Donovan in the News

October 28, 2016

Whitmore ag project is workable and wonky

 

Originally published by Star Advertiser; click here to read the article on staradvertiser.com

 

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz estimates he's given the tour 70 times over the last four years. He has shown political leaders, business people, visiting scholars and just about anyone who will listen the future he sees in the fallow and overgrown farmland. It's not the same tour over and over, though. There's new information because the project is taking shape. "It's starting to pick up because it's becoming more real," Dela Cruz says.

 

The Whitmore Project is a comprehensive plan to bring back farming on former Oahu ag lands and to revitalize the communities of Wahiawa and Whitmore. It is both lofty in its goals and tethered to practicality. The state owns a significant amount of the land, and funds for additional parcels have been released by Gov. David Ige. Dela Cruz has organized numerous government agencies to "cluster" on the project so that things like loans for farmers, a shared processing and packing plant, and workforce housing can be facilitated.

 

"Kakaako can't be the only place that's 'live, work, play,'" Dela Cruz says.

 

The state purchased more than 1,700 acres of the former Galbraith estate in Central Oahu in 2012 and has added other parcels in the area to its inventory in the years since. The Agribusiness Development Corp., which is part of the state Department of Agriculture, will award long-term leases (farmers on short or month-to-month leases struggle to invest in their farms because of the uncertainty of their future) and offer rent credits. The plan is to also organize co-ops to share in the cost of equipment and supplies.

 

There's a cavernous warehouse on a side street off California Avenue that is sitting empty. The roof leaks and some of the drywall is broken, but the vision for the space is for a vibrant visitor destination and retail store like Hilo's beautiful Big Island Candies, where you can see how the products are made and shop for what's new, fresh and locally grown. Dole Plantation visitor center, a few miles down the road, sees 1.5 million visitors a year. Most of those visitors drive right past Wahiawa, but if there's a retail store, something unique to see and buy and taste, the thought is that they will spend time in the town.

 

Current discussions about food security, sustainability, the benefits of locally grown produce and the potential loss of high-yield farmlands to housing or resort development are often high on lofty ideas and low on specific, workable, wonky details and actual agreements. The Whitmore Project is different. It's big but it's plenty wonky. Part of Dela Cruz's tour is a rapid-fire lecture on all the agreements that have been worked out for the future, like establishing a foreign trade zone and coordinating with nearby schools to provide ag licensing training, working with the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture to identify the best crops for the area and, most important, how to pay for all of these things.

 

A question that Dela Cruz often gets and doesn't much like is, So when will this project be finished?

 

"This is an incremental build," he says. "It's like asking when will tourism end. It's an evolving process."

 

This summer, the first harvest of watermelon and bell pepper came from the Wahiawa Project lands. So it has already begun.

 

Whitmore Project: Next steps

 

>> Complete the master plan for the Whitmore Agribusiness Tech Park.

 

>> Purchase available Dole Food Co. lands in Central Oahu.

 

>> Establish an ag foreign trade zone so Whitmore Project tenants can defer duties on imported goods.

 

>> Complete a wastewater recycling facility for irrigation.

 

>> Create ag workforce housing.

 

>> Install pump-storage hydroelectricity.

October 21, 2016

Donations, fundraiser to replace stolen computers at Wahiawa Middle School

 

Originally published by KITV; click here to read the article on kitv.com. 

 

Donations are coming in to help replace some of the 27 Chromebooks that were stolen from Wahiawa Middle School, according to Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz.

 

The senator and the Leilehua Alumni and Community Association will be launching a fundraising drive to raise additional funds to replace the remaining stolen items.

 

Sen. Dela Cruz is an alumnus of Wahiawa Middle.

 

"As schools move forward with an education based in science, technology, engineering, and math, the right equipment is vital to building their skills," said Sen. Dela Cruz. "The Leilehua Alumni and Community Association will play a critical role as schools make this transition. Whether it be donating computers or receiving grants for educational programs, the Association exists to assist all schools in the Leilehua complex."

 

More funds are needed to replace the remaining Chromebooks, a MacBook Pro laptop and an LCD projector that were stolen from the school on Sept. 28.

 

The Leilehua Alumni and Community Association is asking the community to make a small donation so they can continue to support our students. More information on the fundraising drive is forthcoming.

 

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call the Honolulu Police Department. Police are still seeking leads on the suspects wanted for the burglary

October 6, 2016

State agency gets $31.5M, to buy 900 acres of farmland

 

Originally published by Pacific Business News; click here to read the article on bizjournals.com. 

 

The state Agribusiness Development Corp. has received $31.5 million to buy nearly 900 acres of agricultural land in Central Oahu to be used as part of the Whitmore farming project in the area, Pacific Business News has learned.

 

The state agency aims to facilitate and provide direction for the transition of Hawaii's agriculture industry from a dominance of sugar and pineapple to one made up of a diversity of crops.

 

This past session, the Legislature appropriated the funds to the ADC with state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, D-Mililani Mauka, Wahiawa, Whitmore Village, being instrumental in building support for the funds to be included in the state budget.

 

Gov. David Ige recently signed the release of the $31.5 million. When the acquisition is completed, these lands, along with other parcels pending transaction, will increase the farmable acreage in the Whitmore Project from the initial 1,200 acres to more than 2,800 acres.

 

Neighboring state-owned properties also include facilities in Wahiawa and former Dole Food Co. Inc. warehouses in Whitmore Village that will be retrofitted for processing and packaging.

 

"Under ADC's management, these lands will be protected in perpetuity for farming," Dela Cruz said. "Access to good farmland is needed to help farmers scale up their crop production, which decreases our reliance on imported foods."

 

The governor recently announced his plan to double local food production, and replacing just 10 percent of the food Hawaii currently imports would amount to about $313 million remaining in the state.

 

A recent summer harvest by Sugarland Farms, a tenant of the Whitmore Project, produced an estimated 2.7 million pounds of watermelons and 750,000 pounds of bell pepper.

 

Other components of the Whitmore Project that have either been completed or are currently being worked on include an agriculture foreign trade zone to defer duties on imported materials, tax incentives through the redesignation and expansion of Enterprise Zone No. 1, creation of an agribusiness technology park to consolidate processing and packaging facilities, construction of workforce housing for farm employees, establishment of K-12 workforce training and reclaiming wastewater for irrigation from the Wahiawa Wastewater Treatment Plant.

May 2, 2016

House, Senate Agree to $13.7 Billion State Spending Plan  

 

Originally published by Civil Beat; click here to read the article on civilbeat.com. 

 

House and Senate lawmakers reached an agreement Thursday to finalize the overall state budget, including $160.5 million for the Hawaii State Hospital, $17 million for Hawaiian Home Lands and $81 million to more aggressively pay down unfunded liabilities for health benefits promised to public workers. 

The $13.7 billion spending plan for fiscal 2017, which starts July 1, is just over $100 million less than what Gov. David Ige had requested. But it's still millions more than the state is taking in. 

The budget bill unanimously cleared the conference committee, chaired by House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke and Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda. It now heads to the floor of each chamber for final approval in the coming days. 

Lawmakers had hoped to close the budget Wednesday after a week and a half of negotiations. But Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who was in charge of the $1 billion spending plan for capital improvement projects, held it up to secure funding for Wahiawa General Hospital, according to sources close to the deliberations. 

The hospital, which serves a rural area in central and north Oahu, is in danger of going under. Doctors, patients and residents have been wearing "Save Our Hospital" shirts to legislative hearings and have been rallying since last month to put pressure on lawmakers to help. 

The budget bill provides a cash infusion of $2.5 million to help the financially strapped hospital stay afloat and $700,000 for the Wahiawa Center for Community Health. The hospital had sought $3 million, Luke said. 

"It was something we had to take care of," she said. But Luke added that she does not want it to set a precedent. 

Lawmakers who represent Wahiawa, including Dela Cruz and Rep. Marcus Oshiro, have been lobbying for the past month to get the state to address the hospital's financial crisis. 

Luke said the hospital must develop a long-term plan to become financially sustainable. She said the emergency room should remain open, and long-term care beds are needed. 

One of the larger items that was hanging in the balance was the Department of Health's request of $160.5 million for a new patient care facility at the Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe, which is in Tokuda's district. 

State Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler said the money is crucial to keep the project moving quickly and avoid delays. To demonstrate the progress, last month at a legislative hearing on the budget she brought the sign from the Goddard Building that's being demolished to make room for the new facility. 

Tokuda said she and Luke intend to apply "much pressure" on the department to ensure Goddard is demolished soon and the new facility is built quickly, smartly and efficiently. 

If not, Luke said, perhaps only half joking, they will take the money back next year. 

The hospital is chronically overcrowded with court-ordered patients. Pressler has said a new state-of-the-art forensic facility not only will open up more space and improve care, but the design will have improved lines of sight to help eliminate violence that has been occurring involving patients and staff members. 

"This is a significant investment in the health, safety and wellness of the patients who live there, the employees who work there, and the surrounding community who live, learn and play right next door," Tokuda said in a statement. 

"To be able to rebuild this facility and commit to maintaining it the way it should have been cared for, goes a long way in providing and comprehensively providing, mental health services for our people," she said. 

Unfunded Liabilities 

In another big-ticket item, lawmakers agreed to provide roughly half of what Ige had wanted to pay down the unfunded liabilities in healthcare benefits promised to thousands of retired public workers. 

The governor had asked the Legislature to start paying 100 percent of the required annual contribution of Other Post-Employment Benefits, referred to as OPEB. He has said spending more now would generate greater savings later. 

Tokuda and Luke agreed to provide $82 million for 2017, which still takes the state up to 80 percent of the required annual contribution from 60 percent. They each said they understand the potential of long-term savings by paying it down sooner, but Tokuda said that needs to be balanced against the "unintended consequences" that could arise by forcing state agencies like the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation to meet the mandate sooner. 

Hawaiian Home Lands Funding 

The committee agreed to fund $17 million, the same amount Ige requested, to reimburse the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for operating and administrative expenses this fiscal year, which ends June 30. 

Luke said she expects the department to use the funds to "appropriately and properly serve the beneficiaries." 

A state audit blasted the department in 2013 for failing to meet its fiduciary responsibilities. 

It's the most the state has ever provided the historically underfunded agency, but it's still short of the $28 million that the department - and a judge - have said is needed. The $17 million includes $9.6 million already appropriated for the current fiscal year. 

One of the department's main goals is to help Native Hawaiians acquire homestead lands. The waiting list is now 27,700 people long. It was 5,700 when the mandate was enacted in 1978. 

First Circuit Judge Jeannette Castagnetti ruled in November in Nelson v. Hawaiian Homes Commission that the state must fulfill its constitutional duty to make "sufficient" sums available to the department for its administrative and operating budget. 

The judge decided not to order the governor and Legislature to pay a specific amount, after concerns arose about the separation of powers. But Castagnetti said last month that there is "substantial evidence" in the trial record to support the court's factual findings that "sufficient" means at least $28 million. 

Rep. Gene Ward sent House Speaker Joe Souki a letter Thursday warning him that "timing is of the essence," and that a contempt-of-court lawsuit would be forthcoming if the full $28 million was not appropriated by the end of session May 5. 

Among many other budget items, University of Hawaii officials were holding their breath for $3 million to cover an Athletics Department deficit. 

Lawmakers had considered using money from the tourism fund, but instead carved it out of the general fund. 

Grants And Construction Projects 

The budget conference committee also announced the final list of grants-in-aid recipients for 2017, which amounts to $20 million in funding for capital improvement projects and $10 million for operating costs for various proposals from nonprofits and community groups. 

Rep. Ty Cullen handled grant requests on the House side, and Tokuda and Dela Cruz split the duty on the Senate side. 

Among the list of projects: $1.5 million for a new facility for the Blood Bank of Hawaii; $1 million for a Korean Cultural Center; $350,000 for a spay-neuter clinic for Hawaiian Humane Society; and $800,000 for an emergency electrical generator system for Kuakini Medical Center. 

The budget included a total appropriation of $1.16 billion for construction projects funded by general obligation bonds and $2.68 billion for the biennium for projects funded by all other means of financing. 

Aside from money for the State Hospital, lawmakers approved $35 million for a new Life Sciences building at the University of Hawaii Manoa, $35 million for a new Creative Media Facility at University of Hawaii West Oahu, $94 million for correctional centers statewide, $10 million for improvements at Aloha Stadium, $37.5 million for a new high school in Kihei and $12 million for a new classroom building at Campbell High School. 

There are still numerous bills with financial implications that lawmakers have yet to decide. The deadline is Friday for House-Senate conference committees to reach an agreement on the legislation in time for it to pass the full Legislature next week. 

