Monday, December 6, 1999

Kauai’s ‘fast
track’ plan stirs

Those left off the panel are
upset about instructions to
move the plan quickly

By Anthony Sommer


LIHUE -- Kauai County planners will discover tomorrow night whether they've unruffled enough feathers to get on with writing a new General Plan to guide all land use decisions on the island through 2020.

That's when the General Plan Citizens Advisory Committee, or what's left of it, will meet for the first time since Nov. 24 when the same county Planning Department told them about "fast-tracking" completion of the General Plan.

And, set off an explosion.

The term "fast track" was taken by committee members to mean the advice of the Citizens Advisory Committee was no longer needed or wanted.

The yet-to-be-written draft General Plan would go right to the Planning Commission for public hearings in January and a vote in February, they were told.

From there, it would go to the County Council to be voted on and, finally, to Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, who appointed the committee, to be either signed or vetoed.

After 21 months and hundreds of hours of meetings and hearings islandwide, the advisory committee suddenly had become irrelevant. From their reactions at the Nov. 24 meeting, it was clear they were blindsided.

There had been rumblings that Kusaka had grown impatient with Oahu consultant, Plan Pacific, presenting the committee with endless piles of photocopied government data -- all of which was public record and obtainable for free -- without asking the committee for a single recommendation.

Plan Pacific has billed the county $340,000 on a contract that eventually will cost Kauai taxpayers $500,000.

The General Plan update was scheduled to take one year. It is now 2 years old and counting. The county's contract with Plan Pacific was extended through mid-2001 only last month.

Meanwhile, the advisory committee's 36 members has dwindled to about a third of that number. The changes may have finished off the survivors.

"I'm not going to put my name to a document I haven't even been given an opportunity to review," said small business advocate and Harley-Davidson dealer Ann Leighton of Kapaa. Leighton was so angry she threatened to resign from every one of the considerable number of county committees she serves on.

She found herself allied with environmentalist and former Planning Commission Chairwoman Barbara Robeson of Wainiha, who was equally furious at spending two years on a project she wasn't being allowed to finish.

Kusaka has been widely praised for the appointments to the Citizens Advisory Committee, possibly the most diverse group ever formed on Kauai.

Two weeks ago, the group that no would thought would ever agree on anything unanimously declared the mayor's decision to push them aside was not going to go unchallenged.

Robin Foster of Plan Pacific, a former Honolulu planning director, who was running the meeting, kept responding: "That's a good point," then changing the subject.

It didn't work.

Then, some members criticized County Council Chairman Ron Kouchi, who sitting in the back row with some fellow councilmen only as spectators. He ended up in a finger-wagging duel with a Sierra Club member.

Although Kouchi has vehemently denied it, the County Council has been accused of pressuring Kusaka to "fast-track" the process so they could get what is expected to be a heated debate over the new General Plan completed well before next fall's council elections.

As of Friday, environmental activist Ray Chuan of Hanalei was threatening to shut down tomorrow's meeting with demonstrators. But also as of Friday, County senior planner Keith Nitta was assuring people the committee would be back on track by tomorrow.

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