AUTHORITY UNDER SCRUTINY
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A march by Friends of Kewalo Basin Park Association yesterday protested development of the Kakaako Waterfront area. Three boys carry a protest sign across King Street near Punchbowl.
Bills take aim at HCDA
Some legislators want to curtail the powers of the Kakaako land authority
The legislative battle over A&B Properties Inc.'s proposed Kakaako Waterfront project began to take shape yesterday, with the state Senate president introducing a bill to review a state agency's process for crafting a public-private partnership with the developer.
The bill introduced by Sen. Robert Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea) focuses on the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which manages the taxpayer-owned land under the proposed project near Ala Moana. The bill echoes complaints that critics have made against the authority, saying the project was "'fast-tracked' to avoid ... public opposition."
In addition to calling for a review, Bunda's bill would compensate A&B Properties for money it has spent on planning for the development.
Bunda introduced the bill as more than 200 protesters, dressed in red and gold, marched on the Capitol to protest the project, which would create a mixed use "urban village" on about 36 acres of park space and blighted oceanfront property near downtown.
A&B's proposal includes additional park space, a hula amphitheater and markets for farmers and traditional Hawaiian artisans, as well as retail space along the Kewalo Basin boat harbor. The project also calls for the development of about 635 condominiums in two towers on land that would be sold by the state to A&B.
The controversy hinges on the sale of the land. Opponents say the state should not sell prime public real estate to a private developer, but A&B says selling the condos is necessary to finance the development of the amenities that do not produce revenue.
Stan Kuriyama, chief executive of A&B properties, reiterated A&B's position at the Capitol yesterday. Although the company has responded to citizen concerns by scaling back one-third of the number of condominiums in its plan and agreeing to preserve more open space on the waterfront, Kuriyama said he understands that A&B's altered plan stops short of satisfying people who philosophically oppose the sale of public land.
"That's a policy issue," Kuriyama said. "And the Legislature will deal with that issue."
In a separate bill, a bipartisan group of senators has proposed reducing the power of the semi-autonomous development authority by requiring greater legislative oversight and legislative approval before the agency spends money on infrastructure improvements.
The bill comes in response to complaints from small-business owners on Queen Street between Ward Avenue and Kamakee Street, who face impending assessments imposed by the agency to pay for planned street and sidewalk improvements.
Several business owners have complained that they don't want the improvements, but that the authority has ignored their concerns.
Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) said the bill addresses a common complaint of both the small-business owners on Queen Street and the surfers and park users opposing the Kakaako project. These critics all say the HCDA has too much power, Slom said.
"I always joke that the only thing (U.S. Rep.) Neil Abercrombie and I ever agreed on is, going back 30 years, the formation of the HCDA and how it's operated," said Slom, a right-leaning small-business advocate. "I still have grave concerns. I don't believe we've ever had open discussions about the policies of the HCDA."
Co-sponsoring the oversight bill are Democrats Suzanne Chun Oakland of Kalihi-Liliha and Carol Fukunaga of Lower Makiki-Punchbowl.
Both Senate bills were introduced yesterday. The next step will be to assign them to committees whose chairs will be responsible for scheduling testimony and votes.
Daniel Dinell, executive director of the HCDA, said the authority will continue to be guided by its request-for-proposals process, which is governed by state procurement laws. That means if A&B were to walk away from the project, then the authority would offer the opportunity to the developer that placed second in A&B's selection process.
"We really are bound by the integrity of the state procurement process," Dinell said.
Dinell said he had not studied the Chun Oakland-Fukunaga-Slom bill closely enough to comment. But he said generally that the authority has held numerous public meetings to discuss its plans for Queen Street.
Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday reiterated her position that it would be unfair to A&B and bad for the state's reputation as a place to do business if the Legislature were to stop A&B's project after the state asked developers to submit proposals. But Lingle declined to say whether she might veto a bill that stopped the project.
"I don't talk about vetoing at the beginning of the legislative session," she said.