Those bills include funding for air-conditioning and other heat-abatement measures to cool down public-school classrooms, and to put money into the state's rainy day fund - each of those being $100 million requests from the governor. 

The governor's budget had initially proposed spending $488 million more than the state is expected to take in next year. The final version of the budget trimmed that deficit by roughly $100 million, but the state is still dependent on an $828 million carryover balance from 2015 to make the budget balance.

April 28, 2016

Funding pulls through for Wahiawa General 

 

Originally published by Pacific Business News; click here to read the article on bizjournals.com. 

 

Hawaii state lawmakers have approved a state budget that includes $2.5 million for the Wahiawa General Hospital and another $700,000 for the Wahiawa Center for Community Health.

 

Negotiations on the state budget have taken approximately a week and a half.

 

"With a deadline to agree on legislative bills, including the state budget bill, quickly approaching, I am pleased to report that my colleagues in both the Senate and the House have approved $2.5 million for the hospital so that operations may continue," state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz told PBN via email. "This will also provide time for the hospital to develop a sustainable plan for their operations."

 

The hospital's officials had warned the facility could close within nine months if it did not receive funding support.

 

The hospital has lost millions, in part due to reductions in in-patient admissions, lower government funding, higher employee insurance costs, and facility improvements.

 

Wahiawa General patients travel from up to 30 miles away, from Waialua to Kahuku on the North Shore through Wahiawa and Mililani. The hospital treats more than 20,000 patients in its emergency room every year, and oversees 52 inpatient acute care beds and 107 skilled nursing beds.

April 8, 2016 

Senators keen to buy Dole land

 

Originally published by Star Advertiser; click here to read the article on staradvertiser.com

 

A trio of state senators wants the state to buy about 8,000 acres of Dole Food Co. land between Central Oahu and the North Shore to preserve the property for agriculture, angling to earmark more than $107 million in next year's budget to complete the purchase.

 

Senate Ways and Means Vice Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said the plan is to have the state make the former sugar and pineapple lands available for long-term leasing to farmers for food production. Many of those lands are now fallow, while other parcels are being farmed under month-to-month leases, he said.

 

Dela Cruz argued that "if we're serious about food production, if we're serious about helping farmers with food safety, then the state needs to get involved and follow the mandate in the Constitution to preserve ag lands by purchasing it and thereby provide long-term leases to farmers."

 

"Unfortunately, many parcels have been sold, and some are even in the process of being subdivided, and that's my worst fear: the proliferation of gentleman farms," said Dela Cruz (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Mililani Mauka).

 

The purchase is also backed by Sens. Laura Thielen (D, Hawaii Kai-Waimanalo-Kailua) and Gil Riviere (D, Heeia-Laie-Waialua), and Dela Cruz announced earlier this week that lawmakers were able to get an appropriation to buy the lands included in the Senate's version of the state budget.

 

Lawmakers in the House and Senate will be negotiating over the details of that budget in the weeks ahead before deciding on a final version, and the proposed Dole land purchase will likely be a major issue in that bargaining.

 

The lands the senators hope to purchase are on both sides of Kamehameha Highway between Poamoho Village and Waialua, and are mostly owned by Dole with a few parcels owned by Castle &Cooke Hawaii, Dela Cruz said. All of the land is already on the market, he said.

 

According to Dole financial reports, the company began marketing for sale about 14,000 acres that it doesn't farm on Oahu in 2011. A year later that figure grew to about 20,000 acres, and the company said it was aiming to receive $175 million to $200 million for the properties.

 

Currently Dole has about 18,000 acres for sale, although some of that land is already under contract with sales expected to close shortly.

 

The state Agribusiness Development Corp. this year prepared a report on the properties that concluded the Dole land sale offers a "unique opportunity" for the state to meet its obligations under the state Constitution to protect agricultural lands, promote diversified agriculture and increase the state's self-sufficiency.

 

Scott Enright, chairman of the state Department of Agriculture, said his department has been advocating that the state begin buying up additional ag lands for several years, and has reorganized its land management operations in a way that positioned the department to manage more property.

 

The Agriculture Department now manages more than 13,000 acres, and the state Agribusiness Development Corp. manages another 20,000 acres, according to state ag officials.

 

Lawmakers last year provided $500,000 to the ADC to investigate a possible purchase of Dole lands, and the agency identified parcels totaling 8,003 acres that are "of high interest to the state" for farming because of their location and the availability of water and other infrastructure. Of those lands, 4,454 acres are farmable, according to the ADC report.

 

Dole's asking price for those lands is $132 million, according to the report, and Dela Cruz said the Senate proposal to float bonds to borrow $107 million to buy the land is based on that ADC study.

 

Enright said the Department of Agriculture supports the purchase "so long as it doesn't disrupt the financial priorities of the administration."

 

As the state seeks to promote new farming operations, "we're hard-pressed to see how the farmers are going to be able to buy the land and often find land with long-term leases, so the state having additional inventory can support food sustainability and the growth of agriculture," Enright said. "We've supported that effort all along, and continue to support it with the work of Sen. Dela Cruz."

 

If money for the land purchase is included in the final version of next year's state budget, lawmakers will then have to convince Gov. David Ige to release the funding. If that happens, the state and the landowner would each do appraisals and negotiate a final price based on those appraisals, Dela Cruz said.

 

Enright said he has discussed the need for more state-owned agricultural land with Ige but has not specifically discussed the Dole purchase with the governor and therefore can't say for certain whether Ige would release the money.

 

Dela Cruz has hatched a number of other plans in recent years in an effort to get the state to acquire Dole lands in the Central Oahu or North Shore areas. He proposed using revenue bonds to buy Dole property in Wahiawa in 2013 and proposed to swap the Oahu Community Correctional Center site in Kalihi for Dole properties last year.

 

Dela Cruz said the sale now under consideration is important to reduce the state's dependence on imported food, increase the number of jobs in agriculture and "make agriculture a living-wage profession."

 

"The population is on Oahu, and so we need a substantial amount of agricultural land so that we can ensure that we can feed our own population," he said. Even branches of state government such as the prison system, the schools and the university system import their food, he said.

 

"Until we reach scale of agricultural products, there's no way the state can even buy local," he said.

April 6, 2016 

$13.5B draft budget would fund hospitals

 

Originally published by Star Advertiser; click here to read the article on staradvertiser.com

 

State senators announced a new proposed draft of next year's state budget Tuesday that includes money for a bailout of Wahiawa General Hospital as well as $160 million to rebuild much of the Hawaii State Hospital for the mentally ill in Kaneohe. 

The proposed new $13.5 billion budget would leave the state on track to spend more money next year than it collects in taxes and other revenue, but Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda said she did not immediately know how much revenues would lag behind expenses. 

Both Gov. David Ige and House lawmakers also proposed budgets for next year that would have the state spending more cash than it takes in, but the final amounts won't be decided until later in the session. 

Lawmakers still haven't decided whether they will accept a number of Ige administration proposals that would increase the amount the state spends next year. 

Ige has proposed that the state prepay nearly $163 million next year in future retirement health care costs, and also proposed banking $100 million in the state's "Rainy Day" budget reserve fund. Tokuda said she did not include either of those big-ticket items in the latest budget draft, but lawmakers could partially or fully fund those initiatives later by passing separate appropriations bills. 

Also still pending are separate bills to fund new union contracts for thousands of public workers. 

So far, lawmakers have received requests from the Ige administration for more than $22 million from the general treasury next year to pay for increases in wages and fringe benefits for unionized state law enforcement officers; water safety officers; and administrative, technical and professional employees in the University of Hawaii system. 

Those costs are not included in the Senate budget, and more money might be required to cover the cost of at least one additional union settlement that is pending. 

This would not be the first time in recent years the state has spent more than it collected. The Ige administration projected in December the state will spend about $63 million more this year than it will collect in taxes. The state is able to do that because it has a cash surplus that carried over from last year. 

Tokuda (D, Kailua-Kaneohe) described the Senate's draft budget as "a well-rounded and very balanced request." 

"We looked for ways that we could create a budget that balanced multiple priorities, programs and services without adding unsustainable costs going forward, and this required looking carefully at base appropriations and ensuring that existing funds are first being considered before more are appropriated," she said. 

She said the Senate draft of the budget includes an appropriation of $4.5 million to subsidize the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, but said UH will have to produce $1.5 million of that from its existing funding. 

Tokuda also said the Senate budget includes more than $7.3 million in general funds for homeless services and programs, including $3 million for the Housing First Program, $1.1 million for outreach services for the homeless and $2 million for rapid rehousing. 

The budget also includes $1.1 million in general funds for 16 new rental assistance positions for employees who will try to "leverage more federal housing vouchers going forward," Tokuda said. 

The second-floor Ways and Means Committee hearing room and lanai at the Capitol was crowded with supporters of Wahiawa General Hospital, which has requested help from the state to allow it to avoid bankruptcy. 

Hospital officials have asked lawmakers to fund a $3 million bailout of the private, nonprofit facility this year and provide another $3 million to support the hospital next year. They say revenue at Wahiawa in 2015 abruptly dropped by $7.5 million after the Queen's Medical Center-West opened in May. 

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Mililani Mauka) announced that the new draft budget includes $5 million to buy the land under a parking area at the hospital, which would give the hospital an injection of cash. The state can then lease the land back to the hospital for a nominal amount, he said. 

R. Don Olden, chief executive officer of the hospital, said he will discuss that proposal with his board of directors. 

Dela Cruz said the draft Senate budget also includes $40 million for a new secondary school in Kapolei and $38 million for continued construction of a new high school in Kihei, Maui. 

To address the shortage of affordable housing, the Ways and Means committee included allocation of more than $35 million to the Hawaii Public Housing Authority and $50 million to the Rental Housing Trust Fund to develop affordable rentals, Dela Cruz said. 

He said the draft budget also includes $160 million going to Hawaii State Hospital "for a new and much-needed forensic facility to house high-risk patients." 

The new draft of the budget now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

April 5, 2016 

Senate unveils plan to save Wahiawa General 

 

Senator Dela Cruz appears on this Hawaii News Now segment to speak about the Senate's effort to provide emergency funding for Wahiawa General Hospital. 

February 19, 2016

Agritech in Hawaii: The Whitmore Project

 

Senator Donovan Dela Cruz appears on Think Tech to talk about the state's efforts to revitalize agriculture in Central Oahu via the "Whitmore Project"; click here to listen to their segment.

February 15, 2016 

Tax relief bill due for vote today

 

Originally published by Star Advertiser; click here to read the article on staradvertiser.com

 

A tax credit that would help low-wage working families squeezed by rising rents and other costs is up for decision-making by the Senate Ways and Means Committee today.

 

Hawaii would follow the lead of 26 other states and the District of Columbia if it adopts a state version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. The credit enjoys bipartisan backing nationally as well as locally.

 

"Everyone from Paul Ryan on the right to Bernie Sanders on the left have lauded the benefits of the EITC," said Victor Geminiani, co-executive director of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice. "The EITC is built around trying to subsidize low-wage jobs. The whole purpose of this program is to use limited money to help the people that are most hurting."

 

Senate Bill 2299 would create a refundable state tax credit equal to 10 percent of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. The federal credit boosts the take-home pay of low-wage earners and is aimed at poor households with children but is also available on a smaller scale to single workers.

 

The bill was introduced by Senate Vice President Will Espero (D, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), Ways and Means Vice Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Mililani Mauka) and Sens. Rosalyn Baker (D, West Maui-South Maui) and Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Downtown- Nuuanu-Liliha).

 

The tax credit is attracting support from a broad and growing coalition. The House Republican Caucus, led by Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto Chang (R, Mililani-Mililani Mauka-Waipio Acres), included a state EITC in its package of bills this session.

 

"Our state tax system is very regressive - the working poor are often hurt by our existing tax structure," Fukumoto Chang said in an interview. "One of the places that I think we can get support across the aisle is on this particular issue. . . . There is a push for it nationally. I think it's a really good idea so we can help address some of the poverty issues that we have in Hawaii."

 

At a Feb. 5 hearing, the bill won support from numerous organizations, including Aloha United Way, the Hawaii Primary Care Association, the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii.

 

Democratic Party Chairwoman Stephanie Ohigashi considers the credit a way to address income inequality by helping lower-echelon earners whose wages have stagnated while incomes at the top tier have shot up. At the same time, the credit boosts local businesses, she said.

 

"It encourages work and puts resources into the hands of those who need them and are most likely to spend them . . . at a time when inequality in income in the U.S. is the highest in 88 years," Ohigashi said.

