Open city deliberations on permits to ease residents' fears
A state judge has allowed the city to continue to process permits for a Nuuanu subdivision.
CITY officials deciding on whether to approve plans for a Nuuanu hillside subdivision should be willing to assure residents downslope that their homes and lives will not be endangered by possible rockfalls, landslides and other hazards.
By opening its records and allowing a community group access to its permitting process, the city could resolve residents' fears, but officials have repeatedly turned down the group's request to review what should be public records and documents.
As a result, the city is enmeshed in a lawsuit brought by the Nuuanu Valley Association. Although a state court has denied the group's request to stop the permit approval process while it seeks the records, the association's chief claim -- that it should not be denied such documents -- has yet to be ruled on.
The group's members contend that they do not necessarily oppose Laumaka LLC's nine-lot subdivision -- an arguable assertion -- but want to make sure new houses can be built without jeopardizing their safety. They want to see documents that show how the Department of Planning and Permitting made its decision to accept a Laumaka consultant's study that concluded the sloping land is stable enough for additional homes.
They have reason for concern. Erosion and rainfall have sent rocks and slides down many Oahu hillsides, most recently last month. The group points to an incident in 2002, in which a loosened boulder crushed a Nuuanu woman as she slept in her bedroom.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, in testimony before the state Legislature, also has voiced concern, urging the city "to proceed with caution" in issuing permits on steep hillsides. The state -- which owns conservation land above the proposed subdivision -- noted that "it is essential that the private real estate and development interests, counties and states act responsibly" so as not to expose people to potential hazards and taxpayers to increased liability and costs to mitigate problems.
The city has chosen to keep its process under wraps, claiming the information is privileged and not subject to public scrutiny until in final form. It also claims that disclosure would interfere with the department's performance of a legitimate function of government.
Government functions, however, should not shut out citizens. Moreover, the city is supposed to look out for their well-being. There appears to be no reason to shield the information from public eyes.
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