Taking a closer look at county long-range community plans

VIEWPOINT

The Planning Department is responsible for the preparation of the county’s nine regional community plans that guide future growth and development.

We would like to discuss the administration’s effort to “re-create” the community planning process, as recently featured in Maui News stories, letters and columns.

Anyone who followed the recent Lanai and Molokai community plan updates knows that the current process is broken. At virtually every meeting on the Lanai plan, County Council members and the public told Planning Committee Chair Don Couch that “we need to fix this process!” Instead of continuing or perpetuating everyone’s dissatisfaction through the seven remaining plans, beginning with West Maui, our long-range planning staff has temporarily shifted their energies from preparing a draft West Maui plan to evaluating our governing statutes and researching how planners in other places prepare long-range plans for their communities.

There are several key points we wish to make. First, the most fundamental component of any new process must be robust community participation and engagement. While many people have actively engaged in the prescribed planning process, we connect with only a limited segment of our community. We found that many people are not able or willing to take time away from their jobs or families to attend long meetings and offer their three minutes of testimony, and that other places are reaching a much broader spectrum of their communities by using new technology with social media and other platforms.

The community planning process can also be engaging, exciting, interactive, interesting and even fun: check out www.envisionlongmont.com for an example of how the process can work. We certainly will not replace meetings or workshops, of course, or the statutory roles of the community plan advisory committees, planning commissions and council. Instead, these panels will have a profoundly greater sense of the community’s opinions, and the community will be able to follow the process, participate all along the way and truly have their voices heard.

Hand-in-hand with community engagement is building community trust, in both the process and the plans themselves. Our community plans need to be realistic and implementable — otherwise the public has no faith in the plans, the county departments responsible for following them or the process that creates them. One improvement could be establishing direct tie-ins between the plans and the county’s annual and capital improvement project budgets. This will ensure that only realistic plans are formulated and adopted, and that all county departments, through their budgets, will implement the plans.

Second, we expect this effort to be relatively brief and to resume work on the West Maui plan by mid-2017. We simply do not have the staff resources to pursue this initiative and continue work on the West Maui plan simultaneously; both warrant our unimpeded attention. Additionally, the West Maui community should have the chance to benefit from the improved process we hope to soon have in place.

Third, any changes to the process must have input from the council and the community. Current law calls for a community plan update to take at least two years: six months for the community plan advisory committee (CPAC), six months for the planning commission and one year for the council, not including the time our department needs to conduct outreach and prepare the first draft.

The Lanai update took three-and-a-half years from the first CPAC meeting to final council action. If each plan takes at least two years, even allowing for some overlap and concurrency, then updating nine plans will take at least 15 — but the charter also requires all nine community plans to be updated every 10 years. Clearly these need to be reconciled, which can only happen with council and community support.

The greatest responsibility though, falls on the Planning Department to administer the process. There are some changes to the process that we could make today that are in line with current law; however, we will not do so without the input from the council and the community.

We applaud Mayor Alan Arakawa and Planning Committee Chair Couch for their leadership in this regard, and for giving us this opportunity. We look forward to sharing ideas with the community and discussing new approaches with the council in the near future.

* William Spence is the director and Michele Chouteau McLean is the deputy director of the Maui County Planning Department, positions they have held since January 2011. They can be reached at planning@co.maui.hi.us.

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