 

The federal Earned Income Tax Credit can give a family with three children as much as a $6,200 refund annually. In Hawaii in 2013, the average EITC refund was $2,400, and roughly 110,000 households received it, according to the IRS. The state version would give those households an additional 10 percent of whatever federal refund they receive.

 

"A state EITC is a sound way of ensuring that Hawaii's working families have a little extra cushion to catch them" when they need it, said Scott Fuji, executive director of PHOCUSED, a nonprofit advocacy group.

 

The proposed tax credit is expected to cost the state $24 million a year, according to the state Tax Department. Proponents say that money would be spent by recipients and generate as much as twice that much in local economic activity.

 

The Tax Department expressed reservations about the bill in testimony to the Ways and Means Committee. Tax Director Maria Zielinski said the department appreciates the intent of the bill, but advised against a refundable tax credit for fear of fraudulent claims.

 

"Nonrefundable tax credits limit the incentive for fraud because they only benefit taxpayers to the extent of their tax liability," she testified. "Although it seems simple to base a new Hawaii EITC on a portion of the federal EITC, the Department has no independent way to determine whether an EITC claim is proper."

 

The Tax Foundation of Hawaii weighed in with numerous concerns about the bill, from its cost to its social goal. It said the tax credit is complicated and that the IRS has reported a 22 percent error rate for it.

 

"The EITC amounts to nothing more than a back door welfare program, handing out money merely because a person falls into a low-income category and has joined the workforce with a dependent or two," the foundation said in written testimony.

 

Geminiani of the Hawaii Appleseed Center said that errors don't mean that filers were overpaid. They include small technical mistakes as well as underpayments, he said. He added that the error rate was well below rates in other federal programs such as the small-business loan program.

 

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen encouraged people to file for the EITC this tax season, calling it "an important credit for hard-working Americans, and one of the government's best tools to fight poverty."

 

The federal EITC was passed in 1975 under President Gerald Ford and expanded under President Ronald Reagan as a way to incentivize work and reduce poverty. Research shows that the extra money it provides has a tangible effect on families who receive it, from better maternal health to better school performance for children over the long term, advocates say.

 

"EITC is an investment in our keiki and our future," said Noriko Namiki, executive director of the YWCA of Oahu. "Children who grow up in homes with additional income through the EITC have improved health and educational outcomes, helping prepare a stronger workforce."

 

While legislators consider creating a state Earned Income Tax Credit, the IRS recommends that workers be sure to claim the existing federal credit. It advises households earning up to $53,000 annually to visit IRS.gov/eitc to see whether they qualify. Free help filing the form is available through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

February 12, 2016 

Bill urges creation of airport authority 

 

Originally published by Hawaii News Now; click here to read the article on hawaiinewsnow.com

 

Hawaii’s airports could have their own governing body in the coming years thanks to a Senate bill seeking to expedite modernization of the state’s key transit system.

 

Senate Bill 3072, introduced by the late Gil Kahele, creates an airport authority that would handle management and planning for Hawaii’s 15 airports. All are currently managed by the state Department of Transportation.

 

“What an authority does is it gives the airport system the ability to move things along at a much quicker pace,” DOT director Ford Fuchigami told the Tribune-Herald on Thursday, noting Hawaii’s system is one of two in the country still under state jurisdiction. The other is in Alaska.

 

“Our airports are much busier now, and we need to catch up with lots of modernizations,” said state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, who chairs the Senate Committee on Transportation and Energy. That’s especially true of the Hilo airport, she said.

 

The airport authority, which would consist of an eight-member governing board, would aid the catch-up process by allowing the board easier access to public-private partnerships, particularly for capital improvement projects.

 

The current state procurement system for such partnerships was not designed with the airport business model in mind.

 

“The airport is actually an enterprise — we don’t take general fund money or taxpayer dollars,” Fuchigami said. “We run based on revenues generated by airlines and concessionaires.”

 

“We’re a business, and making decisions and getting things done in a timely manner is very crucial to us, like any other private sector business,” he added.

 

“It’s extra layers of internal governance,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, D-Oahu, a co-signer of the bill. “Because (the airports) create their own revenue, that’s different from other departments having to go through (the process) to get their budgets released.”

 

Testimony presented during SB 3072’s recent hearing before the Transportation and Energy Committee indicated strong support from those whose user fees make up airport revenue.

 

“The (Airlines Committee of Hawaii) … is grateful the Legislature recognizes the need for a single entity with overall consolidated jurisdiction,” ACH co-chairs Blaine Miyasato and Matthew Shelby wrote. The ACH comprises 20 air carriers that use Hawaii’s airports.

 

Creating a separate body was on the DOT’s radar before the bill was introduced: The department already initiated a feasibility study for an airport authority. That study is expected to be complete in about eight months.

“If the bill passes, we can take a lot of things we learned from the study and apply them to the bill,” Fuchigami said.

 

The DOT would retain administrative oversight of the new authority in part so that current employees in the airports division would not lose their benefits. According to the current version of the bill, transfer of management powers would take place in June 2018.

 

Bills in previous legislative sessions cited the need for a port authority to manage state harbors — one is currently in the House — but this is the first time a measure focuses exclusively on airports.

 

“It’s the first time, and it also is moving at a faster pace,” Inouye said.

 

The bill cleared two hearings this week and was referred to the Ways and Means Committee.

 

Part of the reason for the faster pace is Kahele’s previous involvement.

“This is one of his legacy bills,” Inouye said. “It would have (eventually) come up regardless, but we’re happy to move this along.”

 

Kahele chaired the Tourism and International Affairs Committee, and was well aware of the challenges airports face with regard to capital improvement funding.

 

“That’s the reason he introduced this. He wanted to help the tourism industry,” Fuchigami said. “We strongly supported the measure, and we thank him for (introducing) it.”

 

Inouye said SB 3072 was one of the “very, very few” bills to receive a signature from all 25 senators since she has been in the Legislature.

February 1, 2016 

When it comes to public housing, demand far outstrips supply

 

Originally published by Hawaii News Now; click here to read the article on hawaiinewsnow.com

Lawmakers have identified homelessness and affordable housing as two of their top priorities this legislative session.

And on Monday, legislators learned just how dire the situation is for those who have the greatest need.

Hakim Ouansafi, Hawaii Public Housing Authority's executive director, told lawmakers that 19,000 families are now on the waiting list to get into public housing. 

"There's a lot of folks that fall into different economic conditions that come onto our waiting list," he said. "It used to be 30,000 plus."

Officials say the average wait to get into public housing is six to eight years.

Domestic abuse victims and the homeless have preference. Their wait: about two years.

"Unfortunately, there is a tremendous amount of demand as well as a limited inventory,"  Ouansafi said. "We don't get to everyone as fast as we would love to."

Ouansafi says more than 600 families were moved into public housing in 2015. Another 199 were placed through a program for veterans.

Meanwhile, about 200 families got Section 8 rental vouchers.

Ouansafi says a limited inventory is one of the biggest problems the agency has in cutting down its waiting list.

The need for more housing across the board -- from public assistance to workforce ready -- was a major focus of Monday morning's joint housing committees briefing at the state Capitol.

"I'm wondering when we're going to see more built? Additional units coming in?" asked state Rep. Jo Jordan (D-Waianae, Maili).

Ouansafi answered: "From the minute we have a project, it will probably take about 12-18 months before we have a shovel in the ground."

In addition to the time it takes for environmental impact assessments, traffic studies and infrastructure reviews -- officials say government red tape has contributed to significant delays in getting new units built.

In some instances, Ouansafi waited up to a year to get permitted -- even as a state agency.

"We have to take a new look at how we do things -- including, how can we better utilize government lands along the rail line?" said state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D - Mililani Mauka, Wahiawa, Whitmore Village).

Transit-oriented development has been touted as a prime opportunity for the state to create much-needed new inventory.

"Government owns about 1,200 acres within a half-mile radius of all the rail stations, so if we could develop our government lands along the rail line to put up rentals and affordable housing," Dela Cruz said.

Ouansafi says the agency still isn't accepting new applications for Section 8 vouchers, but they plan to re-open their list "soon."

In the meantime, he warns about a scam that has been targeting folks who think they're applying for public assistance. 

Ouansafi says the Hawaii Public Housing Authority does not charge for any applications of Section 8 vouchers. He says officials have been made aware there is a website asking for people's credit card information. The state Attorney General's office and police department have been notified.

January 21, 2016

Economic Hedge on Hawaii's Economic Outlook

 

Originally published by Star Advertiser; click here to read the article on staradvertiser.com

 

Hawaii's economy is on a normal growth path with a slowing tourism industry, but buoyed in part by improving labor and construction markets, economists told Hawaii lawmakers Thursday.

 

But the experts briefing the House and Senate money committees explained that state policy shifts could alter their projections - for better or for worse.

 

"We can easily get ourselves into a lot of trouble," said Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

 

Raising the general excise tax, which is being proposed this legislative session to help provide long-term care for the elderly and boost public education, is a delicate decision. While political observers suspect a tax hike is unlikely, at best, in an election year, the measures are expected to be debated as the session unfolds over the next few months and may gain even more traction next year.

 

"The act of raising taxes is a drag on the economy," Bonham said. "But if you spend the money wisely enough, it can offset that drag on the economy."

 

It can be challenging to know what course to chart, however.

 

"There's no one in the state that's an expert on tax policy," Bonham said, noting that even the state Tax Commission has to hire out-of-state experts because no one is studying and reviewing tax policy in Hawaii on an ongoing basis.

 

"Should we have a slightly higher excise tax? Get rid of the tax on food? I don't have the answer," he said. The Legislature also can affect the economy when it comes to the regulation of industries, the economists said.

 

The state Public Utilities Commission, in particular, has a far-reaching ability to shape the market, especially electricity rates.

 

Bonham said it's critical to give the agency sufficient resources to do its job. He said it's good that PUC Chair Randy Iwase has filled vacant positions as the commission decides whether to approve the $4.3 billion buyout of Hawaiian Electric Industries by Florida-based NextEra Energy.

 

"The PUC is more important than who the utility is," Bonham said, noting the importance of regulators being efficient in their duties and avoiding unnecessary delays.

 

The economists said in general it's good for the economy if government isn't getting in the way.

 

Bonham agreed with Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz that investors can be deterred from putting money toward projects in Hawaii when the regulatory process fails, as happened with the Hawaii Superferry and the Thirty Meter Telescope.

 

In both cases, companies gained permits and certain entitlements that the courts later invalidated because the state messed up during the approval process.

 

"We've got to do better," Bonham said. "I don't think, 'The court is overreaching.' I think, 'Why didn't we go through the process right in the first place?'"

 

Dela Cruz said he's concerned a bad business climate could affect the potential to develop land around rail stations on Oahu. The economists said Honolulu's 20-mile rail project, now expected to cost at least $6.6 billion, has the potential to boost the economy.

 

Paul Brewbaker, principal of TZ Economics, questioned why Hawaii policymakers haven't created markets in which emissions are capped and traded.

 

"Nobody in Hawaii is paying to emit atmospheric carbon and other greenhouse gases, and nobody is getting paid for innovative ways to sequester emissions," he said.

 

This, in a state that has set a goal of 100 percent electric generation from renewable sources by 2045.

 

Brewbaker is tired of hearing doomsayers warn of exorbitant oil prices as they ask government to subsidize the next great fuel source that supposedly will be cheaper over the long haul.

 

"I'm not sure what to say to the mullahs of clean energy who are still holding out for $200 a barrel, but I don't begrudge any investor in renewable energy who does not require a state subsidy," Brewbaker said. "Go for broke."

 

In inflation-adjusted terms, he said, oil prices today are about the same as they have been on average for the last 70 years.

 

Oil prices fell below $30 a barrel last week for the first time since 2003, with national economists saying turmoil in the Chinese markets contributed to the slide, the Wall Street Journal reported.

 

Lower oil prices have saved Hawaii consumers on electric bills and gasoline, which helped offset increased costs in health care.

 

Brewbaker said it's important to keep an eye on China's financial market turbulence, but he hasn't seen it affect Hawaii much to date.

 

"China could slow down to 4 percent growth and wouldn't cause a U.S. recession," Bonham said. "We just don't sell enough to China for that to happen."

 

While there's been a lot of focus on federal interest rates, Bonham said it's more important to watch exchange rates. He said he's planning a summer vacation in Canada because it's basically on sale.

 

The yen depreciation at the end of 2015 raised costs for Japanese tourists to visit Hawaii by as much as 50 percent, Brewbaker said. And the euro's depreciation raised costs for Europeans to visit Hawaii by more than 20 percent.

