Monday, August 19, 2013
Governer wanted to scrap the HCDA, but it still exists to thwart public control over city planning
“This plan does not take into account our ordinary hard-working people of Hawaii," he said. "The best solution is for the Legislature to repeal the act that brought the HCDA into existence and put the authority back with the city.”—US Rep. Neil Abercrombie, 2005
Abercrombie 2005: scrap the HCDA
The headline on this 2005 story by Richard Borecca is clear—then-Representative Neil Abercrombie wanted to see the end of the HCDA.
Abercrombie wants to shutter agency handling Kakaako plans
The U.S. Rep. wants the state planning agency, the Hawaii Community Development Authority, scrapped
At a news conference yesterday at the gateway to the existing Kakaako park, Abercrombie, who opposed the creation of the HCDA nearly 30 years ago, called on the 2006 Legislature to repeal the laws creating the semiautonomous state planning agency.
"This plan does not take into account our ordinary hard-working people of Hawaii," he said. "The best solution is for the Legislature to repeal the act that brought the HCDA into existence and put the authority back with the city."
[Star-Bulletin, Abercrombie wants to shutter agency handling Kakaako plans, 11/15/2005]
(Thanks to an astute reader for bringing this article to my attention) (see the complete article for more on Abercrombie’s specific objections at that time)
Obviously, the HCDA (Honolulu Community Development Authority) was not scrapped by the 2006 Legislature. In more recent times, now-Governor Neil Abercrombie, has championed HCDA clones such as the PLDC (Public Land Development Corporation). Both entities were created with a common objective: to provide a means for developers to sidestep zoning and other common laws and regulations designed to protect the public interest.
The PLDC was shot down by vigorous public opposition during the last legislative session, but the HCDA endures. It endures as a strong promoter of over-development in Kakaako, billed occasionally as “the third city.”
[In fact, the so-called “second city” of Kapolei is really a rural development of the Campbell Estate. One giveaway is that to get a street fixed on estate property, the estate takes care of it, not the city.]
In fact, Kakaako was still part of metropolitan Honolulu, last I checked.
There are problems with HCDA’s plans to give up the area to massive development (22 or more giant high-rises, any of which has only to ask for a height exemption in order for it to be granted).
The HCDA has been criticized for planning massive development in an area without providing for infrastructure such as schools, and it’s questionable whether the sewers are up to handling the gargantuan load of waste they will receive each morning as the residents of 22 new condos push the flush levers just before they leave for work:
Over the past several months, residents at the One Waterfront Towers luxury condos say noxious odors have been seeping into their homes from nearby sewer lines. And they're threatening to sue the state over the problem.
"There are times when the stench becomes so unbearable that (One Waterfront employees) complain they can't stay at their post at the kiosk because of the stench," said John Horvath, resident manager of the complex.
Many of the homeowners have been critical of the state's plans to develop more high rises in Kakaako.They say the new developments will further tax the neighborhood's already stressed out infrastructure.
[Hawaii News Now, Kakaako residents complain of sewer odors, 8/14/2013]
Development is for developer profit, not for us
“Our people are being pushed off our islands because they can't afford a home for their families; our kids are being robbed of school days while developers are being given handouts; our local jobs are given away while more locals aren't being paid a living wage; our land is being turned over to Mainland developers while our environment despoiled by greed; and our sick and elderly continue to be denied access to the care they need.”—from an Aikeahawaii.org brochure
It’s important to realize that the HCDA exists not for our benefit. Developers expect to make huge profits (or they wouldn’t be proposing all of those giant buildings). Given the costs of occupancy, the residents predictably will be wealthy out-of-towners, not current residents of Oahu.
Let’s face it, pricey ocean-view digs are not what we can afford—only they will live there. And the cars—the H-1 is routinely jammed already, leaving Nimitz Highway as often the only way to get into town expeditiously. If the condos are built and their owners hit the streets in their expensive cars. Nimitz will likely become as crowded as the sewers become stuffed (just wait until the traffic jams get written up in Japanese tourist guidebooks…).
There are predictable negative effects of the planned overdevelopment in Kakaako and elsewhere:
- Home prices and property taxes rise when affluent families move into gentrified older areas.
- Honolulu’s present and future working population is paid too little to afford these condos, even the so-called “market-rate” units. So while it’s full-speed ahead on giant, profitable developments, the true housing needs of Honolulu’s people remain ignored.
- Approval of giant condo towers diverts developers from considering either new affordable units or rehabilitating existing units. Because it’s clearly more lucrative, developers will focus only on new housing. HCDA and state and municipal policy do not restrict new development, even on prime farmland or where infrastructure is inadequate. If these approvals were not so readily available, developers would have to concentrate on renovating or creating affordable housing, which is badly needed. In other words, government policy favors wealthy developers first and foremost. Our government is not thinking of us.
