Supreme Court rejects a disqualified Commissioner’s faulty vote
HONOLULU, HAWAII – Yesterday, the Sierra Club won an important step at the Supreme Court in their campaign to stop urban sprawl on some of Hawaii’s best agricultural lands. The Supreme Court issued a decision rejecting contentions that Duane Kanuha was a so-called “holdover” member of the Land Use Commission. The Hawaii Senate, who must provide “advice and consent” on these types of appointments, chose to reject Kanuha’s nomination. Thus the Supreme Court overturned a 2010 decision by the Land Use Commission to approve Castle & Cooke’s proposed development of more than 5,000 homes, a hotel, retail stores, and a medical campus on some of the best farmland in the state.
The Land Use Commission later approval of a 2012 Castle & Cooke development proposal is still pending on appeal before the Intermediate Court of Appeals.
In 2010, while the Koa Ridge hearing process was on-going, the Hawai’i Senate rejected Mr. Kanuha’s appointment to a second term as a Land Use Commissioner. In voting to reject him, some Senators referenced that Mr. Kanuha freely admitted he was not in legal compliance with the requirement to be substantially familiar with traditional Hawaiian land usage or cultural land practices (he was the designated individual to have such a background). Other Senators expressed concern with his developer background and the slant of the Commission towards overdeveloping land without consideration of protecting Hawaii’s finite agricultural resources.
Despite the Senate’s rejection, Mr. Kanuha continued to serve on the Commission. The Sierra Club contested that, under the law, he could no longer serve as a Commissioner on the Koa Ridge matter: he shouldn’t ask questions, steer deliberations, and cast a vote on the project. Governor Lingle should have appointed someone else to take his place.
Castle & Cooke and the Commission actively opposed the Sierra Club’s position, and chose to proceed with the Koa Ridge deliberations. Castle & Cooke and the Land Use Commission’s gamble failed. The Supreme Court agreed with the Sierra Club on all substantive points of the case, specifically holding “Mr. Kanuha was not a valid holdover member” and as such “the LUC lacked the requisite number of votes to approve the reclassification.”
This decision is an important step for protecting Oahu’s farmlands, quality of life, and for smart planning. Hawaii’s citizens and future generations deserve a Land Use Commission that is fair, balanced, and duly-appointed. The Commission’s makeup over the past decade has consisted mostly of developers, representative of developers, or representatives of the construction industry. It is unclear how the public could reasonably expect this body to fulfill its charge to protect agricultural land as it hears petitions to develop key remaining parcels.
The Sierra Club, as environmental watchdogs, will continue to press for solutions that address Hawaii’s housing needs while encouraging the preservation of farmland, smart growth, and reduced traffic congestion. We can chart a course that solves these issues, without having to pursue the tired method of simply building more urban sprawl.
Founded in 1968, the Hawai`i Chapter of the Sierra Club is the state’s largest and most active grassroots environmental organization. The Club actively promotes reducing the impacts of global climate change by encouraging the development of clean renewable energy, promoting sustainable practices, and ensuring our fragile native habitat is protected from harm. www.sierraclubhawaii.com