 

"These have been challenging headwinds for Hawaii international tourism performance," he said.

 

Inflation grew 1 percent in Hawaii in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's the lowest increase for the state since 2009, but still far higher than the national average of just 0.1 percent.

 

The state Council on Revenues' quarterly forecast in early July projected a 6.7 percent growth in general fund revenues for fiscal 2016, which ends June 30, and a 5.5 percent increase in 2017 and 2018.

 

State economist Eugene Tian believes the forecasts are conservative, as does Bonham, who's an influential member on the council.

 

The economists noted the challenge in forecasting the benefits of construction picking up.

 

"We who use building permit values and government construction contracts to forecast construction spending and employment got faked out," Brewbaker said. "Slapping PV panels on a roof is faster, and yields contracting receipts sooner, than when Ala Moana Center builds another Ala Moana Center, which takes more time."

 

While the Honolulu rail project is the most expensive public works project in the state's history, Hawaii is not where it was in the past in terms of investing in public works projects.

 

"Building 'TheTrain' is impressive, or an affront, depending on your aesthetic point of view and whether you wanted to get to UH," Brewbaker said. "Still, Hawaii in the 1960s and 1970s invested more in public capital formation than at any time in the last two decades, multiples in terms of public investment as a percent of GDP."

December 12, 2015

Hui of students at UH-Manoa tries to get peers into politics

 

Originally published by Star Advertiser; click here to read the article on staradvertiser.com

 

Three Kaiser High School graduates are working to overcome voter apathy and get their classmates at the University of Hawaii more involved in solving local and global issues, starting with getting them to vote. 

The year-old, 30-member UH-Manoa club called Daniel K. Inouye Leaders in Action grew out of Hawaii's 2014 general election, which had an all-time low voter turnout of 52.3 percent of registered voters, said Lisa Shirota, communications officer for UH's College of Social Sciences.

"This worrisome trend spurred DKI Leaders in Action members to pursue innovative ways of tackling critical issues facing the state, such as housing, job creation, sustainability, economics and tourism," Shirota said. 

At a commuter campus, the members of the club believe that busy UH students want to be more engaged but simply don't know how. 

"More than apathy, I feel that students do care but they don't know where to start or how to implement their ideas," said Esther Choi, a 19-year-old UH sophomore who is studying both Korean and political science and wants to become an environmental lawyer. "This club is perfect for that." 

Choi had been student body treasurer and student body president at Kaiser, where she "tried to get the students engaged," adding, "We did a lot of student-driven activities, and I wanted to continue that in college." 

But Choi could not find a vehicle at UH to get more involved in community and global issues, especially environmental sustainability. 

Sisters Kelly and Sally Park recruited Choi, along with Kaley Tengan, a 22-year-old economics senior, and Rio Kwon, a first-year law student, to form the nucleus of what became Daniel K. Inouye Leaders in Action. Both Park sisters had served as Kaiser's student body vice president their senior years. 

They chose to name their club after Inouye with easy deliberation. 

"We really thought that Sen. Inouye's role in the state and his values and mission describe what we wanted to become and reflect," said Kelly Park, the club's president. 

Inouye's chief of staff, Jennifer Goto Sabas, has mentored the club "and let us contact people in her network," Park said. 

In October Sabas invited some of the club's leaders to a Smithsonian Institution event in Kakaako titled "What It Means to Be an American." 

The club's first event, in July, was live-streaming a Library of Congress public lecture called "Finding Shared Values for U.S. Foreign Policy" at UH's Campus Center student TV lounge. 

The lecture was preceded and followed by discussions of various foreign policy issues. 

Then in October the club organized a "speed-dating" forum in which 32 UH students got one-on-one time with state legislators and former City Councilman Stanley Chang. 

The format was suggested by state Sen. Jill Tokuda (D, Kailua-Kaneohe), who also encouraged the students to ask tough questions of the politicians, including Tokuda, Park said. 

"She was saying it was OK to be personal and ask questions about some of the biggest challenges they faced, what was it like to lose an election - questions we thought it might be too personal to ask publicly," Park said. 

In April, Sally Park and Choi will talk about the speed-dating experience in front of other students from around the country at a three-day Clinton Global Initiative University Conference at the University of California, Berkeley. 

Park, a 21-year-old junior majoring in Korean and biology, plans to go on to UH's medical school. In the short term she hopes to return from Berkeley with even more ideas of how to get Hawaii students involved. 

"A lot of other schools probably have great ideas that we never thought about," Park said. "We hope to bring great ideas from other schools back to UH-Manoa." 

Her older sister, Kelly Park, 26, is a graduate student studying economics and wants to work "in international relations from a government point of view," possibly as a diplomat. 

Through Daniel K. Inouye Leaders in Action, Park wants to tap into other UH students' desire "to be involved in policy and learn critical issues in our state and do something about it, rather than just short-term volunteering." 

Next semester, with issues such as global warming and the U.S. presidential election dominating headlines, the club plans to promote voting by UH students both in person and through the club's Facebook page, which features a group photo that includes Chang and state Sens. Tokuda and Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Mililani Mauka) and state Reps. Aaron Ling Johanson (D, Fort Shafter-Moanalua Garden-Aliamanu), Kaniela Ing (D, South Maui), Della Au Belatti (D, Moiliili-Makiki-Tantalus) and Beth Fukumoto Chang (R, Mililani-Mililani Mauka-Waipio Acres). 

In April the club plans to live-stream the second of five annual lectures planned by the Library of Congress, which will focus on "the importance that Sen. Inouye placed on bipartisanship and moral courage," Shirota said. 

This year's lecture at the student TV lounge drew 60 people, Park said. 

For April she's hoping to find an even bigger venue for an even bigger crowd that she hopes will turn out.

November 30, 2015

Bytemarks Café: New STEM Education Programs

 

Senator Donovan Dela Cruz and Hawaiʻi Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi appear on Hawaiʻi Public Radio program Bytemarks Café to talk about a regional approach to STEM called "Live, Learn, Work & Play"; click here to listen to their segment, which begins at 19:58. 

September 22, 2015

Could Lake Wilson be an energy powerhouse?

 

Senator Dela Cruz appears on this KITV segment that features the efforts to transform Lake Wilson into a power producer.

September 18, 2015

Plan afoot to develop Hawaii's Lake Wilson into major hydroelectric project

 

Originally published by Pacific Business News; click here to read the article on bizjournals.com. 

Duane Shimogawa | Pacific Business News 

A plan is in the works to utilize Central Oahu's Lake Wilson for major renewable energy and water re-use projects, a state lawmaker confirmed to PBN. 

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, D-Mililani Mauka-Wahiawa, has been working on a plan for a pumped hydro storage system at Lake Wilson, incorporating its dam. 

This past legislative session, he introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 193 to encourage the state Agribusiness Development Corp. to develop a plant to acquire the dam and spillway of Lake Wilson for hydroelectricity. 

An expert PBN spoke to recently said that there could be between 100 and 200 megawatts of pumped storage hydro potential on Oahu, just looking at existing reservoirs. Those with the most potential for pumped hydro storage include Lake Wilson in Wahiawa and the Upper Nuuanu Reservoir. 

At one time, both of these reservoirs were hydropower sources and both of their powerhouses are still standing. 

Dela Cruz's office told PBN that he is continuing to talk with the Agribusiness Development Corp. and may introduce legislation in 2016 to address the situation. 

Besides these renewable energy projects, the senator also noted that he is making significant progress on a key water component involving Lake Wilson. 

This water reclamation project allows for the use of the city's recycled wastewater for agriculture and recreation in Central Oahu. 

The idea is to capture the treated outfall and redirect it to a site owned by the Agribusiness Development Corp. From this site, the water will be distributed to various Agribusiness Development Corp. agriculture lots and reservoirs, according to the senator's office, which noted that it has been facilitating the discussions since 2014 between the Agribusiness Development Corp., the city's Department of Environmental Services and the Board of Water Supply. 

A memorandum of understanding with all three of these parties is currently being drafted. 

Dela Cruz is leading a $200 million effort to revitalize farming in Central Oahu by providing farmers with land, water, housing, packaging and shipping facilities. 

Nearly $40 million has been invested thus far into the Whitmore Project.

July 1, 2015

Food Independence Could Be a Matter of Survival for the U.S.' Most Isolated State

 

Originally published by TakePart; click here to read the article on takepart.com. 

Hawaii imports 90 percent of what it eats at great environmental cost. Now ag activists seek to make 'grown here, not flown here' a reality. 

By Todd Woody 

A Silicon Valley for Ag 

The day before I arrived in Hawaii, Gov. David Ige signed legislation committing the state, which pays the nation's highest electricity rates, to obtain 100 percent of its energy from solar, wind, and other renewable sources by 2045. That target dovetails with another state policy to promote independence by expanding and diversifying local agriculture and reducing the islands' reliance on imported food. 

Some 20 miles north of Honolulu, the government is attempting to create a Silicon Valley of agriculture by buying up abandoned pineapple plantations and transforming the former company town of Wahiawa into an ag-tech hub for central Oahu. 

"When I was a kid, this place was bustling," said state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, 41, as he piloted his gray Toyota pickup around the town of 18,000 where his grandfather worked as a truck driver for the Dole pineapple plantation after emigrating from the Philippines. 

The agricultural estate began withering away decades ago, and the last big plantation shut down in the early 1990s. For the past several years, Dela Cruz has been the driving force behind what is called the Whitmore Project, named after a former plantation workers camp on the outskirts of town. State and local agencies pitched in $25 million to buy 1,700 acres of former pineapple land bordering Wahiawa that will be subdivided and leased to Oahu farmers. The state also bought 24 acres in Whitmore Village, the former workers camp, and a 30,000-square-foot warehouse in Wahiawa that will be retrofitted for food packing and processing. 

"The industry to revitalize the economy is ag," said Dela Cruz, who wears shorts and a T-shirt and talks a mile a minute as we pull into Whitmore Village. "The idea here is to have this be a hub for all the packing and processing you need, as well as to be a retail hub. If you're a farmer who leases the ag land we're starting to buy, your operations would be here, and there would be no need to build new infrastructure." 

One of the first tenants at Whitmore Village is Bullit Hatcheries. On the day we visited, Austin Kanamu, son of owner Alex Kanamu, was tending large white tanks of tilapia. Other tanks were overflowing with hydroponically grown watercress and strawberries. Blueberries grow elsewhere on the property. A warehouse next to the tilapia farm is set to become a processing plant, which would allow Bullit to sell packaged fish to supermarkets and government agencies. "One reason we came here is that right now there's no place that has processing for fish," said Austin. 

Dela Cruz's vision is to create more earning potential for Hawaiian agriculture by encouraging farmers to produce value-added products, such as the juices, jams, and syrups that are now almost entirely imported. Dole, for instance, grows 40 acres of cacao nearby but ships the beans to the mainland to be processed into chocolate. 

"It's all about the margin," he said as we stopped by an area coffee grower's retail outlet that sits surrounded by vacant farmland. The place was packed with tourists sipping Hawaiian grown and roasted coffee while shopping for souvenirs. "When you do this, you help to start to help other industries," Dela Cruz said as he picked up a small blue-glazed coffee mug handmade by a local artisan. "It's $25! Oh my god." He spied a jar of jam. "Look at that--fifteen bucks," he said. "A police officer in Whitmore Village makes this in his spare time. They can't keep it in stock. You can't get that kind of margin at a farmers market."

June 16, 2015

Governor Ige signs bill to establish a plan to end multi-track schedules

 

Click here to read the e-newsletter or view the PDF.

June 12, 2015

After-School Programs Key To Youth Well-being

 

Originally published by MidWeek; click here to read the article on midweek.com. 

Direct from Donovan Senator Donovan Dela Cruz 

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center project, Hawaii ranks No. 25 when it comes to how children are faring across the U.S. 

The report ranks states in economic well-being, education, health, and family and community 

The report states that 70 percent of fourth-graders in Hawaii are not proficient in reading and 68 percent of eighth-graders are not proficient in math. To date there are 90,000 children living in single-parent families, 7,000 teens who abuse alcohol or drugs, and 6,000 teens who do not attend school and are not working. 

There are approximately 20-25 hours per week that children are out of school while most parents are at work, thus creating an after-school gap. 

A report commissioned by the National Institute on out-of-school time in association with the Boston After-School for All Partnership program highlighted the importance of after-school programs on student development. 

Recognizing the importance of after-school programs, this past session I introduced SCR185, which requests the Department of Education organize and coordinate out-of-school programs for kindergarten through 12th grade. The bill also identifies funding opportunities for current and future DOE out-of-school programs. 

