Thursday, September 27, 2001

Voters have reason
to oppose district lines

The issue: N. Kauai residents are
angry over redistricting plan
that lumps them with Oahu.

RESIDENTS of Kauai's North Shore are livid about the watery lines drawn by the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission that would force them to share a state representative with voters in Kailua on Oahu. They have every reason to be angry about the commission's flawed rationale that legislative districts must have equal populations in very strict terms.

Wayne Minami, the commission's chairman, has said he expects the redistricting plan to be challenged in court, but his suggestion is more a confident dare. The state Supreme Court consists entirely of Democratic appointees who may be relied upon to uphold a formula fashioned by party leaders. Governor Cayetano should recognize the unfairness and unconstitutionality of the plan and join Republican Party chairwoman Linda Lingle in sending the commission back to the drawing board to avoid a costly lawsuit.

The commission's staff advised Kauai residents at a hearing in Lihue that it is bound by a federal court order that district populations vary by no more than 10 percent. The staff did not mention -- but Kauai attorney Harold Bronstein did -- that district populations may indeed vary beyond 10 percent if a "rational basis" exists for doing so.

The rational basis in this case is the absurdity of voters from different principal islands being placed in the same district, and the unconstitutionality of such "canoe" districts. The redistricting plan includes not only the Kauai-Kailua district but House and Senate districts that would combine Hana, Maui, with Puna, Hawaii.

In a letter to the Star-Bulletin last month, David J. Rosenbrock, manager of the reapportionment project, argued, "There is no constitutional prohibition against 'canoe' districts." He is wrong. The state Constitution plainly states, "No district shall extend beyond the boundaries of any basic island unit," the election-law term for counties. (A Maui-Molokai district is allowed because those two islands are in the same "basic island unit," or county.)

The redistricting plan violates a 1992 constitutional amendment that the population formula be based on permanent residents. Nonresident military dependents were not to be included in the formula. The commission insists on adding them anyway to bolster numbers on Oahu. Rosenbrock explained that the commission has no "count" of military dependents claiming to be Hawaii residents.

Precise numbers were unavailable when the constitutional amendment was ratified. However, voters who approved the amendment were advised that the population formula would be based on the assumption that dependents of nonresident military personnel are also nonresidents, because military officials estimated that is the case 98 percent of the time. That information sufficed then and should be heeded today.

Kmart’s plan parts
economic clouds

The issue: The retail giant proposes
building a store on the
long-vacant "superblock" site.

If nothing else, Kmart, the latest aspirant in a string of developers for the so-called "superblock" at Keeaumoku and Makaloa streets, has timing going for it. The retail giant's proposal to build a store on the 10-acre parcel in the heart of Honolulu comes just as Hawaii is anxious to bolster an economy weakened by the terrorists attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

Although previous builders have encountered opposition from the community and other businesses in the area, the fragile economic situation will probably override public concerns about Kmart. Similarly, stock market goliath Charles Schwab's plans for a golf course in North Kona is generally viewed as positive news.

However desperate Hawaii is for financial shots in the arm, both projects should be scrutinized. That's not to say that county and state governments should be obstructionists, as they sometimes are, but reasonable regulations should apply.

Other companies have sought to build on the prime commercial site Kmart covets, but were confronted with strong opposition. Wal-Mart, a company similar to Kmart, was criticized by small businesses worried about losing customers to a big-box operation that could undersell them. Unions protested its non-union hiring practices. Residents complained about increased traffic in the high-density district. Haseko Hawaii Inc.'s plans for a high-rise luxury condominium, retail and office project and Forest City development's retail-entertainment center drew the same kind of criticism. Kmart can count on facing similar conflict, but if it can find ways to alleviate community concerns, there's no reason it should not be able to do business here.

Kmart's regulatory hurdles at present may be limited to the regulations Mayor Jeremy Harris has proposed for the area surrounding the Hawaii Convention Center. Although not yet in place, the superblock remains subject to interim development controls and Kmart's plans will have to fit in.

There's no disputing that these enterprises will bring in jobs and money. The land Kmart wants has been vacant for almost a decade, an eyesore that has drawn minimal tax revenues and that has done nothing to enhance the city's retail ambiance. Even so, government officials should not rush to buy into the project as if it were a blue-light special.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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