Viewpoint: Two acts evoke strong feelings

After recent visits to Maui and Molokai, I came away with a deepening sense of frustration, desperation, sadness and a feeling of “what have we done?”

The purpose of the trip was to share the Big Island’s concerns of two acts (Act 55, Public Land Development Corp.) and Act 97 (geothermal development) with Maui, our closest neighbor, with the goal of working together to address those concerns. This was accomplished but, more importantly, it was an opportunity to listen and learn.

The two state legislative acts, signed into law by the governor, seemed to be the catalyst that triggered so many residents to openly demonstrate their growing feelings of distrust and disassociation with the government. It is understood that most legislators were not aware of the full consequences of these bills when they were passed. These two acts created the platform for many to question openly the workings of the government and share their thoughts of what should not be – feelings and thoughts that the government and its priorities are not for the care of this land, not for the people of this land, but for special interest groups and for short-term benefits.

Of the feelings expressed, most disturbing was a loss of hope. The hopes and dreams of owning a home and a place to call one’s own, replaced by a lifestyle of more than one job to just survive. A life now of just paying bills and a hope of a better future for the children.

The loss of hope seems to be in line with feelings that government and business powers just don’t care. A sadness that our home has become a playland for the rich and that tomorrow is another day of juggling jobs, providing for family, making the best of it and just smiling.

These feelings of growing distrust and disconnect with the government were so easily understood when connected to the frustrations with Acts 55 and 97.

Why was there so little public awareness and opportunity for involvement in such sweeping land use changes with the people that the changes affected most?

Why were these acts passed with such speed that few residents were even aware of them?

Why were laws created that exempted projects from all state and county land use laws, including community plans, zoning, all county ordinances and building permits?

Why was all county government authority removed?

Why did these acts remove all opportunities for the people to have any chance for meaningful input?

The only reason given by the supporters of these acts were:

* A need to raise money for the public good (Act 55).

* To streamline the regulatory process and remove layers of regulations to expedite the development of the geothermal industry (Act 97).

These acts should not have been. They should be repealed.

Surely, the use of land must be balanced with responsibilities to cultural and spiritual care of Hawaii.

Surely, county and state laws such as building permits, zoning codes and land use laws should be respected and there should be a trust of fairness and application of laws to all.

Surely, lifestyles and the community’s involvement in the use of the land are of importance and must be considered.

It is difficult to understand or accept that sweeping land use changes were made without any care or mention of the concerns of people, land or lifestyle.

I ask that our government leaders refocus on our responsibilities to social, environmental and cultural care in their stewardship of Hawaii.

I ask for understanding that the sadness expressed is not just about public lands and the development of the geothermal industry – this is about the relationship between the people and its government; a hope for a government that is an extension of the people and not for special interests.

This is about the hope and belief that we all seek that our government will be of fairness and do what is right by law and a sense of what is right. This is at the heart of people’s trust with their government.

* Harry Kim served 24 years as Hawaii County’s Civil Defense administrator and eight years as its mayor. He lives in Hilo.