The intent is to provide structured care and activities for children who may be home alone, and thus susceptible to risky behaviors and other dangers. 

Programs that include sports, art and music foster positive youth development, helping children build character, identify specific abilities, and improve fitness and academic commitment. 

Aside from the childcare and supervision value, these programs provide youth development and skill building that have been reported to reduce and prevent delinquent behavior. 

In conjunction with DOE and PlayRugby USA, I am working on developing a program for middle-school students to play flag rugby during after-school hours. 

The state Department of Public Safety reports that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders comprise more than 40 percent of Hawaii's inmate population. The flag rugby program would focus on three DOE complex areas with the highest population of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students. 

By incorporating physical activity, academic development and a social environment, students will have a safe haven from 3to6 p.m., and also will learn the necessary discipline that is required to be successful in society. The idea is to take it statewide after the first year. 

Afterschool programs are increasing in number and popularity, but Hawaii is one of the most costly states for childcare and out of reach for many working families. We work to provide affordable after-school programs to ensure that Hawaii's youths are in safe and nurturing environments in the after-school hours.

June 12, 2015

Hawaii putting up $10M to acquire 500 acres of ag lands in Central Oahu

 

Originally published by Pacific Business News; click here to read the article on bizjournals.com. 
 
Duane Shimogawa | Pacific Business News 

Hawaii lawmakers have allocated $10 million for the acquisition of an additional 500 acres of agricultural land in Central Oahu that will be used for a major project aimed at revitalizing the local agriculture industry. The plan is to bring farmers and the state together to increase local food production, create jobs and provide affordable housing. 

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, D-Mililani Mauka-Wahiawa, who is helping to lead the $200 million effort, confirmed the deal to PBN. 

Additionally, another $500,000 was appropriated to investigate the feasibility of exchanging state land for agricultural parcels currently owned by Dole Food Co., which is looking to liquidate 15,000 acres, of which more than 5,000 acres are agriculture land, he said. 

About a year ago, the state acquired a warehouse from Tamura's Market in Wahiawa in Central Oahu for $4.3 million, which set in motion The Whitmore Village Agricultural Development Plan. 

The plan also includes thousands of acres of farmlands, an agricultural hub that has an ag technology park and ag foreign-trade zone; workforce housing; the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at University of Hawaii Manoa; and the former Tamura's warehouse. 

The state's Agribusiness Development Corp., along with Dela Cruz, are leading the charge to help bring to life the Whitmore Project. 

So far, besides the warehouse, the plan has completed several steps, including the purchase of 1,700 acres of Galbraith Estate land and a 24-acre parcel formerly owned by Castle & Cooke, as well as securing public-private partnerships with the High Technology Development Corp., the Hawaii Housing Finance Development Corp., Agribusiness Incubator Program, Hawaii Department of Education and the Wahiawa Community Based Development Organization.

May 4, 2015

Bill to establish marijuana dispensaries

 

Originally published by Honolulu Civil Beat; click here to read the article on civilbeat.com. 
 

By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER 

Hawaii lawmakers have revived a bill to establish a medical marijuana dispensary system after conference committee negotiations collapsed Friday. 

A conference committee made up of Senate and House negotiators plans to reconvene Monday at noon to consider House Bill 321, according to a Senate press release emailed at 1:21 a.m. Saturday. Update At least 16 of the state's 25 senators signed a petition asking the Senate to reconsider the House's last proposal after Sen. Josh Green refused to agree to the final version of the measure. 

In response, Senate President Donna Mercado Kim kicked Green off of the negotiating panel and made Sen. Will Espero the new chair. 

Kim and House Speaker Joseph Souki sent a letter to all lawmakers Friday evening saying they decided to grant a waiver of negotiation and filing deadlines for the bill. 

The deadline for completing negotiations was supposed to be 6 p.m. Friday. But under the waiver, the conference committee can meet between noon and 2 p.m. on Monday, with a conference committee report due by 5 p.m. that day. 

The rule waiver comes after HB 321 had apparently died Friday when Green and Rep. Della Au Belatti couldn't agree on the application process for potential dispensary owners. 

Green rejected Belatti's final draft of the bill, contending that it would invite organized crime into Hawaii. Belatti held her ground, saying that she was representing the view of House leadership. 

A notice posted late Friday on the Legislature's website revealed that Green had been discharged from the committee and Senate Majority Policy Leader Les Ihara was added to it. Espero, a big proponent of the bill and Senate Vice President, took Green's place as the lead negotiator. 

Kim announced Friday night that the Senate might agree to the final draft presented by Belatti. In that version, Belatti capitulated to many of Green's concerns about the structure of the dispensary system but not his preference for a first-come, first-served application process. 

The late developments came as a relief to Rafael Kennedy, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, who has been lobbying hard to pass the bill this year. 

"We're excited that there may still be an opportunity for this bill to be passed and get patients the access to medicine that they desperately need," Kennedy said. 

How the Bill Fell Apart 

Kennedy began the week expecting approval, given the bill's broad support in both the House and Senate. Medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii for 15 years and there's consensus among political leaders that it's time to give patients a place to legally buy it if they can't or don't want to grow their own. 

But when the conference committee led by Green and Belatti met Tuesday, it became clear that there was a huge gulf between the lawmakers' visions for the program. 

Green preferred a program where a single health care professional in each county would own all of the dispensaries and marijuana farms. He wanted eligible applicants selected on a first-come, first-served basis, and said his version took into account concerns from law enforcement. 

Belatti favored more licensees and dispensaries over a longer timeline. She wanted the state Department of Health to choose licensees through a merit-based evaluation. Compared with Green's, her version was more in line with the recommendations of a state task force report. 

House and Senate leadership have spent the last few days trying to convince Green and Belatti to come to an agreement. 

Even Gov. David Ige got involved. Green spoke with Ige's chief of staff Wednesday, but declined to meet with the governor directly and said he wouldn't revise the bill even if the governor planned to veto it. 

"The governor doesn't know half of what I know or what you know or Sen. Espero knows about this program," Green told Belatti Friday. "He is a fantastic guy but he is not in the trenches." 

While Green resisted Ige's overtures, the senator did compromise some, including agreeing to expand the definition of who could own the dispensaries so that it wouldn't be limited to health care providers. 

For her part, Belatti agreed to permit fewer licensees, and adopted Green's requirement that a licensee own both the dispensaries and the production centers. 

But 40 minutes before the deadline, neither would budge on the application process. 

Green argued that Belatti's proposed process was ambiguous and would open the door to favoritism and lawsuits. 

"It is a process that would result in behind closed doors decision-making that has utterly no connection to right or wrong," said the senator from the Big Island. 

Despite her longtime support for establishing dispensaries, Belatti stood firm. 

"That simply is the only and last point remaining," she said. "The House cannot accept the Senate's decision and I'm sorry but the bill is deferred." She slammed her gavel and left the packed room. 

Triage Began Almost Immediately 

Minutes afterward, Espero met with Kim to try to figure out a way to revive the bill. Espero later said he had been preparing for the worst after watching the legislation go down to the wire. 

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz was also worried about the bill's death, knowing the importance of the measure to Jari Sugano, a constituent who has a daughter with epilepsy. 

Dela Cruz spoke with Espero and Ihara who said that Senate leadership would only be able to do something if they had the support of the majority of Senate members. 

Once he finished with his conference committees, Dela Cruz went to as many colleagues as he could to ask them to sign a petition requesting the Senate to reconsider the final House version of HB 321. 

At least 16 senators signed it before the Senate floor session convened at 6:30 p.m. Afterward, the Senate's 24 Democrats went into caucus to discuss what to do. 

Later, Belatti requested a recess during the House session and spoke quietly on the floor with House Speaker Joseph Souki, House Majority Leader Scott Saiki and Reps. Sylvia Luke and Karl Rhoads. 

By 7:30 p.m. it became clear that the conference committee was planning to reconvene to resurrect the bill. 

A press release sent around 8:15 p.m. announced that the bill would be heard at 8:30 p.m. but Kim later announced that the measure would wait until Monday. 

The political wrangling over the measure illustrates the importance of the bill that many lawmakers believed was a sure thing this session. 

"It was one last ditch effort and it was rather unorthodox," Dela Cruz said. "I know the hardship that Jari and her family have gone through. This is going to provide some relief and some ability to give her daughter better care."

March 12, 2015

Farm project growing in Central Oahu

 

View the segment on Hawaii News Now. 

 

 

March 5, 2015

Hawaii to develop technology park focused on state's aging population

 

Originally published by Pacific Business News; click here to read the article on bizjournals.com. 

Hawaii's High Technology Development Corp., which aims to grow the state's technology industry, is looking to develop a research and development technology park in Central Oahu that focuses on the state's aging population, according to public documents. 

The project would be modeled after the Manoa Innovation Center in Honolulu and the Maui Research and Technology Center, which both provide office space and business development support services for tech startups. 

The purpose of the Wahiawa tech park "is to spark innovation and boost economic development by creating or attracting new businesses and adding knowledge-based jobs to the market," according to a request for proposals from the HTDC, which is administratively attached to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. 

The "Pacific Technology Institute on Aging" will include tech companies related to geriatric research and development as well as disability-related tech firms. 

It also could include companies in areas such as medical sciences, biomechanical engineering, personal medical device technology and tools for the aging and disabled. 

Hawaii's aging population is the fastest growing segment, and in order to meet the needs of this group, more technology and innovation are necessary to develop new healthcare facilities, services and products, the HTDC said. 

By 2035, nearly 30 percent of the population will be at least 60 years of age. This increase, is in part, due to lower mortality rates, advances in the medical field and decreased birth rates these days. 

The main challenge for Hawaii is that each island must create an entire aging network of services and delivery infrastructure and cannot readily share services or workers, the state agency said. 

"Collaboration and innovation are integral components in the advancement of all industries beyond the technology sector, including the geriatric sector," the HTDC said. "Empowering older adults to live healthy, active lives through nutrition, exercise and disease management is core to minimizing healthcare costs. Nutrition, drug therapies, medical devices, wellness techniques and medical discoveries are some of the innovations needed to improve the quality of life for this growing population." 

The cost of the project was not divulged in the RFP. 

The HTDC, which is looking for a company that can develop a business model plan for the tech park, hopes to get started on the project in May. 

PBN reached out to Len Higashi, senior economic development manager for the HTDC, for comment Wednesday.

February 20, 2015

Prison land swap worthy idea

 

Originally published by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
 

Some ideas are worth pursuing, even if there's a cost attached. The feasibility study for a land swap aimed at relocating the state's overcrowded Dillingham Boulevard prison and preserving agricultural land is one such proposal deserving of legislators' support. 

However, the immediate question that still needs resolution in the measure, Senate Bill 1374, is: Who bears this cost? 

Senate committees handling prisons, land and agriculture concerns are due to take a vote at their 2:45 p.m. Wednesday session, and lawmakers should move the bill along at that time. However, before this proposal reaches its final form, they should revise the financing plan so that the private developers that would be involved pay at least a fair share of the tab for the study. 

That's because the deal would exchange the site of the Oahu Community Correctional Center in Kalihi for about 15,000 acres of agricultural and conservation lands between central Oahu and the North Shore now owned by Dole Food Co. Hawaii. 

Dole stands to do well in the exchange, given that the urban prison site's location is adjacent to the planned rail route, and is more readily developable for lucrative uses. 

According to the bill's primary sponsor, the state could tap revenues yielded by the deal to build a sorely needed new prison on state land in Halawa. State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said the value of the OCCC property makes this possible. 

But even if the public can capitalize on that value to help build a new OCCC, surely Dole has a prevailing interest in this deal moving forward, so it should absorb some of the exploratory costs. 

As written, the bill would allot $500,000 out of the land conservation fund to investigate the deal, and this mechanism has rightly raised eyebrows among public-interest groups that maintain the fund is meant for actual acquisitions, not feasibility studies. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources was the source of additional critique of the idea as being an "inappropriate" use of the fund. 

While that objection has merit, it shouldn't be allowed to scotch the whole proposal. The process of studying land acquisitions is part of the acquisition cost, and there ought to be a way to resolve the conflict. If there is a finding by the state commission overseeing the fund that this use is precluded, another source can be considered. 

Other protests arose in testimony from residents who dislike the notion of funding a new prison. However, it's well established that OCCC is outmoded and overcrowded, so what is being contemplated is a replacement prison to accommodate current needs, not expanding prison capacity. This is a means to finance that needed project, seizing the opportunity presented by the transit-oriented development planned along Dillingham. 

