City Planning Meeting

We have a little problem in our city. Actually, not just our city. Across the whole island.
We have no city councils. We have no city mayors. We, in short, have taxation without representation.
What we do have is a sprawling, unfocused, wobbly top-heavy, obtuse and immovable county government.
What we also have is rapid and uncontrolled expansion, erratic and flimsy zoning, and a terrifying traffic problem.
A few weeks back while I was standing in line at the theater, somebody was walking up and down with fliers that announce:

"Community Meeting! Review of Planning Process to date, information stations.
Learn what is happening, ask questions, tell us what you think! Next Steps! FREE
I decided to go see what a community meeting is like.
Sure enough, there was food and it was free. The little room at the civic center was packed with about 50 people. Every wall surface was draped with elaborate maps detailing bypass roads, farm zoning, historical preserves, Hawaiian homelands, bike paths, green ways, road widths and tsunami escape plans, waste disposal (including frightening waste injection wells from the resorts) and irrigation ditches. Along with the maps were huge blank pieces of paper, and as people moved around the room, they wrote up their comments and concerns and questions on the paper, assisted by smiling volunteers with nametags.
The waimea plan bulleted:
A: Sense of place. Hawaiianness and agriculture. Puu protection plan.
B: transportation and circulation improvements. Scenic bypass road.
C: slow growth-- long term planning and infrastructure. Committee required for zoning change, no longer 1-signature sign off for development.

The ideas scrawled on the papers on the wall in bright colors meandered from the insightful to the bizarre: "identify GMOs in farm lots; start carpool incentive programs at schools; minimize light pollution along bypass road, self-sustainable water by harnessing landowner's water in gulches; zoning approved at local level; opposition to the connector road..."

I asked some of the nametagged people how all of this came about. Bruce Tsushida of Township Inc, was nametagged "facilitator" and explained:

It began with volunteer focus groups for each area of concern. So now there are traffic focus groups, zoning focus groups, and so on. These volunteers then developed the maps which were filtered through professional planners with technical knowledge.
Along with those groups, there are two groups and a South Kohala steering committee, of eleven members. Initially they were volunteers. Then a screening committee made recommendations to the Hawaii County Mayor, who chose the eleven members, and submitted the names to the county council. Now they meet once a month, and work with the focus groups.
So can all of these wonderful ideas (bike paths, slowed growth, smarter zoning) actually happen? Allen Salavea of the county planning department told me, "implementation of the Community Development Plan is discussed" (I lost track of by who exactly) and that "Hilo is in the implementations stage. So now they want more and diverse people to view the documents, the literature and the spatial maps." They are waiting for "a green light from the community to move into the planning stage."
"Now," he said, "is the time to get into it."
It was an interesting mix of people. Mostly old-time haole and Japanese, a smattering of Hawaiians. My goddess-like Hawaiian friend Pomai came into the meeting halfway through. A twitter moved through the crowd-- "it's Pomai, it's Pomai!" She commanded herself regally, nodded demurely to my "howdy!" and mingling in a stately and commanding manner. The scrawny gray-haired vegetarians wilted before her. She represents the voice of The Hawaiian People at these meetings. She told me later that she's a member of several of the focus groups, and that she is involved to keep the town Hawaiian.

While I was standing in front of one of the papers, a woman next to me told a nametagged person, "I'm a newcomer here, and I don't want to be a part of the problem."

There was a tremendous sense of forward motion and consensus with all of this. But I felt it was Democracy without legs or teeth. It's all excitement and input. Can anything actually happen or will ll the enthusiasm be used up and nothing change?


  1. Yikes! It would be such a shame to see the big island start to resemble some of the mainland's disgustingly sprawly cities... like, for example, west knoxville. The west side is all churches and strip malls and parking lots. I hope Hawaii can grow some teeth and sink them in to keep Hawaii Hawaiian.


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