City chips in to speed along project's permit processes
Not only did the Akana family audition for a shot to appear on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," so did the City and County of Honolulu.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann said yesterday that the ABC reality series producers sought assurances from him that if the series came to Oahu, the city would help keep the seven-day renovation project on track -- including fast-tracking necessary permits.
"They wanted to know if the city could help make it happen," Hannemann said, saying that neighbor island projects and counties were also in the running to be featured on the popular show.
Hannemann said he knew the decision for Honolulu to get involved could potentially be controversial because the city is under constant criticism for the slow pace of processing permits.
"You've got to weigh it. At the end of the day, obviously you want to treat everyone fairly -- you don't want to push anyone at the head of the line -- but this is a very unique situation," Hannemann said.
David Tanoue, deputy director with the Department of Planning and Permitting, the agency that oversees permit approvals, said: "We made sure our guys looked at it right away. Basically, they didn't have to stand in the line of permit reviews. If you had a big stack on your desk ... you would just look at (the 'Extreme Makeover' project) first."
Tanoue said the city also made building inspectors available at the site so the project could run smoothly.
According to mainland media reports, other local governments also cooperated with the show's producers in similar ways.
Hannemann said long before the city received confirmation that the show would be coming to Oahu, he dispatched two members of his Cabinet to take care of the logistics.
Hannemann's special assistant, Isaac Hokama, worked with the Kalihi Valley Neighborhood Board to get community support for the project and to work with different city departments to work out things like traffic mitigation.
Managing Director Wayne Hashiro shepherded the necessary permits through the Department of Planning and Permitting.
According to city online files, the application for the building permits for both the Akana home and the center were filed on May 15 and approved June 6, the start date. The project received a demolition permit within a day.
On April 19, the Kalihi Valley Neighborhood met in a special meeting and approved a conditional use permit, which usually can take longer to get, although the minutes do not mention that the permit was for the home improvement show.
Councilman Charles Djou, a frequent critic of the Hannemann administration and permitting process, said: "I'm not going to quibble with the mayor as to whether he should've done this for this 'Makeover' house. In this one specific instance, I think the mayor did the right thing."
But Djou said the project should bring to light the continuing problems with the permit approval process.
Anne Marie Beck, executive director of Honolulu Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit that helps to build homes for the less fortunate, said she is not that surprised that the city helped.
Beck said it would be nice for the city to offer some kind of expedited review process for nonprofit organizations like Habitat and even a waiver of fees. "It would be great for us."