A new location adjacent to the existing medium- and high-security prisons in Halawa makes sense, and if there's potential for financing it through a larger deal, that should be explored. 

Although the benefit of enabling a replacement prison is the most persuasive aspect of the proposal, the ability to advance the state's pro-agriculture agenda is also attractive. Ironically, state agencies have different analyses of how much good this would do. 

The state Office of Planning submitted testimony asserting that "much of the area does not appear to contain productive agricultural lands," because more than half of it is more steeply sloped than is usually good for farming. That finding plainly should factor into the land valuation for the swap. 

However, state agriculture officials also testified that putting this fallow pineapple land to use in diversified crop cultivation would enhance the state's food security. 

There is a caveat, of course: The state has not always been the best steward of its lands, and state control of this acreage must come with enough oversight to prevent unauthorized uses. Responsibility for that should fall to the state Agribusiness Development Corp. 

Once that control is in place, there is significant potential for a land exchange here to be a win-win for the developer, the state in meeting its public safety and agricultural mandates, and for farmers, who are otherwise hard-pressed to find affordable, long-term leases enabling their businesses to thrive.

February 17, 2015

Where to build new prison facility in the talks (KITV)

 

Originally published by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Such a move would preserve agricultural land in northern Oahu, a state senator says 

By Gordon Y.K. Pang 

A group of state senators wants the state to explore the possibility of swapping the site of the Oahu Community Correctional Center for agricultural and conservation lands between Wahiawa and the North Shore. 

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Mililani Mauka), the bill's lead author, said the swap would allow what are largely former pineapple lands to remain in agriculture and conservation designations. At the same time, it could generate enough additional revenues from the owners of the lands - due to the value of the OCCC property, which sits on prime urban real estate in Kalihi along the city's rail route, and other nearby state land - to pay for a replacement to OCCC on property adjacent to the existing Halawa Correctional Facility, he said. 

"This bill is the beginning of the process of due diligence; it's not the end,"?Dela Cruz said. "There's a concept, and now we have to fund the due diligence." 

On Friday three Senate committees heard Senate Bill 1374, which appropriates up to $500,000 from the Land Conservation Fund for a study to investigate the potential deal. The roughly 15,000 acres of agricultural and conservation lands is owned by Dole Food Co. Hawaii. Much of the land is being leased to farmers on short-term agreements as Dole is actively seeking to sell the property to potential developers. 

The Senate Water and Land and Agriculture committees are scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday, while the Public Safety Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee will take it up Thursday. 

Brian Miyamoto, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, told senators Friday that there are many parties interested in acquiring the land. 

"We would rather have the state have these lands versus private landowners who may develop it," Miyamoto said. "One of the challenges for our farmers is obtaining long-term leases." 

The state is in the best position to help provide such leases that, in turn, "would result in farmers being able to invest in the infrastructure and operations and grow the operations," he said. 

A bill last year calling on the state to obtain the lands, which was killed during the waning hours of the 2014 Legislature, looked at the possibility of obtaining 20,000 acres, Miyamoto said. This year's bill contemplates the purchase of 15,000 acres. 

No Dole official attended Friday's meeting. But in written testimony, Dole operations director Dan Nellis said the company supports a plan to study a possible swap as proposed by Dela Cruz. 

"We are willing to further discuss the state's interest in purchasing, or exchanging for fully entitled state lands, Dole Food Co.'s excess acreage to support the state's mandate of promoting diversified agriculture and preserving conservation lands and habitats,"?Nellis wrote. 

The bill was also backed by the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, Land Use Research Foundation, Hawaii Aquaculture and Aquaponics Association and Hawaii Cattlemen's Council. 

But not all parties support the measure. 

Marjorie Ziegler, an official with the Conservation Council for Hawaii, said in written testimony that the Land Conservation Fund and the affiliated Legacy Land Conservation Program were established by the Legislature to purchase lands of public interest and that using the fund for a possible land exchange would be a "raid." 

Since the 1990s the fund "has leveraged millions of dollars in private, county and federal funds to protect valuable lands for the people and generations to come,"?Ziegler said. Those moneys "should not be used to fund a potential land exchange between the state and a private property owner," she said. 

Similar concerns were raised in written testimony by the Trust for Public Land and the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, as well as individuals who objected to the use of the fund to explore a potential prison site. 

The different state agencies that would be involved in the intricate deal submitted diverse testimony. 

The Department of Agriculture and Agribusiness Development Corp. backed the bill, while the Department of Land and Natural Resources echoed the concerns of those who don't think a study would be the proper use of the Land Conservation Fund. 

Public Safety Director-designate Nolan Espinda observed Friday's hearing but did not testify. Afterward, Espinda told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that his agency is "just in listening mode." 

"Anything that has to do with locations outside of our current facilities really requires a lot of public discussion and (involvement by) all the interested parties at the table," he said. 

At this point the state is still evaluating its entire corrections system and has not yet made any decisions about any sites, he said. 

Dela Cruz, in addressing concerns about the use of Land Conservation Fund money, said the source of funding for the study is secondary to the ultimate goal of protecting agricultural and conservation lands. "I'm more concerned about making sure that we can get all the land that's for sale into the state inventory,"?he said, noting the same language appeared in last year's bill with the consent of the Department of Attorney General. 

Seventeen of Dela Cruz's 24 Senate colleagues co-authored the bill.

February 10, 2015

Proposal to Enlarge State Board of Education Clears Senate Committee

 

Originally published by Honolulu Civil Beat; click here to read the article on civilbeat.com. 

Bill would also increase the terms of board members to four years, with most running concurrently with the term of the governor who appoints them. 

A proposal to enlarge the Hawaii Board of Education from nine to 11 members took at step forward Wednesday by gaining the approval of the Senate Education Committee. 

The bill would also increase the terms of BOE members from three years to four and make most of the terms run concurrently with those of the governor, who appoints the members. 

"There is a major flaw in the way the current process works," Joan Lee Husted, retired executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said in written testimony. "How can we hold the governor accountable for the actions of the Board of Education and the Department of Education if he does not have the power to appoint the majority of Board of Education members?"

Currently, the governor can appoint BOE members when their three-year terms are up, but most of their terms don't run concurrently with the governor's term. 

"Let's keep the accountability lines clean and clear," Husted said. 

The bill was proposed by Sens. Suzanne Chun Oakland, Donovan Dela Cruz, Michelle Kidani and Breene Harimoto, who contend it would make the BOE more responsive to citizens and hold the current governor accountable to the actions of the BOE. 

The bill would also: 

• Require that at least two of the four at-large members have business management experience, while at least one at-large member be from a neighbor island and one must have experience as a school principal or vice-principle. 

• Add a second non-voting student member elected by the Hawaii Student Council. 

• Adjust BOE members' terms so that six would end Dec. 31 of every gubernatorial election year. The other five would end Dec. 31 of each year following a gubernatorial election year. The terms of current members would terminate June 30 this year or next year. 

The Board of Education was created as part of the Hawaii State Constitution in 1959. The board originally had 14 members- two from each school district - and was appointed by the governor. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1964 that gave them the power to elect BOE members. 

After that, Hawaii voters twice rejected constitutional amendments to make the BOE an appointed board. But in 2010, Hawaii voters passed an amendment to give the BOE appointment power back to the governor. The 2010 amendment also decreased the number of members from 14 members (two per district), to seven members (one per district) and two at-large members.

February 6, 2015

Where to build new prison facility in the talks (KITV)

 

Where to build a new prison is a hot issue that the state is beginning to look at.

 


Click here to watch the segment.

January 29, 2015

EXCLUSIVE: Pineapple lands could be traded for OCCC prison site (Hawaii News Now)

 

WAHIAWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new proposal being floated at the State Legislature would have Dole Food Company trade thousands of acres of former pineapple land for the Oahu Community Correctional Center site in Kalihi, in a deal that could provide the state money to build a badly needed new prison.

 


Click here to read the full article on Hawaii News Now.

January 23, 2015

Tiny Apartments, Shipping Containers Proposed to Address Housing Crisis

 

City and state policymakers introduce measures to alleviate the high cost of housing in Hawaii.

 


Click here to read the full article on civilbeat.com.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

R&D will help local farms grow

 

Lately there's been real buzz about something that's only been buzzwords: diversified agriculture.

In the post-sugar, post-pineapple era, Hawaii has struggled to gauge its commitment to an agricultural future. That struggle has moved in fits and starts, with plans made for protecting prime cultivation lands at the same time that land-use designations change for large tracts, allowing them to be urbanized.

Click here to read the full article on staradvertiser.com.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Fruitful past, budding future

Farming in Wahiawa is taking root again with the state initiative known as The Whitmore Project
 

 

Olive. Avocado. Mango. Peach. Plum. North Cane.

 

The street names in Wahiawa reflect the Central Oahu town's history rooted deeply in agriculture.

 

 

Click here to read the full article on staradvertiser.com.

Friday, November 21, 2014

CAN HAWAII FEED ITSELF?

 

Island farmers, ranchers, landowners, nonprofits and government agencies address the challenges of food self-sufficiency with a blend of innovation, investments and collaboration.

Click here to read the full article on hawaiibusiness.com.

Lawmakers press for update on housing projects

HONOLULU —It is full speed ahead for high-end towers in Kakakao that are being developed by the Howard Hughes Corporation.

Click here to watch Catherine Cruz' report.

But in contrast, there's been no visible movement on the more affordable reserve  housing project at 401 Ward Avenue.

There has been no word on the fate of 690 Pokukaina, what was to have been the tallest high-rise in the state, offering hundreds of affordable rentals.

"Because of the passing of House Bill 1866, Act 61 we have to re-evaluate the design proposal given the height restriction.  So, we are still going ahead and doing that. However, the Hawaii Community Development Authority is still committed to providing these low income affordable units," said HCDA’s compliance officer, Lindsey Doi.

Lawmakers at a joint legislative hearing, pressed state and city housing officials about what's in the pipeline, and why we can’t seem to produce more units that Hawaii residents can afford.

"The state has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the infrastructure for Kakaako over the years. Any developer that goes in there to build a condominium is benefiting form a state subsidy," said Sen. Laura Thielen.

To be exact, the state has pumped $200 million to build sewers and roads in Kakaako. Thielen believes the state should be asking developers to do more to tackle a projected shortage of 50,0000 housing units in 2016.

And as the city’s rail project takes shape, some lawmakers expressed frustration that the state is’nt doing more to coordinate with the city on its transit development since the state owns most of the land around the rail stations.

"My concern is the tail is wagging the dog. You are having the agencies have their own plan, rather than you folks saying we are going to approach this from a statewide perspective," said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz.

The further along they are, you are losing opportunities," he said.

Dela Cruz doesn’t feel there's any sense of urgency.

Across town a state rental projects for seniors in Iwilei is up and running.

There are other plans for lofts in Kakakao, and on block on Cooke Street owned by the state, there are plans for micro-units--essentially studios with Murphy beds.

But when some 6,000 homeless are on the streets or in emergency shelters on any given night, lawmakers say we need to do a lot more, a lot faster.

There is also a wait lit of 11,000 for the state's affordable housing projects.

Housing officials along with the governor’s chief of staff, Bruce Coppa, weren’t prepared to discuss the rail project as it relates to housing at the afternoon hearing.

But they did say that it’s likely more of the affordable units would be in the Iwilei area in the urban core.

 

Lawmakers consider plan for first responders campus in Mililani - KHON

June 6, 2014 - Could Central Oahu be the new home for emergency responders? Some lawmakers would like to see a new campus built that would include police, fire and paramedics.

 

A first responders and cyber security campus would be built in the middle of the island.

 

“Mililani Tech Park makes a lot of sense because there are four military bases nearby. It’s out of the inundation zone. There’s a major airfield right across the street,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, (D-Wahiawa, Mililani Mauka).
 

More than $11 million have been appropriated to help make this happen.

 

Click here to read the story.

Drivers to see relief from H-1 construction traffic - KHON

June 5, 2014 - There is a bit of relief for Ewabound drivers in the Pearl City area next week. The state won’t be shutting down as many lanes as it has been during the evenings.
 

This week the Department of Transportation is taking a break from construction. It postponed work on the PM Contraflow project to mull over ways to alleviate the traffic the construction has been creating. Instead of closing down four lanes on the freeway when work resumes next week, the state will only shut down two lanes during the weeknights.

 

Officials say they had to close all four lanes for the type of work they were doing. They’re hoping next week’s change will help to ease the traffic, as they work to add another lane between Aiea and Waikele.

 

“Well, the Department has already widened sections of H-2 and H-1 already and we haven’t seen much relief,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, (D) Wahiawa, Whitmore Village.

