Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Correction, and an In-Tents Discussion

Some follow-ups on my last post:

First, a correction. In the first draft of the previous post, I mistakenly said that Brenda Ford was chairing the Hawaii County Council's Planning Committee; actually, she was chairing Public Works. I later fixed that, but not before a fan e-mailed the uncorrected version out to a few hundred other people. My apologies.

A couple of other observations about that day at the Council:

I was actually very impressed with Brenda Ford as the day went on. Yes, she's not the smoothest reader in the world, but that's more than outweighed by her thoughtfulness, especially on fiscal matters. Time after time, when other councilors were routinely going along with the administration's requests, Ford was asking good,specific, well-researched questions about budgetary procedures and cost effectiveness. In many ways, she's begun to take Curtis Tyler's place as the council's conscience, voting against things that she didn't think quite right, even if that meant she was the sole vote in opposition.

It's not surprising that Ford and Emily Naeole sometimes clash. Naeole seems intuitive and impulsive, following her gut; Ford comes across as just the opposite, critical and careful , sometimes almost nit-picky.

There was one point during the day, however, when Naeole actually thanked Ford. Naeole's bill to allow residents to camp on their land while building a permanent home was up for a re-vote. Ford offered an amendment that would make the bill temporary and experimental and would limit the tent exemptions to Puna. Naeole accepted the amendment as friendly and thanked Ford for her help in moving the bill forward.

In this case, though, I wonder if Ford was right. In offering her amendment, Ford cited an online poll in which the majority of Puna residents supported the tent bill, but an overwhelming number of respondents from Ford's district opposed it. Dominic Yagong, supporting Ford's amendment, cited similar results in his district.

That's troubling. It could be another sign of the way this island has been ghettoized. Ford's district certainly has a large number of upscale subdivisions in it: places where people who are struggling for a home can't afford to build, and people who have forked over huge piles of cash for their homes are more worried about maintaining their property values than about helping poorer families to move in next to them: prime NIMBY country. Yagong's Hamakua Coast is rapidly becoming a combination of old plantation towns and new upscale subdivisions. But Puna, thanks to the lack of foresight of certain land speculators, is riddled with substandard subdivisions that the developers originally thought they were going to sell to unsuspecting mainlanders who would never build there, because nobody would actually build on land in a high-risk lava zone if they understood what that meant. But the developers didn't count on thousands of poor and middle-class families who were just desperate enough to play the odds of a lava inundation in order to have a home.

Kelly Greenwell raised the issue of economic discrimination, if the bill was limited to Puna. Years ago, planning advocate Bonnie Goodell and others had talked of filing an economic discrimination case on behalf of district's residents because of the deprivation of basic services and infrastructure they were suffering, especially compared to the level of services and infrastructure in Hilo. I wonder if it's time to re-explore that issue in a full-fledged article: are the people of Puna being discriminated against? Is funneling the middle and lower classes of Hawaii into a single district, and setting up separate rules to encourage that economic segregation, legal and ethical?

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