- The HCDA short-circuits any chance of citizen participation in urban planning. Given a voice, we would probably demand quality open space. We would create a stock of well-designed, affordable market and rental housing units. We would want walkable, bike-able neighborhoods for ourselves, not just for the wealthy.
- The chances of developing a “green architecture” that fits into an aesthetic vision of Honolulu are eliminated if developers have only to propose in order to receive approval. More fossil-fuel burning blue- or green-glass behemoths are what pleases architects and developers, not residents.
- Honolulu is where we live, and granting repeated exemptions to existing purposefully-established limits on development thwarts a profoundly important public purpose.
Consequences of HCDA-like state policy are dire
Turning Honolulu into a proto-Hong Kong is clearly undesirable. We appear headed towards the creation of a dysfunctional city with all the problems that come with overbuilding. Honolulu will remain plagued by a lack of affordable housing and overcrowded public schools (multi-track schools are a terrible solution). Our growth problems remain unaddressed.
With increased traffic and higher taxes for infrastructure come economic stagnation, risk of losing our prime economic engine, tourism, and with that, high rates of unemployment and even higher taxes. We are already unable to adequately maintain our roads and face growing expenses to repair our basic infrastructure due to a culture that ignores budgeting and carrying out routine maintenance (call it “institutionalized neglect”). Instead of suburban sprawl, we will suffer from urban overcongestion.
Any chance of sustainable agriculture will be lost unless urban planning is changed radically. That would bring even greater dependency on foreign oil and imported food. Remember—the condos don’t have enough roof area to generate their own electricity, it will come from HECO generators. The new sunbirds won’t care about anything but the day’s shopping at Dean & DeLuca, or walking the dog in their private dog park. If electricity remains expensive, we continue to hurt, but they won’t mind, they will come here anyway.
Bottom line—we will be on a path to destroy what is good and valuable of Honolulu. When they are finished with Kakaako, don’t think they will retire in contentment—no, developers will move on to the rest of the island (it’s called “agglomeration ”).
Better urban planning is up to us
City and state development policy will have to be changed to avoid predictable consequences. The time to start is now. It could be a long battle, but the defeat of the PLDC gives hope.
Let me add another angle here...
The rash of planned developments in Kaka'ako are fueled by very low interest rates. Historically low rates that reflect a policy of intervention by the Federal Reserve. Lately much is said about the Fed's retreat from purchasing debt and the expected rise in the cost of funds.
As money becomes more expensive and as costs for building continue to rise, quite a few of these projects will be unsustainable financially adn will fall by the wayside just as they did during the the last boom/bust cycle.
The kicker is that it is the subsidized projects, the government projects and the affordable projects that will die first. These are the ones with the thin margins. Those targeted at the wealthy will be fine because they can be repriced to meet higher costs and the buyers can handle the bump in price.
What all this means is that the gentrification of Kaka'ako is inevitable in the current economic environment. Instead of a mixed residential environment with housing for the affordable sectors and the rich, only the top end developments will likely survive and go forward. Thus the intent of Kaka'ako re-development will be lost entirely and it will no longer be a 3rd city with a diverse population but rather a playground for big money. Good news indeed for upscaled Ala Moana shopping center; not so good for folks hoping for affordable housing.
No developer will take the leap and develop projects with heavy requirements for set aside reserved housing and controlled price levels in an environment of rising interest rates and inflationary pressure. Better to skim the cream with the ocean view projects sold to the wealthy.
Ah, the farce that is the HCDA. At the meeting on 8/21 the 2 condos on the Auahi/Kamakee corners were approved unanimously. Of course they were.
The cast of characters included the usual remoras stuck on the developer shark. The gang of union guys wearing the tee shirts. The PR flacks circulating and air kissing and thanking folks for turning out. The team of architects and designers and suppliers and other feeders off the construction table.The "ordinary folk" who want simple housing options to live, work and play (although they would need a million or more to afford a place in these condos).
After more than two hundred showed at the end of July at the State Capitol meeting to gripe impotently, only two negative comments came out at this session and one testifier was called irrelevant. It was a well orchestrated day for the Hughes folks.
We heard how the Hughes boys would meet their obligation for affordable housing not in the prime condos but rather in their new building on Halekauwila Street. The regular guys get units next to a rail line running every 3 minutes outside their window, no views and no amenities so as to keep the gazillion dollar ocean view project pure for the 1%ers. Why, they even want to put a helipad on top of the building - how convenient!
Just another day down at Cooke Street where the future is determined by the thickness of the wallet.
Not just Kaka'ako, but throughout Oahu, there are massive developments planned. I'd like to see a fact sheet of the cumulative effect of all projects (approved and planned), ie. how many people will burden available water and electric capacity, how many more vehicles will clog the already gridlocked roads.
Yes, prudent city planning (with citizen involvement) would have made the projections you have asked about. Perhaps we have a chicken-and-egg situation here--if the data came out, citizens might get angry and become more involved. But the data won't come out unless citizens get angry and more involved.
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