Hoopili Business Model Not Sustainable for Hawaii

Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat

D.R. Horton’s pending Application A06-771 for the Reclassification of 1554 acres of agricultural-zoned lands to develop Ho’opili subdivision must be denied by the Hawaii Land Use Commission.

How many more subdivisions can Oahu duplicate on our island home? Allowing D.R. Horton to decimate Oahu’s prime farmland will cause irreparable harm to Oahu’s well-being. On the other hand, D.R. Horton has many other options for their development ventures elsewhere.

The Hoopili site, as argued by interveners Friends of Makakilo, the Sierra Club, former Governor John Waihe’e, Governor Ben Cayetano and other concerned parties, has unique food security features that cannot be duplicated elsewhere on Oahu. The case file against this re-classification and its impacts is enormous. The mainstream public has also formed common sense decisions against this Ho’opili project.

My personal case in point: Diversity is important. Aloun Farms does not have chronic flooding problems.

It’s puzzling that one of Ho’opili’s most vocal supporters, Dean Okimoto, Hawaii Farm Bureau president, ignores this simple fact and wants to eliminate Aloun Farms. How can Okimoto, the Hawaii Farm Bureau president, think cementing over Aloun Farms to develop Ho’opili is rational and good for Oahu’s food security? He has chronic experiences with flooding himself, as evidenced in the following links.

Creating a sustainable island home unequivocally demands objective and rational decision-making. We’re all in this canoe together. Sustainability cannot work if certain parties are only interested in fighting for their own benefits at the expense of others. In the long run, we must all work together for the common good to prosper and thrive.

We all share the kuleana to take heed of the red flags waving at us. Let’s not create irreparable damages and then try to do damage control after. That’s backwards and suicide planning.

Let’s briefly analyze two significant events that we can all relate to: September 11, 2001 terrorism and the 2008 Financial Meltdown that affected the world and our lives.

Colossal damages were inflicted during these two events and we had the usual commissions to find out what went awry after the fact. What was as alarming about these two game-changer events are the federal commission reports that followed.

I’ve read the authorized published edition of The 9/11 Commission Report – Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States and the The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report – Final Report of the National Commission on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States. In both of these federal reports, there is a clear pattern of behavior revealing a rigid political/bureaucratic system that does not serve us well. A lot of times, the system drowns common sense at our own peril.

Chapter 8 of the 9/11 Commission Report stated that “The system was blinking red”. The chapter described the drumbeat getting louder and louder with countless reports of enemy’s plans to launch attacks on U.S. interests. Top officials were briefed in stark terms like “Bin Laden Planning High Profile Attacks to have dramatic consequences of catastrophic portions” and so forth. (Earlier, in 1993, a truck bomb was detonated below the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. )

Such blinking red warnings were all across the board but unfortunately, there was a stark disconnect. No one seemed to be in charge of the big picture; there was no connecting the intelligence dots.

It was the same malfeasance with the 2008 sub-prime melt-down. There were blinking red warning flags. But, even Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan wrongly assured jittery critics that the economy was sound and that most homeowners put 20 percent down payment on their mortgage loans. Some of us in the front line real estate lending scene knew Greenspan was either clueless or misrepresenting the facts. Greenspan’s assurance of the mortgage industry was out of touch with reality - indeed there was rampant easy borrowing, including that of buyers’ down payment. Borrowers who could not normally qualify were given Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM) or 1 percent interest-only mortgages with balloon payments that they could not handle when due.

These ignored red flags finally turned into nightmare sirens; 2008 saw this country and the world turned upside down with foreclosures, unemployment, raiding of pensions, trillions of toxic debt, stocks evaporation, plunging unemployment, big corporations deemed too big to fail failed, distraught executives literally throwing themselves under the train, retirement plans were put on hold, and so forth.

How did we reach this point? Because decision-makers, who were supposed to be working for the public good, did not carefully examine or connect the dots. Those responsible did not recognize or refused to heed the blinking red signals in the financial and intelligence world.

Why am I sharing these systemic failures and these commission reports?

In my opinion, this Hoopili development – the reclassification of 1,554 acres of prime fertile acres - is a local microcosm of September 11s and sub-prime melt-downs. We need to connect the dots to protect Oahu’s food security and well-being. This massive D.R. Horton development and land-use decision to declassify diminishing agriculture-zoned land to residential have many blinking red warning flags like:

  • We already import 92 percent of our food.

