Q & A

Q & A
Sen. Dela Cruz talks about solving urban sprawl
Image: Courtesy of Office of Senator Dela Cruz

Q & A / As co-sponsor of Act 55, which established the Public Land Development Corp. (PLDC), state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz felt slighted in a recent story written by Joan Conrow [Oct. 12: “No Man’s Land”]. Opponents of the bill feared that the privatizing of state land and resources, coupled with exemptions from regulation, might lead to uncontrolled development. After publishing a Letter to the Editor from Dela Cruz, the Weekly received comments and phone calls from readers demanding the truth about Act 55, so we invited the senator to stop by the office and to discuss the issues.

This was your first legislative session. How was that for you?

I thought it was productive. There’s a lot of unfinished business. I think there’s some very serious questions that we have to pose to ourselves, so we can move Hawaii forward. It doesn’t necessarily relate…but the question we should really be asking ourselves is: ‘Is Hawaii globally competitive?’ What are we going to do to get there? What steps do we need to take?

So is that part of the–

Act 55, exactly. I don’t know if you saw the Ku Kamaehu. See, Ku Kamaehu is a vision for Hawaii, in regards to the urban core of Honolulu and our main streets in Kaneohe or Haleiwa. Small towns are critical to the economic recovery of Hawaii. I would think it seems counterintuitive [to focus] all this pro-development activity [on] actually protect[ing] open space and Ag land. The redevelopment of main streets, the focus of development along the transit line and in the urban core [are both] really so that we can prevent urban sprawl.

Don’t you think that’s where people are confused about this Act 55, they feel like it’s going to ignite this rush of development?

I’m surprised that some of the opponents have concerns, because any kind of redevelopment in the urban core or along the main streets which prevents urban sprawl means that we’re not expanding our carbon footprint. In fact, we’re even becoming more efficient with energy because of the redevelopment.

Do you feel like people are looking at history and development in Hawaii, and saying “it never ends?”

It really has to be redevelopment.

What’s the difference, really?

To continue to improve on existing communities [in] existing city boundaries…

Take for instance Kakaako. How many people have actually walked from Ala Moana to Iwilei? No one. In any other city, that would be a walking destination. [In] San Francisco, New York, Chicago, you wouldn’t even realize it’s that far ‘cause of the shops, ‘cause of the commercial, ‘cause of the housing–a very dynamic mixed-use community, and that’s the middle of the urban core. Again, how are we globally competitive… How can you say that’s a city?

How do you feel about the Turtle Bay expansion? You’re from the North Shore?

Well, Wahiawa.

Wouldn’t you consider that a rural community?

Yeah, but you gotta look at our historic past, too. When people talk agriculture, what we have to also recognize is that there are components of agriculture that were heav[ily] industrial. In Wahiawa it was Whitmore Village; in Kahuku it was the Kahuku Sugar Mill. At the time when they upzoned the land for Turtle Bay, unfortunately, that’s when Kahuku Sugar went out of business. And I think, at the time, what they were trying to do was figure out a way so that people can live in the communities and have a job.

Are you often surprised at how many people are so opposed to Laie expansion, Turtle Bay and the highway expansion?

We don’t have a macro vision for where Hawaii’s going. In regards to rail, which I think is a huge opportunity for us, the [Final Environmental Impact Statement] says that you need at least 118,000 riders a day to be cost effective. I think it’s critical that we understand what the number [is] to break even…so that it becomes revenue-producing. When you figure those numbers out, then you know how much density we really need in the urban core or around [transit-oriented development].

So you don’t see rail as–

That’s not the panacea for traffic! Rail is our opportunity to redevelop the urban core. That’s where you take every half-mile radius and you create what you need to in regards to a competitive city… So what you end up doing is providing the future residents of those developments a huge alternative to driving. What you’re also doing is protecting the environment [by] curbing urban sprawl…

Supporting rail without saying it’s going to solve the traffic problem?–That’s interesting…

Because of population growth, I don’t see how you can actually predict that. Rail is a component to becoming globally competitive because you can now have the opportunity to incorporate some modern and progressive land use strategies that rail can support.

So are you saying that this is one of the things on your priority list right away?

All the bills related to the redevelopment of our urban core and our main streets, cutting some of the red tape…that’s why the PLDC has those exemptions, so that we can be consistent with visioning. So that government is not in the way and forcing us to have the same outcome.

Is there’s anything else you wanted to add?

Hopefully we are going to pursue the transferring of development rights, the other thing–assisting trans-urban development and the development on our main streets–and figuring out how we can really help counties with sewer capacity, so we can focus growth.