In a five-hour hearing held at the Capitol Feb. 9, multiple House committees considered six bills that would restructure, amend, replace or repeal the Public Land Development Corporation (PLDC).
All were held except for House Bill 1133, a repeal measure that passed third reading on the House floor by unanimous vote on Feb. 14 and now crosses over to the Senate.
In the Senate, SB 246, which was originally a PLDC repeal bill introduced by Sen. Laura Thielen, was gutted and replaced and heard Feb. 11. The bill has been deferred.
HB 589 would also have also abolished the PLDC, the main difference being that HB 1133 transfers the PLDC’s assets to the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), whereas HB 589 would have transferred them to a land conservation fund.
HB 942 would have converted the PLDC to a Harbors and Parks Development Authority that would work with private interests to develop those lands. Public testimony was overwhelmingly in opposition, with testifiers decrying the measure as “PLDC lite.” Michelle Matson of Oahu Island Parks Conservancy said the bill was “simply the PLDC in a new costume,” and 2012 House candidate Keiko Bonk of the Green Party noted that, even with a different name, “You’re trying to privatize public land for corporate interests.”
William Aila Jr., DLNR chair, however, said that HB 942 provided a reasonable alternative to the PLDC. “If you just repeal the PLDC, you have the status quo,” he said.
HB 593 would have kept the PLDC but forced it to carry out a pilot project before implementing any other development. HB 1134 would have changed the name to the Public Private Partnership Corporation and added provisions for native Hawaiian rights. HB 219 also focused on native Hawaiian issues, requiring the PLDC to consult with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) and create “culturally sensitive” development plans. OHA Chief Advocate Breann Nuuhiwa testified in strong support of the bill, but private citizens said that it didn’t address fundamental concerns about the PLDC’s authority and exemption from county zoning laws.
Gary Hooser of Kauai and Margaret Wille of the Big Island, both county councilmembers, noted that their councils had passed resolutions calling for full repeal.
Several testifiers raised concerns about the manner in which PLDC legislation was pushed through in 2011, when significant changes were made without adequate public notice or input. Some went so far as to call it unconstitutional. “Any attempt to change the law, to give it a new buzz word, does not address the fundamental constitutionality of the original law,” said Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land. Robert Harris of the Sierra Club said that the best option moving forward is to start with a “clean slate” and begin more transparent negotiations involving the community.
Shannon Wood of Ahupuaa Windward Alliance perhaps best summed up the testimony given by private citizens: “No amount of tinkering or massaging will ever make the PLDC an entity that has the trust of the people of Hawaiʻi,” she said.