HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Protestors marched "to Save Kaka'ako" Wednesday morning from Mother Waldron Park to the Capitol, demanding more transparency in the Kaka'ako development process and a halt to plans for as many as 37 new high-rises until the impact on the area is more thoroughly studied.
"We must stand up for the Hawaii that we want. This is sacred land, land that we love. How can we let developers build on it and walk away?" said Sharon Moriwaki of Kaka'ako United.
Approximately 12,000 people are currently living in the Kaka'ako area, but that number is expected to double in the next two to five years and grow to more than 30,000 residents by 2030.
The Hawaii Community Development Authority is the state agency in charge of overseeing it all, but residents and lawmakers are demanding oversight of their own.
The HCDA was created by the State Legislature in 1976 as a way to plan for the future development of under-utilized urban areas, like Kaka'ako, and with the expectation to create mix-use communities that would benefit all Hawai'i residents. Now, nearly 40 years later, lawmakers are questioning whether the agency is living up to its mission.
"Our goal is to have an HCDA board that will be more independent and that will be more responsive to the general public and that will also keep in mind the overall purpose which is to create a mix-use area within that region," explained Representative Scott Saiki (D – Downtown, Kaka'ako, McCully).
Legislators aren't the only ones with concerns.
Organizations like Kaka'ako United claim HCDA isn't representing their community interests – especially the need for more affordable housing in the area. But agency officials say that's not the case, and point to construction of Halekauwila Place, which is scheduled for completion this March, as proof.
"Affordable to families of four making a maximum of $58,000 and that they would have an opportunity to rent perhaps a three bedroom unit in town for no more than, let's say, $1,300 - $1,500 max," described HCDA Executive Director Anthony Ching.
Lawmakers say 200 units of affordable housing in the midst of 5,000 plus that have been approved may not be enough the meet the agency's obligations.
"We don't want to see an imbalance where you have too much market as opposed to affordable, as opposed to kupuna, as opposed to workforce, so that for me is where I draw the line. We need balanced growth in the Kaka'ako area," described Senator Brickwood Galuteria (D – Kaka'ako, McCully, Waikiki).
Senate and House lawmakers have introduced a total of 16 bills ranging from reigning in HCDA's power and expenditures to dismantling it.
"Repeal of HCDA is an extreme proposal but it serves the purpose of discussing whether or not HCDA is meeting its purpose, and that's something – that kind of discussion has not occurred in a while," explained House Majority Leader Saiki. "It's actually a healthy proposal its one that's going to foster more accountability and I think it's an important topic that the public needs to be discussing."
"What we're looking at is the recalibration of some of the procedures and the rules – the internal rules that they need to abide by. We certainly don't want to tell them what to do, but it appears that we need to guide them a little more," described Senate Majority Leader Galuteria.
HCDA officials say the agency spent 8 years cautiously creating the current rules that govern development – including environmental impact statements that address infrastructure concerns.
"Besides just expecting government to pay for infrastructures, developers in counter situations where perhaps the instant capacity needs to be enhanced – they're on the hook, they're obliged and responsible to pay for that improvement. So infrastructure in general is set in the community and as the circumstances may arise, developers are then responsible and the good thing is it's not government, not the rate payer to then make improvements to allow for the development," explained Ching.
"I relish the opportunity to talk about the work that we do, to be held accountable to standards that the community can all embrace, and so I believe that it is timely with given all the change and question that we have a very focused discussion as to what the agency does and how it does it and are we producing the expectations that we all had?" Ching added.
A complete list of legislation concerning HCDA can be found online at: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/
At this time, the first public hearing is scheduled for Saturday, February 8 at 8:30 a.m. before the House Water and Land committee.