Click here to read the story.

Lawmakers eye moving Hawaii's emergency response and data storage facilities to safer zones

By SAM EIFLING  Associated Press
March 20, 2014 

 

HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers are proposing to move the state's public safety facilities to one central area that is safer from flooding.

 

A resolution proposed by senators Michelle Kidani and Donovan Dela Cruz would also consolidate the state's data centers from 30 sites to one. The resolution says the current data centers are poorly monitored and of low quality.

 

The lawmakers say the ideal site for a safety and data security campus would be a 150-acre plot in central Oahu. They say disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy demonstrated the need to keep public safety sites far from floods and tsunamis.

 

The proposed site would also allow for reliable access to power, is near major roadways and offers quick access to downtown Honolulu and Honolulu International Airport.

Breadfruit bill would nurture industry's growth

 

By Sarah Zoellick

 

A movement to commercialize breadfruit in the isles has slowly been taking root in recent years, and a bill moving through the state Legislature aims to give a much-needed boost to the fledgling industry.

 

Senate Bill 3023 proposes appropriating an unspecified sum in the upcoming fiscal year for research, development and marketing of breadfruit, or ulu.

 

"In order to have an industry, you need to bring it to scale," said James Naka­tani, executive director of Agribusiness Development Corp., which would spend the money. "Right now it's too small."

 

Touted as a "miracle substance" by state agriculture leaders, breadfruit has the potential to become a new food staple in Hawaii — in line with taro and rice — and blossom into a booming export industry, supporters of the bill contend.

 

"Breadfruit is a wonderful thing to start cooking," Sharon Hurd, an economic development specialist with the state Department of Agriculture, said in a phone interview Friday. "It steams very easily, it bakes well, you can make desserts out of it. … It was really, really, really good."

 

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Mili­lani Mauka), chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Government Operations and Housing Committee, said the bill does more than just fund breadfruit research. It can help diversify Hawaii's tourism-dependent economy, promote sustainability, reduce imports, create jobs and pave the way for crops such as blueberries, tea, oranges, papaya and peaches to be developed in the state's various microclimates in a similar fashion.

 

"We've got to be more proactive in identifying and supporting some of these crops so we can get to the point of being commercial," Dela Cruz said. "If we can do that, then ag land will hopefully become more profitable than having the option to develop ag land."

 

Sen. Malama Solomon (D, Kaupulehu-Wai­mea-North Hilo) introduced the bill, which is poised to cross over to the House this week. Solo­mon's office said ulu has "unrecognized potential as an agricultural commodity," as the Senate Agriculture Committee noted in its report on the bill.

 

The bill states that ulu was one of the few subsistence plants Polynesians brought with them to Hawaii around 750 A.D. According to the Breadfruit Institute, founded by the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii in 2003, breadfruit originated in the South Pacific, where it has been cultivated for 3,000-plus years.

 

Breadfruit is naturally gluten-free, which lawmakers believe positions it to fit into the growing U.S. market of gluten-free products, which is estimated to generate at least $6.6 billion by 2017.

Lawmakers envision Hawaii as the Pacific headquarters for refining, processing, packaging and exporting ulu products — such as gluten-free noodles made with ulu flour — to the mainland, with U.S. Pacific territories serving as subregional hubs.

 

Support for the bill has also come from the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. Soulee Stroud, the association's president, said in written testimony to the Senate Ways and Means Committee that the marketing of breadfruit is in line with efforts to preserve and perpetuating Native Hawaiian culture.

 

Stroud said decreased access to ulu over the past century has caused "urban Hawaiians" to "lose the taste and benefits of this staple so familiar to the kupuna," but younger Hawaiians are starting to take interest in the fruit by sharing recipes.

 

"We would ask, however, that the original Hawaiian ‘ulu not be lost in the proliferation of Polynesian varieties," he wrote.

Hawaii Senate Panel Approves Minimum Wage Hike

By Chad Blair

If the Senate Ways and Means did not take action Friday, a bill to increase Hawaii's minimum wage would have died.

 

But Committee Chairman David Ige announced Friday morning he had finally obtained the agreement of Sen.Clayton Hee to amend Hee's Senate Bill 2609.

 

SB 2609, which would gradually raise the hourly wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over the next three years and leaves blank for now the amount of the tip credit, survived Friday's "decking" deadline, when all bills must be finalized so that the full Senate can vote on them next week. The tip credit, currently 25 cents per hour, is the amount employers can deduct from employees who depend on tips for part of their income.

 

The committee vote was 12-1, with only lone Republican Sam Slom voting against the measure. But a spirited exchange between committee members beforehand illustrated just how contentious the minimum wage issue remains — especially from lawmakers who complain about the cost of doing business in the islands.

 

On Thursday, the House Finance committee passed that chamber's minimum wage proposal.

HB 2580 increases the wage to $10 by the year 2018, raises the tip credit from 25 cents to $1 by 2017 and rejects a requirement that the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations be responsible for adjusting the wage after 2017 in accordance with Honolulu's consumer price index.

 

SB 2609 also drops the price index provision. But senators did not adopt new language in HB 2580 that would prevent businesses from deducting the tip credit from workers who earn less than 250 percent of the poverty level — roughly, $33,500 a year.

 

Ige allowed committee members to speak their mind on the Senate bill, and Slom spoke first and at length. He described the minimum wage increase as a "political solution" rather than an economic one, saying his colleagues have their eyes mostly on re-election.

 

Echoing the oft-cited concerns of advocates for business, Slom, head of his own advocacy group,Smart Business Hawaii, said a wage increase would only raise the already high cost of doing business in Hawaii.

 

"It's misinformation that this is a living wage," he argued. "It never was. It is an entry or training wage."

 

When Slom suggested that people seeking a minimum wage hike should first try running their own business, it struck a nerve with some of his colleagues.

 

Russell Ruderman countered that he has, in fact, run his own business, and though SB 2609 "will affect me greatly, I am strongly in favor of this." He said most businesses would be able to absorb the higher overhead without seriously affecting their bottom line or consumer prices.

 

Laura Thielen, who said she comes from a family of small-business owners, made similar arguments. Ron Kouchi suggested that Slom, while passionate, was "myopic" in advocating for a "single constituency," presumably, Slom's supporters. And Will Esperochallenged Slom, saying that if Hawaii is so anti-business, why are companies like General Growth Properties and Howard Hughes Corporation making huge investments into the local market?

 

Never one to back down from a feisty exchange, Slom joked, "I feel the love in this room." He then proceeded, with voice rising, to pick apart the arguments from "the good senator from Puna" (Ruderman), "the good senator from Waiamanalo" (Thielen) and the "good senator from Ewa Beach" (Espero).

 

That prompted Kalani English, "the good senator from Maui," to criticize Slom for his "tirade" and to call his remarks "inappropriate. ... You are going after everyone."

 

"Sorry, I thought we were in 'discussion,'" Slom sniffed, referring to the committee's debate period on the bill.

 

"I don't think you are sorry," English replied.

 

Donovan Dela Cruz ("the good senator from Waipahu") acknowledged that Slom ("the good senator from Hawaii Kai") has a point: that the cost of doing business in Hawaii really is high.

 

"My concern is not a wage increase but whether we should have a package of bills to give relief to small business," said Dela Cruz.

 

By the time the committee hearing concluded, two things were clear: The Legislature has kept minimum wage legislation, but there is a lot more argument to come before it passes.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz Is Trying to Restore the Heartland of Oahu

WAHIAWA, OAHU — For many Hawaii residents, the rural town of Wahiawa in central Oahu is just a place you drive through when traveling to the beaches on the North Shore or commuting to urban Honolulu.


Fast food restaurants line the small stretch of Kamehameha Highway that snakes through the town. Cars heading north are greeted by signs advertising a pawnshop and several chain stores.


Time has changed Wahiawa. It was long surrounded by Hawaii's prosperous pineapple plantations, which were one of the state’s main economic motors for most of the 20th century.

Decades later, the town’s farming character has faded. Fields lay fallow, unused farm equipment gathers rust and the elements are chipping away at old barn roofs. Wahiawa residents say crime has gotten worse and young adults are leaving town in search of opportunity.


But Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz is hoping to change all that.


If You Build It...

The 40-year-old Dela Cruz has only been in the Senate since 2011. But he’s introduced a slew of bills this year aimed at restoring the area by improving food production around his hometown, and they’re gaining traction.


When the lawmaker talks about the need for jobs in the area, he speaks with urgency.

“When I was a kid, the place was booming,” he said, describing the fields that are languishing.

The town was once at the center of the state's pineapple industry. Wahiawa is where James Dole started the Hawaiian Pineapple Company in 1901.


But the last sugar mill in neighboring Waialua closed in 1996. Today, Dole Plantation is more of a tourist stop than any sort of major economic force. That demise reflects the statewide reality that Hawaii's agricultural economy is very small and shrinking.


In Wahiawa, residents tend to earn less and are more likely to live below the poverty line than the average person in the state. Dela Cruz compares what happened in the town with the impact of the decline of the coal and auto industries on cities that relied on them.

It wasn’t just the jobs that were lost, Dela Cruz said, it was the sense of community.

He introduced six bills this session to help catalyze the area's farm economy and help transform Wahiawa into an agricultural business hub.


The measure that has garnered the most attention is Senate Bill 3065, which would allow the state to trade land slated for development in Kapolei in exchange for agricultural land owned by the Dole Plantation.


Much of that land is designated for conservation but Dela Cruz wants to hand over 6,000 acres of farmland to the Agriculture Development Corp., the development arm of the state Department of Agriculture, so that the agency can offer long-term leases to Hawaii farmers and spur local food production.


The state imports around 90 percent of its food and has pledged to improve food security.

Other measures, like Senate Bill 2020, aim to promote farming by designating a foreign trade zone in the area to help farmers lower their overhead costs. Sen. Dela Cruz is also pushing Senate Bill 2400, which would create a new program in conjunction with the university to help train new farmers and Senate Bill 2397, which would establish an agricultural technology park.

 

The senator is also advocating for non-agricultural measures to help improve the town's economy. Senate Bill 2399 aims to make Wahiawa a center for geriatric research and Senate Bill 3066 would create an agency to facilitate public-private partnerships, starting with a single pilot project in Wahiawa.

 

Warehouse slated for improvements and use by local farmers. (PF Bentley/Civil Beat)

Gill Mara, a real estate agent who was born and raised in Wahiawa, said he supports Dela Cruz’s vision because he wants the area to reclaim its sense of “prestige.”


“A lot of people in town (Honolulu) don’t even know where Wahiawa is,” he said.


Others are excited about the possibility of generating jobs so that residents don’t have to drive an hour to the big city for work. Alex Kanamu, a businessman in Wahiawa, worries that once his four children grow up, they’ll leave for good.


Even if he does well financially, Kanamu said, “To me, it’s not success if I don’t have my kids."


Too Ambitious?

Lawmakers have been talking for decades about the need to preserve agricultural land on Oahu. But with Hawaii’s growing population and housing shortage, it has become more profitable to use land to build houses than to grow food.


Sen. Clayton Hee, who also represents Wahiawa, has been a strong advocate for protecting Hawaii’s farmland. He is even a plaintiff in a lawsuit to prevent Koa Ridge in central Oahu from being turned into a master planned community.


Hee said he’s not familiar with all of Dela Cruz’s measures, but supports any efforts to preserve agricultural land in central Oahu.

 

Warehouse slated for improvements and use by local farmers. (PF Bentley/Civil Beat)

But even though Hee co-signed the land-exchange bill, he’s not sure how the Agriculture Development Corp. will manage 20,000 acres. “The main concern is they don't have a track record to speak of and this is a very ambitious proposal from the standpoint it encompasses 20,000 acres,” Hee said. “Whether or not they are able to hit the ground running is yet to be seen."


The agency was established in 1994, but only owns about 1,200 acres of land on Oahu, which it purchased from Galbraith Estate as recently as December 2012.

There’s also a political question.


Dela Cruz has only been in the Senate for a few years but some of his initiatives are viewed with suspicion because he sponsored the legislation that created the Public Land Development Corporation in 2011.


The PLDC was a state agency charged with developing state land through public-private partnerships. Dela Cruz's bill allowed the agency to override some county and environmental land use regulations.


The public backlash against the agency was so strong that the acronym “PLDC” became a rallying cry in the state Capitol for Hawaii residents frustrated with the increasing urbanization of the islands and the lack of transparency in the political process.


Lawmakers abolished the PLDC last year in response to public opposition.


As a result of the PLDC fiasco, Dela Cruz may have to earn back some public trust to get his bills passed.


