Hold up red light
to traffic cameras

The issue: The state Senate
has approved a repeal of the law
that OK'd traffic cameras.

USING cameras to catch speeders on Oahu's highways has been a disaster since the program was initiated at the beginning of this year. The state Senate has responded to public outrage by voting unanimously to repeal the law that authorized the program. The House should agree to such a remedy.

Traffic cameras have been effective in other jurisdictions in slowing down traffic and discouraging motorists from running red lights, a facet of the program scheduled to begin here. Cameras could work in Hawaii, but only under a fair system and the proper agency -- county police, not the state Department of Transportation.

State transportation officials were well aware that a system in which the private contractor would be paid by the volume of speeding tickets instead of a flat fee had encountered legal problems in San Diego but went ahead and approved such a fee-per-ticket contract anyway. The department's lack of experience was obvious from the beginning, as it seemed to experiment in deciding how fast a vehicle should be traveling to warrant a ticket.

A judge ruled recently that the city of Denver violated sensible state laws by allowing city police to delegate authority to the photo radar contractor -- ACS State and Local Solutions, the same company contracted to provide the service in Hawaii -- and basing the fee on the number of photos taken and tickets issued. Denver has suspended the program until it can be restructured.

In Hawaii, the Department of Transportation has usurped the authority of local police and delegated it to ACS, confusing motorists about enforcement standards and angering police. A Honolulu police officer ticketed a traffic camera van operator in January for speeding, but the van operator succeeded in getting the ticket dismissed.

The House has approved a bill that would require the drivers to be included in the photos of speeding cars, the contractor to be paid a flat fee and insurance companies to be kept from raising rates of offenders caught by camera. Those changes would improve the program but would leave intact the program's fundamental problem -- its operation by the Department of Transportation.

If legislators insist that cameras be used to combat speeding on highways, they should authorize county police departments to buy the machines -- they cost about $12,000 apiece -- and to assign properly trained police officers to operate them, if they don't already have such authority.



Plan won’t protect
agricultural land

The issue: The mayor has
proposed safeguards to deter
rezoning of land set for agriculture.

THE city administration's plan to protect agricultural land on Oahu looks good on the surface, but the safeguards are illusory. Moreover, the bill does not include hundreds of acres now zoned for agriculture for which land-use changes are already proposed. If Mayor Harris wants true protection, his measure must put more muscle behind his words.

Harris, as he outlined in his State of the City address in January, maintains that his plan would keep "in perpetuity" 87,000 acres of land in agricultural use. Not so. The bill would only make zoning changes more difficult, requiring a super majority -- six of the nine City Council members instead of a simple majority of five -- to approve them. Rezoning requests, more often than not, clear the Council with six votes anyway, so the super majority offers a scrawny shield.

Another requirement -- that the state Department of Agriculture support any zone changes -- may be difficult to incorporate. Neither the city administration nor state officials are sure about how the state's authority would be inserted into a city land-use process. Further, the form of the department's support is undefined. These are not small matters; the legalities need to be worked out.

Harris's plan exempts land for which zoning changes already are being sought. For example, most of the 1,250 acres where Castle & Cooke hopes to build its Koa Ridge project would not be affected. The mayor obviously must consider the interests of developers and land owners. However, a Campbell Estate representative said he is skeptical about the bill helping farmers, and a Kamehameha Schools spokesman said the trust is unsure of the bill's purpose.

Harris says the measure will assure a "viable agriculture industry." For farmers, that assurance comes with knowing the land in which they are investing time and money won't be rezoned in a matter of months. This plan doesn't provide that.

The plan does prohibit subdividing the land except for agricultural parks, loans requirements or easements. This may prevent properties from being converted to "gentlemen farms," where a few horses or garden plots are used to satisfy agricultural zoning conditions, disguising the fact that they are high-priced housing developments.

Other than that, Harris's plan appears hastily conceived. The rush may be that his tenure at City Hall will end soon since he must resign as mayor to run for governor.


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

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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