Under the Sun
Got illegal development? Call politicians for help
SAY you want to build something -- a hotel, a shopping mall, a condominium high rise, a race track or an amusement park -- but you don't want to invest the time or the money to get all the necessary paperwork and government authorizations law requires.
You figure you can glad-hand local politicians, issue promises about stimulating the economy and produce a spreadsheet showing how much in revenue you would generate along with all kinds of other vague "benefits" you'd bestow on the community.
Seduced by dreams of jobs and increased taxes, the local officials, who have let other projects like yours slide through, give you the green light.
All's well, until during construction you mess up the ocean with uncontrolled storm run-off, and damage historic and archaeologic landmarks and burial sites. This harmful conduct gets noticed, motivating community objections and a lawsuit.
In time, your project is ruled illegal.
You could go back to square one and do the right thing, but it would be a gamble and you might not get what you want. Instead, you reach into your deep pockets to hire publicists and lobbyists who persuade other politicians, ones with bigger muscles, to propose legislation that will fix things for you.
This puts pressure on your opponents, who do not have the financial resources you have. Finally, they step out of your way, weakly grabbing what they can to snatch defeat from an earlier victory.
Your opponents believe they've checked their losses, but the enabling politicians sense an opportunity to please their money masters fully, using a contrived menace as reason to dismantle the law you broke.
Good for you and others like you. You've shown those pesky citizens the true power of the dollar.
This, in a nutshell, is what has happened with the Hokulia development that will carve up 1,550 acres of agricultural land for luxury houses at Kealakekua on the Big Island.
A lot of the details about how a project ruled illegal became just fine and dandy through a settlement are missing. What's clear is that members of the state Legislature, with the blessing of Governor Lingle, put the heat on the lawsuit's plaintiffs. Fearing they would emerge with nothing, they took what they could get.
Their gains aren't insubstantial. The deal will yield about $12 million to fund a foundation -- for what remains a mystery -- a promise of affordable housing, restoration of a historic trail and a bypass highway Kona residents were clamoring for.
Hokulia's developers will still have to go to the state to get the land rezoned from agricultural to rural, which was the primary point of the lawsuit, but even if the state denies the change, the plaintiffs cannot challenge the use of ag land for residential purposes.
The settlement appears to be a win for the community, but if the Legislature approves the bill it used to intimidate the plaintiffs, they and all others who want careful consideration of land use decisions in Hawaii will be losers.
Not satisfied with abetting moneyed interests, lawmakers have revised the bill to allow ag land without the highest designations for productivity to be open for development. The reason ostensibly is to "grandfather" existing "gentlemen's farms" they feel could be subject to Hokulia-like lawsuits.
The argument is a red herring. It is doubtful the fake farms would face legal challenges.
What legislators are offering is cover for irresponsible county government, which, through winks and nods, has long snubbed land-use requirements.
Not all land marked agriculture is suitable for all kinds of crops, but until state officials, including legislative laggards, meet their decades-old obligation to identify prime-growing acreage for protection, the difficulties developers encounter and the conflict, sprawl and stresses on infrastructure that piece-meal reclassification promotes will persist.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org