Also heard by joint committees on Feb. 9, House Bill 865, which would allow for the redevelopment of public school lands in order to raise income for school infrastructure upgrades, was passed by the committees on water and land, education and finance Feb. 15.
At the public hearing, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who submitted the bill as part of his legislative package, answered legislators’ questions for nearly an hour. “If revenues can be generated and public schools improved at the same time, that’s a happy thing,” he said.
Under the bill, the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA) would have the power to lease unused school lands to private companies.
Abercrombie said that the land could be used for much-needed workforce housing or assisted living. In his vision, the bill could “help communities to make better use of the land [in ways] that benefit both the schools and the community,” he said.
Ray L’Heureux, the Department of Education’s assistant superintendent for the Office of School Facilities and Support Services, testified in support of the bill, saying schools desperately need revenue in order to stay open and in usable condition and provide better learning technology to students. “If we do nothing different than what we’re doing today, we decay,” he said.
Anthony Ching, executive director of HCDA, said the agency would simply ensure accountability. “We’re obliged to build plans that are sensitive to the community,” he said.
But public testimony overwhelmingly conveyed skepticism. “We don’t trust you after the PLDC,” testified Big Island County Councilmember Margaret Wille.
“It’s more of the same style of politics and land use grabs,” said Keiko Bonk of the Hawaii Green Party. She also objected to the language of “public-private partnerships” used by the bill’s advocates. “The public sector knows how to do things without the help of the private sector. That’s why they’re separate,” she said to applause from the audience.