Traffic, land use top Big Isle issues
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii » Big Island issues, not state politics, are on Mayor Harry Kim's mind these days as he and his administration face concerns about traffic, land use and drug abuse in Hawaii County.
Kim, a self-described political novice with three more years in his second term, claims a nonpolitical approach to issues and said he expects the same of his department chiefs.
Rather than giving a formal summing-up address, Kim and other county leaders mainly fielded questions Thursday at the annual State of the County luncheon for about 200 people sponsored by the Kona Kohala Chamber of Commerce.
Residents had submitted about four dozen questions in advance of the meeting.
Kim did not address the possibility of running for governor as a Democrat in the September primary. Some party leaders have touted Kim as a possible candidate, but he has made no commitment one way or the other.
While most of the questions Thursday were specific to West Hawaii and the Big Island, they touched on topics that could concern residents across the state.
Addressing traffic concerns, Kim said Alii Parkway, which would run south from Kailua-Kona and relieve congestion into Captain Cook, is back on the priority list. The project was stalled when burials were found in its original path, necessitating a redesign.
"I'm not stupid and I realize your frustration," he said, adding that a contract for construction could be signed within two years.
Reflecting his leadership style of delegating responsibilities to people he appointed, Kim left it to his Cabinet to answer many of the questions.
Bruce McClure, chief engineer for the Public Works Department, said traffic gets clogged up for simple reasons, such as one car waiting to turn left, or school and public buses making stops.
The county is working on simple solutions, he said, including left-turn lanes and pull-out pockets for buses, and also is looking to lease land for public parking lots.
McClure also said impatience, speeding, illegal passing and other unsafe driving habits cause problems.
"Our roads aren't all that bad," he said. "Our drivers suck."
The county also has 10 new buses that will run additional routes, including door-to-door service for seniors.
On land use and planning, Planning Director Chris Yuen said while the wait for a building permit currently can be four months, the department is handling four times the number of applications as six years ago.
The department has added five new staff members and is working to streamline the process. County Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida said the county has an attorney working full time on the Hokulia case.
Work on the 1,550-acre Hokulia luxury residential project in South Kona was halted in 2003 when Third Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra found the development was not in compliance with zoning laws. The land is zoned for agricultural use.
The county and the developer appealed Ibarra's decision to the state Supreme Court, which refused to expedite a hearing. Ashida said there is no deadline on the case.
In October about 150 lot owners filed state and federal lawsuits against the county and the state. They are seeking $265 million in damages. Ashida said the county has assigned two attorneys to that case.
The issue has the potential to affect many other subdivisions, Yuen said, potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of residents across the state.
The county has pushed for the issue to be resolved by the state Legislature.
"It's not just one developer or about money," Yuen said. "We introduced the bill to change the gray areas."
Rep. Josh Green, D-North Kona, said the state needs a solid, long-term resolution for land use and that it is one of the top three issues before lawmakers this year.