1950s planning and politics for 21st century
Even though Oahu faces diminishing groundwater and an expensive desalination facility, the state water commission recently ruled it was in the public interest to allow a private developer to use one million gallons a day of drinking water to irrigate two golf courses. What's worse, the courses will be at the heart of a massive 1950s- style sprawl in Central Oahu, "Waiawa by Gentry," that will eventually need up to 17 million gallons a day.
The decision was certainly not in the public's interest. It will, however, bring handsome profits to the developer, Gentry, and the landowner, Kamehameha Schools. So what's new? Apparently, nothing.
It's like we are living in Hawaii of the 1950s.
Gentry's golf course-oriented development will include 12,000 housing units, two golf courses, a commercial center and miles of roadway. It will pave thousands of acres of farmland, tap much of the island's remaining groundwater supply, and disgorge thousands of cars on the already clogged H-1 and H-2 freeways. It is roughly the same scale and scope as Mililani.
Of course, Mililani was planned in the 1960s, based on designs from the 1940s --when the population was small, open space was abundant, roads weren't crowded, and water and energy were cheap and plentiful. But 1950s planning doesn't work in 2005.
Development doesn't have to be this way. Across the world, new towns and cities are being built using today's best technology and planning. These designs allow homeowners to walk to work, develop with mass transit in mind, and cluster development to limit the impact on agricultural lands. They are also built to be hyper-efficient in their use of water and materials and to generate their own electricity. What's more, higher density new design is more affordable and reduces the tax burden on all residents because of reduced infrastructure needs. As is all too typical in our islands, we deserve much more and receive much less.
We should expect more from KS, as the institution claims to have changed from the one that allowed sprawl to claim most of east Oahu. Most people remember the removal of four trustees and the resignation of a fifth as a pivotal moment in the history of the schools. Perhaps more significantly, the court also ordered KS to begin a long-range, community-based strategic planning process. In this process, KS's Hawaiian beneficiaries spoke loudly and clearly, asserting that KS is a Hawaiian institution and its land development should reflect that.
Internally, this has led to KS developing new land and water policies that direct the trustees and staff to not maximize profit, but optimize income while seeking other returns from their lands. It has led KS to not developing some ahupuaa -- albeit remote ones like Waipa on Kauai --where the schools have shown that an undeveloped ahupuaa can be a classroom that no money could buy.
But far from looking at the Waiawa ahupuaa as a natural, cultural, and educational resource -- and one with vast potential for diversified agri- cultural crops such as fuel crops, forestry, or organic farming -- KS has offered it to Gentry with few requirements for a sustainable development.
The only sustainable requirement KS placed on Gentry was to not seek Waiahole Ditch water for the golf courses. After spending years and millions trying to do just that, KS withdrew its application for water from windward streams and communities. Instead of waiting for reclaimed water to be available, KS applied to the state's water commission to use pure groundwater to irrigate the golf courses.
Last week, the water commission approved the Gentry/KS permits for ground- water, removing the final hurdle for the development. Did the commission look out for the public's interest? Hardly.
And what about Gentry? Does it have any obligation to the public?
In a recent newspaper article discussing the sale of a Waipio shopping center, Norman Gentry said, "The market is hot ... Everything's for sale at the right price. Sometimes someone comes along and if they really want to buy your car, you hand them the keys."
Is Hawaii, and our future, for sale at the right price? To whom are we handing the keys?
Jeffrey Mikulina is the director of the Hawaii Sierra Club.