Under the Sun


What we all know,
and what we don’t do

A company maps out a plan for a housing development and lines up required permits and approvals from government agencies. Hopeful buyers see the American dream of owning a home draw closer to reality. Land owners, investors and stockholders pull down financial rewards. Real estate agents gain inventory. Building supply businesses get contracts, construction workers find jobs, architects, interior designers, landscapers and furniture stores all make money and send it rippling through the local economy.

All's well and good -- or maybe not.

Imagine this process replicated until every suitable acre of land in Hawaii has a structure of some sort built on it. That's not likely. We're too smart for that.

We know there are limits to the amount of growth these islands can support. We know that more houses will mean more traffic on already congested highways. We could build more roads, but we know that state revenues and federal highway funds are scarce and that building more roads to handle more vehicles will increase auto emissions, the primary source of cancer-causing air pollution. We're too smart to let that happen.

We know that more houses in an area previously undeveloped will require schools for the children whose families move in. If we don't put up more schools, students, like some in Mililani, will have to endure multitrack schedules where a third of a school population must be on vacation at all times during the year.

We know that new housing will require more sewage facilities to process and dispose of wastes. We know that we'll have to set up more landfills for trash, that the cost of government will increase as municipal work forces are added to haul garbage away and provide fire and police protection.

We know we'll have to install more water lines and to identify more sources of water, already becoming short in supply. We know that losing watersheds to development will further diminish water tables and heighten chances of floods because paving over the Earth means more rain will run off instead of being absorbed into the ground. We may even have to consider desalinating ocean water to fill the taps, an expensive proposition in both dollars and resultant pollutants.

We know if we build more houses, we'll require more electricity production and more power lines strung across the landscape, boosting air and visual pollution. We're too smart to allow that.

We know that if we cover prime agricultural land with subdivisions and shopping malls, we further reduce any chances for self-sufficiency in food supply and fuel our dependence on sources thousands of miles away.

We know that if we damage the beauty of the islands, we'll hurt the tourism industry on which we've banked so much of our future.

Yet we continue to build, all the while aware that the fragility of Hawaii's ecosystem clearly demands we place limits on growth and population.

But where are the lines drawn and who draws them? In 1977, then-Governor George Ariyoshi -- reasoning that "the problem of excessive population seems to be central to nearly every problem in our state" -- proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to allow states to set residency requirements for anyone to benefit from publicly funded programs.

Of course, it didn't fly and the problem of uncurbed growth recognized 25 years ago remains unchecked today.

The main islands in our archipelago contain a mere 6,305.5 square miles of land. There isn't any more. We risk all of it and a quality of life immeasurable in dollars and cents by leaving it to market forces until the conflicts of noise, pollution, overcrowding and traffic overburden us.

Most people looking to buy a house to call their own would not choose one in a place that lacks clean water, clean air, good schools and natural beauty. They're too smart for that.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin for 25 years.
She can be reached at:

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