked. The public asked for restrictions on the size of ag tourism properites and that sensitive areas such as Waipio Valley should be considered separately. A venue for citizen complaint was clearly lacking, and the planning department needed to promise on site visits to ensure compliance with the law. The elimination of automatic approvals of ag tourism operations was also high on the list with the all-important funding of enforcement a missing no-brainer.

But 30-some amendments addressed by Councilwoman Ford were ignored and eliminated by the County Council majority and Planning Department while the original bill was resuscitated by Councilman Kern. That new/old bill was then considered Groundhog Day fashion by the Leeward Planning Commission. Even though everyone at the meeting heard the planning director say the bill couldn’t be enforced, and even though countless members of the public testified that protective amendments should be reinstated, the Planning Commission approved the administration-initiated bill. The commissioners and planning director shared hugs and honi over a job well done (i.e., making sure the original bill without amendment remained alive); while bonafide farmers and other members of the public who’d described a litany of real and predicted abuses of ag lands felt betrayed by a process that dismissed even the simplest measures to help and protect farmers and their neighbors.

The ability to market and sell the agricultural products of bonafide farmers is warranted, yet restrictions to stop the over-reach and insensitivity of those who do not need nor deserve the benefit of calling their operations “agricultural” need to be forefront in any ag tourism legislation. Instead of helping farmers and their bottom line, Bill 25 will, in fact, codify abuses of ag land. It will encourage noisier, less environmentally balanced rural areas where the backbone of our ag industry lives, breathes and raises its keiki, and will potentially raise the value of ag lands and property taxes to the point where real farming could become untenable. Without protective amendments, Bill 25 should be killed.

If you care about agriculture, food production, island sustainability, economic diversity, environmental protection and the sanctity of rural areas and balanced neighborhoods, testify in support of adding protective amendments to Bill 25 on Thursday at 9 a.m. at the Hawai`I County Council meeting in the West Hawaii Civic Center.

Janice Palma-Glennie is a resident of Kona.

Viewpoint articles are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily the opinion of the paper.