Sunday, July 10, 2011


Honolulu’s growth folly will destroy both tourism and any chance of food security

by Larry Geller

A controversial plan to build 11,750 homes on Ewa farmland was given new life Thursday as a state commission agreed to resume the case after it was stopped nearly two years ago.

The decision by the state Land Use Commission to go forward allows the local Schuler Division of Texas-based developer D.R. Horton to amend, and re-present, its case for the estimated $4.6 billion project called Ho‘opili.

LUC members didn't consider whether the project on 1,554 acres should be approved, but close to 100 concerned citizens with opposing views showed up to hold signs outside the meeting and testify before commissioners.

[Star-Advertiser, Ho'opili gets a second chance, 7/1/2011]

What a farce. Land policy on Oahu is directed by the large landowners, estates, and developers. It really doesn’t matter how many people rally outside.  No one is listening.

The issue of Ho`opili is of grave importance in its own right, but is also a symptom of the unchecked cancer that has a good chance of eating up both the economy and well-being of those who live here. The ag land that developers covet is among the most productive on Oahu, and will not be replaced. That is a direct attack on any hope for a measure of sustainable agriculture on the island and directly impacts the risk that we could become food insecure at some time in the future, should there be a crisis.

If you visit the farmers markets you’ll see Aloun Farms produce at many of the tents. Practically any melon, for example, wherever you see it, comes from that farm. Aloun Farms is destined, if nothing is done, to be turned into housing tracts.  Each new home, of course, comes with a garage and one to three cars that didn’t exist on the island before. Those cars will further slow down commutes to work, shopping trips, or dropping kids off at school.

Farmland lost is not regained. Look at the Manoa Valley, once the breadbasket of Honolulu. Each day the rain falls in abundance and then the sun shines. You could plant a pair of chopsticks and they’d grow in the fertile soil. So what happened to Manoa? It’s paved over and covered with homes.  There’s no going back. So it will be with the valuable farmland soon to be developed.

Development anywhere negatively affects tourism, more or less. In particular, the relentless growth in Waikiki itself can only end when every square inch is swallowed up by developers.  In that case, there will be little incentive for tourists to come to Oahu. We will have poisoned the well of tourist money that nourishes our economy—and we have no substitute.

Here’s my projection of what Waikiki could look like in the year 2050 if developers continue to write Honolulu’s urban plan (click for larger):


Waikiki 2050


I thought I’d leave in some trees, right near the hotel. Just for historic purposes.

Oops. I forgot the train.  Remember how high up in the air it will be, if it ever goes to Waikiki.


Waikiki 2050 with train


The pics are a composite of the Hong Kong waterfront around Admiralty and Waikiki as seen from the water.

So why would anyone come to Waikiki if it looks like that? There are lots of places that will maintain their environment and preserve their valuable tourist resources. If Cuba ever opens up, our tourist base will shift to watching the hula on pristine, low-cost Cuban beaches.

Of course, all the new hotels in Waikiki will result in additional car traffic. Those who work at the low-wage jobs tourism brings will not be able to afford to live nearby. I doubt the train will go there for some time, if ever, because current Waikiki residents and perhaps hotel owners will not want to blight their view or suffer the lowering in property values that having a train zoom past their windows would inevitably bring.

Land and Power in Hawaii is still a good read. Whether it is North Shore development or destroying valuable farmland, developers are free to trample over our landscape and our economy. The book has not been outdated. Look for it in your neighborhood library.

There are a number of reasons to put the brakes on unlimited development and to preserve agriculture and tourism. Our government understands, but will do little to control sprawl or to interfere with developers. Unions are dependent on jobs for their members, so there’s no help from that quarter either. Construction jobs are not sustainable over the long run. We’d have to have an endless program of home construction. Come to think of it, that’s what is happening, isn’t it.

The dilemma is that many of us want new homes, others of us want the construction jobs, and so on. In any case, a mass uprising as would be needed to turn the development trend around is nowhere in sight.

Portland, Oregon residents are lucky. They managed to keep their city beautiful. They limited sprawl intentionally. The have great transportation and a decent economy. Oahu is going in the opposite direction.

Do we really have to turn into Hong Kong? How long will we be able to live here if developers have their way? 

Will we ever wake up?


There is a big difference between Hawaii and Hong Kong when it comes to food security. Hong Kong is a stone's throw from mainland China. Even in a crisis, supplies can be sent with little delay. For Hawaii, shipping disruption of even a few days would be disasterous and if extended could lead to mass starvation.

Increased shipping costs related to increased fuel prices are already driving up food prices. At what point will all those low-paid Waikiki hotel workers become unable to feed their families?

It's probably a pipe dream to expect Hawaii to become self-suppicient in food, but we need to get as close as possible to that ideal. Being the most isolated city in the world has special challenges.

It wouldn't lead to mass starvation, it would lead to a mad max world in just over 72 hours. No one is prepared, most people don't have 1 week of living expenses in the bank, much less 2 weeks of food stored up. Combine that with power outage and you better have some guns to protect yourself, your family, and your food.

Sad, sad, sad. And sick, sick, sick decision-making. Let's don't let 'the-powers-that-be' do this to us!

I feel ill everytime I read of the short sightedness and greed of local politians and developers.According to Civil Beat today, Hawaii legislators can be bought with I-Pods, etc.

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