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Land

The Trouble With ʻEwa

The ‘Ewa Development Plan is based on a more-than-thirty-year-old vision of a “second-city;” a new urban center in Kapolei and the ‘Ewa plains – long before “sustainability,” “urban sprawl” and “food security” were terms on people’s lips.

A plan for the future that is based solely on the past will not serve the present. In 1996, the ʻEwa Development Plan (EDP) was created based on a more-than-thirty-year-old vision of a “second-city;” a new urban center in Kapolei and the ʻewa plains. This vision was set during a time of booming development, long before “sustainability,” “urban sprawl” and “food security” were terms on people’s lips. No one then could have imagined the Honolulu we have today.

Hawaiʻi politicians have shown that they are unwilling to adapt to changing times, stand up to correct a mistake or change the out-of-date plan for Oʻahu’s future. At the Honolulu City Council’s July 10 third reading of Bill 65 (which endorses the EDP), councilmember Breene Harimoto said that he agreed with a lot of the testimony he heard (which was overwhelmingly against the bill) but essentially told the audience that the EDP ship had sailed years ago and that the council didn’t have much choice but to go along with it by passing Bill 65. The rest of the council apparently agreed as all nine members voted to pass.

The EDP sounds reasonable enough. It aims to keep the country, country “by providing a larger long-term supply of land for urban uses in the Secondary Urban Center and in the urban fringe areas of ʻEwa and Central Oʻahu, thereby avoiding the necessity of urbanizing lands in other areas - especially rural areas, such as the North Shore, which have limited infrastructure and/or environmental resources.” But it’s based on a premise that is no longer valid: That the need for more suburbs to house people is more important than preserving agricultural land.

3,300 is the number of acres the EDP sets aside for prime ag land preservation in the ‘ewa plains area. 8,700 is the number of acres set aside for residential development, retail and office development and industrial development in that same area. However, the “Urban Growth Boundary” (UGB), part of the EDP, extends well beyond that, allowing for further development down the road.

Take a look at a Google Map shot of Oʻahu. From Kahala to Waipahu is a solid block of urban sprawl. With efforts in place specifically designed to prevent further sprawl by “building vertical” in areas like Kakaʻako, how is it that the ʻEwa Plan still calls for the opposite?

The UGB extends past the Waipahu suburbs West along Farrington Highway and down throughout ʻEwa Beach and the ʻewa plain and North up the valley through Mililani all the way to Wahiawa and Schofield Barracks. This area totals an approximate 69.5 square miles; nearly the same as the approximate area from Kahala to Waipahu (71 square miles). This plan, therefore, would allow for a potential doubling of the amount of urban sprawl on Oʻahu while only reserving 5.1563 square miles (3,300 acres) of land for agricultural use.

The UGB is there to supposedly protect lands designated as “Priority 1 for agricultural use.” In the EDP this includes “lands mauka of H-1 Freeway and on the Waiʻanae side of Kunia Road, and lands in the Blast Zone of the West Loch Naval Magazine”—former Oahu Sugar Company ag land. The Kunia lands have a productive capacity rating of A or B (the highest possible) and the Magazine lands have a rating of B or C: “These 3,300 acres have been rated, in the most authoritative studies, as potentially among the most productive lands for diversified agriculture in the State.” It should be noted, however, that those studies are from 1977 and 1972.

On February 15, 2012 the City Council passed Resolution 12-23 CD1 FD1, introduced by councilwoman Ann Kobayashi. The resolution urges the city’s agricultural liaison to expedite the identifying and mapping of important ag lands and to ensure the City works to preserve them. Furthermore: “the process of identification and mapping of important agricultural lands [shall] also consider agriculturally productive lands within urban growth boundaries that are classified as prime agricultural lands, provided adequate water supply is available.”

What is now called Hoʻopili has much more recently been given the A or B productive capacity rating and is included inside the Urban Growth Boundary, so why does it not qualify for protection under Kobayashi’s resolution? The developers say there’s no water at Hoʻopili. Leon Sollenberger disagrees.

Could the Sierra Club have really stopped the LUC from reclassifying Hoʻopili when the commission’s decision was already written in the EDP for them 16 years before? Clearly money-making is the priority.

“There are lots of places on Oʻahu that have good level soils, lots of places on Oʻahu that have water, lots of places where various crops will grow. Hoʻopili is unique because it has a combination of those factors,” says Sollenberger, who has worked for years with Oʻahu’s soils from Pearl Harbor to the North Shore. “Hoʻopili has almost year-round sunshine and year-round good temperatures and water is the next ingredient. Water is something Hoʻopili has. When you put those factors together, you have a very productive piece of land.”

The EDP notes that “a portion of the lands indicated for development are in the State Agricultural Land Use District, and will have to be approved for transfer to the State Urban District by the State Land Use Commission (LUC) before they can be developed.”

The EDP conveniently leaves farming to a piece of land inside a blast zone on B and C land and A and B land on the slopes of Kunia, while the better ag land inside the UGB at Hoʻopili was always slated for conversion to urban use. Why? Because Hoʻopili is flat and easy to build on.

Could the Sierra Club have really stopped the LUC from reclassifying Hoʻopili when the commission’s decision was already written in the EDP for them 16 years before? Clearly money-making is the priority.

A number of concerns with the EDP have been brought up by a wide range of people ranging from food security to traffic congestion to what sprawl and a second city will mean for the economy. For each concern there are experts on both sides with conflicting versions of what the EDP will mean. So who do we believe?

Walter Ritte may have been talking about GMO’s at the time he said this, but his point is still valid: “You get scientists on one side that say, ‘yes.’ You got scientists on another side that say, ‘no.’ They cancel themselves out. Sooner or later we’re going to have to depend on ourselves as people to realize what the hell is going on in our communities.”

Read the EDP yourself. Look at the maps. Listen to the presentations and testimony. Engage yourself in your own future before it is too late to make it a better one. The Hawaii Independent will continue to provide analysis on some of the most contested aspects of the EDP. Stay tuned.

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