  • We are a small island of only 596.7 square miles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Unpredictable and unforeseen circumstances can easily cause havoc to our food supplies and distribution. Other multiplier impacts will inevitably ensue.

  • Food Security is imperative for basic health, survival, and quality of life. Oahu supposedly has five days of food availability if there are no new imports.

  • Powerful developers generally control Oahu land-use policies. There is no question that these corporations with hired lobbyists, PR consultants, and the likes are breathing down the throats of decision-makers. We see it.

  • Profiteer developers are pushing Hawaii into an identity crisis. They do not know who we are. They don’t care what Hawaii is about. We cannot develop like we are Delaware or Texas or Utah or Florida. Out-of-state capitalists and “experts” are often allowed to cut and paste mainland projects that quash the islands’ limited resources, assets, culture, lure and charm, and its sense of place.

  • How many times can this business model of new brick and mortar subdivisions in the name of “jobs” and “affordable home” be duplicated on this small island before it creates more havoc and goes kaput?

  • Who will truly occupy these new homes? There are already an estimated 30,000 plus housing units (in West Oahu) in the pipeline to be built. Who will eventually be replaced, due to inevitable rising property taxes and basic costs of modern living? As a real estate broker for over 20 years, I have seen the steady displacement of kama’ainas from their inheritances because they cannot keep up with the rigors of modern economic system. I’ve seen keiki o ka aina lose their homes and replaced by more affluent transplants. I have seen locals forced to sell their ancestral homes on the beach because they cannot keep up with the rising taxes. Already, there are more Hawaiians living outside of Hawaii. We have a solemn kuleana to protect the resources for future generations and options for their sustainability.

  • There are severe traffic problems and quality of life issues that developers conveniently ignore.

  • There are severe issues regarding finite resources like water aquifers and electricity along with basic infrastructural needs like sewer, sanitation, landfill, roads, and physical facilities.

  • There are severe concerns of manipulated facts. What is fact and what is propaganda? What is fact and what is speculation? What is truth and what is half-truth? Environment Assessments (EA) that reveal problematic impacts somehow are mitigated into a FONSI – Finding of No Significant Impacts. Beautiful and heartwarming websites are common propaganda tools for the gullible.

  • We have bi-polar leadership. The Hawaii 2050 Plan, led by then Senator Russell Kokobun, reflected widespread public sentiments that food security and protecting our agricultural resources must be an integral part of sustaining our islands. Today, Russell Kokobun, recently appointed by Governor Neil Abercrombie as Director of Agriculture, testified in strong favor of decimating this unique 1,554 of prime agriculture-zoned land. The past Director of Agriculture had testified against this declassification to develop D.R. Horton’s Ho’opili subdivision.

The Land Use Commission (LUC) must make the rational decision for the public good. Never mind the pressures and lobbying. The law to preserve agriculture is on their side. The Hawaii Constitution mandates both the preservation and protection of agricultural resources. LUC cannot ignore the long list of blinking red warning signs all around us. God forbids that future legislators would need a commission study to analyze how Oahu strayed from its sustainable path and try to undo the irreparable damage to agricultural lands. It will be too late then.

This Ho’opili controversy is not about who will win and who will lose. This is not about “I don’t agree with the boss but it’s part of my job”. This is not about who has more money to engage attorneys or to wage a social media war with lobbyists, ads, t-shirts and food to curry favors and change mindsets.

Denying this reclassification application is about putting the well-being of Oahu first, front square and center.

We are all in this together. We are in the same canoe in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. None of us will be in power forever. At the end of the day, we are all human beings who must build a better and more secure future for our loved ones, our neighbors, and our island home. We must honor our solemn kuleana to future generations.

We owe it to ourselves, our children, and the future of Hawaii to steady the canoe - to consistently make pono choices. We must stay the course - make bold and wise decisions TODAY so that future generations will bless, and not curse us.

About the author: Choon James is a real estate broker for over 20 years. She is a member of the Ko’olauloa Sustainable Communities Committee and Save Oahu Farmlands Coalition.

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