View Point

By David Kimo Frankel

Saturday, January 18, 1997

Developers must be
held accountable

I don't trust some developers. And there is ample evidence why you shouldn't either. Take, for example, the developers of Ko Olina. More than a decade ago, Herbert Horita and West Beach Estates signed agreements with the city and an environmental group promising among other things that the public would have the right of access to its lagoons.

Not until 10 years later - and only after the Sierra Club and others protested - did the developers live up to their word and provide public access to all four beaches at Ko Olina.

Those developers also promised to dedicate two public parks and provide "improvements within those parks over and above the minimum required for dedication." While common sense suggests that these parks should include restrooms, the developers are refusing to provide any at the parks.

West Beach Estates also has unilaterally reduced the hours during which the public can use the shoreline. Nowhere in the permits granted to the developer did the city allow for the beaches to be closed during certain hours.

Another prominent developer is violating its promises as well. In 1990, the Lanai Co. entered into a memorandum of agreement with residents of Lanai. The company promised to "ensure that no high-level ground water aquifer will be used for golf course maintenance or operation (other than as water for human consumption) and that all irrigation of the golf course shall be through alternative nonpotable sources."

Tom Leppert, then of Castle & Cooke Properties, declared before the Land Use Commission, "We are not using the high-level aquifer for the use of this golf course."

Despite the developer's promises, the Land Use Commission has found that the developer has failed to live up to its commitments.

In 1990, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources negotiated an agreement with landowners regarding the realignment of the historic Judd trail on the Kona Coast of the Big Island. Five years later, the developers had not honored their end of the bargain. Although they have proceeded with plans to sell lots in a new subdivision, they have failed to construct that trail and provide the two parking areas that they had promised. Now the landowners are renegotiating their agreement with the state.

Despite this record, some officials in state and county government want to make the permit process easier for developers. Rather than increase enforcement of existing legal requirements, some officials at the Department of Business and Economic Development are looking for ways to "facilitate" private development.

Why is more attention not spent on getting all developers to live up to their word, uphold their promises and stop deceiving the public?

History teaches us that without adequate land-use and environmental laws, developers and corporate interests destroy public trust resources with abandon. Developers used to raid our beaches to satisfy their own selfish needs - until laws were changed to stop them. Industry used to pollute our streams and coastal waters - until laws forced them to stop. We would not have as much open space and as many scenic vistas as we do if our laws did not protect them.

What is good for business is not always good for our water, air, beaches, streams, endangered species and other natural resources.

Don't get me wrong. All developers are not evil. But those who are motivated solely by greed must be reined in. Too many development companies are owned by outside interests with no long-term interests in our community. We need strong environmental and land-use laws to protect our health and resources. We also need vigorous enforcement of these laws and developers' promises to maintain a beautiful Hawaii.

David Kimo Frankel is director of the Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter. The opinions in View Point columns are the authors' and are not necessarily shared by the Star-Bulletin.

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