Public Land Development Corporation faces long road

Jamie Winpenny

HONOLULU—At an informational briefing held at the State Capitol on Monday, State officials discussed the status of the Public Land Development Corporation and its Public Lands Optimization Plan (PLOP). Despite the unfortunate acronym, the PLOP seems to be embraced by State officials who are looking to generate revenue through the commercial development of public lands in Hawaii through public-private partnerships.

“This is a very exciting time,” said State Sen. Donavan Dela Cruz, who introduced the measure to create the Corporation. “The possibilities are endless.”

Dela Cruz is co-chair of the joint committee overseeing the Corporation, which includes members of the Senate Committee on Water, Land, and Housing and the House Committee on Water, Land, and Ocean Resources.

And while all of those who spoke on the matter were steadfast in their optimism, the briefing made clear that there is a colossal amount of administrative legwork and logistics that is still to be undertaken and completed before the Corporation can even begin work on its stated mission, as required by law.

The set of rules by which the Corporation will operate has yet to be determined. Those rules must be approved by Gov. Neil Abercrombie before any meaningful action can be taken toward the development of public lands. The Corporation has thus far created a rules subcommittee, which includes boardmember Guy Kaulukukui and former Senate President Robert Bunda.

“The rules should not circumvent the spirit of the law,” said Bunda of creating the rules by which the Corporation will operate.

“We are going to lean on the Department of Land and Natural Resources early on for administrative assistance,” said Kaulukukui. He also stated the need for the Corporation to adhere strictly to current Sunshine Law requirements of public disclosure from government agencies.

Before the Corporation can begin to propose, approve, and move forward with capital improvement and other projects, it must first identify and inventory public land holdings. State agencies holding title to lands in Hawaii include the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Education, among others.

University of Hawaii Associate Vice President of Capital Improvements Brian Minaai, who spoke to the joint committee, was unable to provide an inventory of UH’s land holdings. He explained that the university had not yet been asked to provide such an inventory by anyone from the Corporation.

Early proposals for the Corporation to create new revenue streams for the State include user impact fees at existing State facilities and improvements to those facilities. Kaulukukui was, however, clear on the matter of the potential sale of public lands to private entities.

“We have no intention of selling State lands,” he said, adding that the State could actually increase its holdings through the Corporation.

Another major aspect of the Corporation’s future actions will include transit-oriented development along the planned rail corridor. Honolulu Authority on Rapid Transit board member Ivan Lui Kwan was optimistic in his assessment of the possibilities of a partnership with the PLDC, calling the organizations’ objectives “synergistic.”

Housing and tourism will also be key issues in the Corporation’s future. Dela Cruz, in his opening remarks, noted that job creation and helping Hawaii’s smaller communities thrive are two of the main purposes of creating the PLDC.

And while all who spoke to the joint committee expressed their unabashed optimism for the future of the Corporation, concern was expressed by labor leader Mel Kahele, who worried that future projects may be able to skirt current construction licensing and requirements through exemptions provided in Section 19 of the law. He said that the Attorney General’s office has been notified, and that he is sure that labor’s concern can be remedied.

The actual timeline for the Corporation’s actions in the future became the topic of discussion toward the end of the meeting, with State Rep. Mark Nakashima expressing his concern about the uncertainty of their timeline.

Referring to transit oriented development, Lui-Kwan had said: “We want to get shovels in the ground as soon as possible,” but gave no concrete answer as to the commencement of development.

Sen. Malama Solomon became affably assertive as Kaulukukui discussed the procedural difficulty the corporation already faces, including being understaffed (the Corporation has been funded for three executive positions, but will use the approximately $130,000 allotted for salaries for the Executive Director position alone).

“Okay, okay,” said Solomon. “When?”

What is certain is that the Corporation must have its rules established before the beginning of the 2012 legislative session, and that before any action can be taken, a complete inventory of holdings with development potential must be identified.

Opponents of the law that created the Corporation have cited concerns that range from economic, cultural, and environmental.

Bob Loy of the Outdoor Circle told The Hawaii Independent that his organization has no official position on the Public Lands Development Corporation, but that “we have seen repeated problems with other similar quasi-governmental development agencies in the past. The Hawaii Community Development Authority and Aloha Tower Development Corporation quickly come to mind. We believe these entities have generally been problematic and have not generated a track record of positive distinction in carrying out their responsibilities, which appear to be similar to those outlined for the new Public Land Development Corporation.” 

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