While the state land swap has the support of the majority of the Senate, it could have a harder time in the House, especially given intense public scrutiny of bills that promote large-scale agriculture that might involve pesticide use and genetically engineered crops.


Practical and political concerns aside, even if Dela Cruz's vision does succeed, there’s the question of what new farming jobs might mean for the people of Wahiawa.


Randy Kamisato, a music teacher at Leleihua High School who was born and raised in Wahiawa, said that he’s not convinced his students will graduate from high school to the farm.

“They say, ‘Hell no I'm not going to work at McDonalds,’” he said. “So what makes you think that they would do physical labor?”


But, he added, more jobs in any industry would definitely help the community.

Kidani, Dela Cruz Urge Hispanic Students in Their Districts to Apply for Scholarship

A national college scholarship for Hispanic public high school students who live in districts represented by Hispanic legislators is now accepting applications. 

 

Sens. Donovan Dela Cruz and Michelle Kidani, who are both of Hispanic descent, are encouraging high schoolers in their districts to apply for the scholarships, which will be awarded to 11 students total.

 

Dela Cruz represents the district including Mililani Mauka, Waipio Acres and Wahiawa, while Kidani represents the district including Mililani Town, Waikele and a portion of Waipio Gentry.

 

The scholarships are worth $3,000 each and are earmarked for juniors and seniors who are Hispanic or of Hispanic descent. Recipients must be U.S. residents and have a 3.0 GPA or higher. A Hawaii applicant must be enrolled in a high school in either Dela Cruz or Kidani’s district and have a nomination from a principal, teacher, counselor or lawmaker.

 

Click here for more info on the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators’ John S. Martinez Leadership Scholarship.

Hawaii Senate Committees Advance Dole Land Exchange Proposal

From Civil Beat, — Anita Hofschneider

Three Senate panels voted on Tuesday to move forward a bill to exchange state land in West Oahu with private agricultural land in central Oahu. 

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz has been advocating for the measure, Senate Bill 3065, as a way to preserve Hawaii’s farmland and help transform the rural town of Wahiawa into an agribusiness hub. 

Because of constitutional issues brought up by the state attorney general, the senators amended the measure and took out language specifying exactly what land in Kapolei the state would give up.

The new version simply sets aside money for the state Dept. of Budget and Finance to conduct the land switch with Dole Food Company, Inc. 

Another measure, Senate Bill 112, creates a special fund to help pay for the deal if the state’s property in West Oahu falls short of the value of Dole’s land, which is on the market for $175 million.

The bill goes next to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

More coordination with state urged for rail planning

From the Star Advertiser

Two measures aimed at giving the state more say in walkable shopping areas and affordable housing that will take root around Oahu's future rail transit stations advanced out of a joint committee session Monday.

The bills, Senate Bills 2436 and 2437, were approved amid concerns aired by some lawmakers, including Sens. Dono­van Dela Cruz (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Mili­lani Mauka) and Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Downtown-Nuu­anu-Li­liha), that the state —one of the largest landowners around those station areas — isn't playing a large enough role in the city-led push to create what's known as "transit-oriented development" along Oahu's South Shore.

TOD concepts are guiding local planners in their efforts to design higher-density, more walkable communities surrounding 21 rail stations, particularly within a half-mile radius of those sites.

Officials with the Department of Planning and Permitting testified at a hearing Monday that they've spent the past seven years planning TOD communities around the station sites and that they've consulted individually with state agencies owning land at the sites there. However, Dela Cruz said state leaders countered that they don't have a clear idea of what's envisioned along rail's 20-mile stretch and that they only see easement and right-of-way agreements with the city for the state-owned land.

Chun Oakland said, "There has to be a group where every landowner is somehow represented." She added, "That would be better planning overall."

City planners expressed concerns that the measures might duplicate planning they've already done. But they agreed with Dela Cruz and Chun Oakland that more coordination between city and state would benefit the communities that go up around rail.

SB 2436 would create a 15-member TOD advisory committee comprising planners, architects, area residents and public employees appointed by the Hono­lulu mayor, the Hono­lulu Authority for Rapid Transportation and the governor.

SB 2437 would require all state agencies within a half-mile of a rail station to enter into a memorandum of understanding with one another that looks at efforts to create workforce housing around those stations and boost rail ridership.

Legislators passed the two bills out of a joint meeting of the Senate's committees on Economic Development, Government Operations and Housing; Transportation and International Affairs; and Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs. The measures now go to the Ways and Means Committee.

Meanwhile, city planners intend to bring eight neighborhood TOD plans, aimed at making communities around the transit stops more rail-friendly, to the Hono­lulu City Council for approval.

Current zoning prohibits much of the mixed-use housing and commercial development envisioned for these station areas, so it has to be changed, Harrison Rue, head of the city's TOD program, said after the hearing.

The eight plans will cover 19 of the 21 stops (and exclude Kaka­ako, which is overseen by the state's Hawaii Community Development Authority). Six of those plans are now in draft form and expected to come before the Council this year, Rue said.

If the Council passes the plans, the zoning amendments to execute those plans will subsequently follow for approval, he added.

"It's critical that we're all at the table," said Cindy McMillen, project manager at Pacific Resource Partnership. The pro-rail alliance of island carpenters and contractors submitted testimony supporting SB 2437.

Bills Would Create State Groups to Advise Honolulu’s Transit-Oriented Development

From Civil Beat

 

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz has introduced two bills to spur the state to study development around Honolulu’s planned rail line.

 

The city has been spearheading plans for transit-oriented development but Dela Cruz said the state should be involved too because it owns more land around the planned rail stations than any other entity.

 

He said the state should look at rail line from the perspective of a landowner and consider how its nearby property could be used to provide housing and generate revenue.

 

"How are we leveraging this $5 billion investment of rail to achieve our other initiatives?” he said. “I'm not quite sure why we're not having this discussion.”

 

Three Senate committees plan to meet to consider Dela Cruz’s proposals on Monday.

 

Senate Bill 2436 creates an advisory committee made up of planners, architects, state and city officials, cultural specialists, community members and others to make recommendations about “sustainable development” near rail stations.

 

Senate Bill 2437 creates working groups in state agencies to figure out how state land around rail stations could be used to help the economy and provide more housing for Hawaii’s workforce

Hawaii Sen. Dela Cruz Pushes for Land Exchange Between Central and West Oahu

From Civil Beat 

 

Hawaii Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz wants to exchange state-owned land in Kapolei, West Oahu for 20,000 acres of agricultural and conservation land in Wahiawa, Central Oahu. 

 

The senator from Wahiawa said that the exchange could help the rural town become an “ag industrial hub.”

 

He is pushing the deal through Senate Bill 3065, which is supported by more than two-thirds of the Senate. 

 

The land in Wahiawa is currently owned by Castle & Cooke and is on the market for $175 million.

 

It surrounds 1,207 acres that the state bought for $13 million two years ago. 

Senate spokeswoman Thelma Dreyer said in a press release that Castle & Cooke supports the idea of exchanging the land in Central Oahu with land in Kapolei that is nearby Honolulu’s planned rail stations.

 

Dreyer said the land is part of the Whitmore Project, “an initiative to revitalize Hawai‘i’s local agriculture industry.”

Honolulu Harbor Molasses Spill Sparks Legislation

By Sophie Cocke  

01/27/2014


Hawaii lawmakers have proposed a number of bills this year aimed at making sure Hawaii is better prepared to deal with a toxic spill in the wake of the September molasses leak at Honolulu Harbor that killed thousands of fish and devastated coral reefs.


A ruptured pipeline caused a quarter million gallons of molasses to spill into the harbor, sparking intense public scrutiny of Matson shipping company as well as state agencies charged with regulating the harbor, in particular the Hawaii Department of Transportation.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Hawaii Department of Health are currently investigating the spill. And Matson was served with a federal grand jury subpoena in October for documents relating to the accident.


In the meantime, lawmakers say that their bills will improve the state's emergency response plans, as well as tighten the reporting and oversight responsibilities of state agencies involved in marine spills.


"While the investigation continues, here are some concrete steps we can take to make sure this doesn't happen again," said Rep. Chris Lee, chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, who has proposed three bills relating to the spill.


Response to Matson Spill Lacking


It's been nearly two decades since Hawaii came up with a plan to address hazardous spills, according a bill jointly proposed by Lee and Sen. Mike Gabbard, chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee. And that plan only deals with oil spills, not the medley of other substances that are transported in and out of Hawaii's harbors, such as molasses.


Health officials blamed the relatively slow response to the Honolulu Harbor disaster on the fact that Hawaii had no response plan for molasses.


House Bill 2621, contracts between state agencies and lessees would specify a strict timeframe under which such problems must be communicated.


Another bill, introduced by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, would ensure that operators such as Matson pay for all damages caused by toxic spills. In past months, Matson representatives have said that the company will pay for the molasses cleanup effort, but haven't committed to covering long-term environmental damages.


Senate Bill 2018 specifies that parties "have unlimited liability for all damages resulting from any spill or incurred by the state in responding to a release or threatened release of oil, hazardous substances, or unnatural or artificial substances."


"It's just trying to make sure that whoever creates the disaster, that they make sure they pay for all of it and that the state or taxpayers are not going to be on the hook for someone else's mistake," said Dela Cruz.


Conspicuously missing from this year's proposals are bills seeking significant changes at the transportation department, which struggled in the aftermath of the molasses spill to respond to media questions regarding its oversight responsibilities of the harbor.


House Transportation Committee Chair Ryan Yamane could not be reached for comment, while Sen. Kalani English, chair of the Senate's Transportation and International Affairs Committee, said that he didn't intend to introduce any bills related to the transportation department.


English said that he wanted to wait for the investigations to conclude first. "If you are jumping into a black hole, you want to know what is in the hole," he said.

Bill proposes trading land at rail station for acreage held by Dole

By Derrick DePledge 

 

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 20, 2014

 

In a creative land swap, the state would trade about 925 acres near the planned East Kapo­lei rail station to Castle & Cooke for redevelopment in return for some 20,000 acres of Dole Food Co. land between Wahiawa and the North Shore that would be preserved for agriculture and conservation.

 

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who is proposing the land exchange, contends it would help achieve the transit-oriented development necessary for the success of the Hono­lulu rail project and advance the state’s interest in protecting agriculture and open space from urban encroachment.

 

The Abercrombie administration has separately been working with the Trust for Public Land and a renewable energy developer on a more conventional $175 million purchase of the Dole land. The state had worked with public and private interests in December 2012 to acquire more than 1,700 acres of nearby Galbraith Estate land.

Saving beachfront property near Kawela Bay and Kahuku Point from development by Turtle Bay Resort has captured the hearts of the past two governors and the North Shore conservation movement. But the Dole land is far larger in acreage and potentially far more important to preserving agriculture and preventing urban sprawl.

 

“If the state doesn’t take an active role in making sure that it stays in conservation, we could be at risk of it being piecemealed out to private developers or private landowners,” said Dela Cruz (D, Wheeler-Wahiawa-Schofield), chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Government Operations and Housing Committee.

 

Garret Matsunami, director of engineering and site construction at Castle & Cooke, which shares the same owner — billionaire David Murdock — as Dole Food Co., said he is still reviewing a draft of Dela Cruz’s bill proposing the swap.

“We’re definitely looking forward to seeing how this goes,” he said.

 

Dela Cruz’s bill would establish an East Kapo­lei Community Development District, which could help ease redevelopment around the planned rail station if the roughly 925 acres of state land is acquired by Castle & Cooke. The East Kapo­lei station is the first along the 20-mile rail line to Ala Moana Center and is in the heart of a region already primed for development.

 

The bill would also create a Whitmore Project special fund that would hold the proceeds of revenue bond sales that might be used to help purchase the Dole land. The value of the state land around the East Kapo­lei rail station might not be enough to match the Dole land, so the state could use revenue bonds to help finance the acquisition.

 

The state budget already contains an authorization for $175 million in revenue bonds to potentially purchase the Dole land, but the bonds are in limbo after a squabble last year between Dela Cruz and state Rep. Jessica Wooley (D, Kaha­luu-Ahui­manu-Kaneohe), chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee, prevented the creation of a fund to handle the bond money.

 

State Rep. Sylvia Luke (D, Punchbowl-Pauoa-Nuu­anu), chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, who spoke with Dela Cruz about his bill Friday, said the state needs to take a more proactive role in identifying state land near all of the planned rail stations for potential redevelopment.

 

Luke said she would prefer an overall plan involving discussions with the city, community groups and residents, rather than dealing with just one or two rail stations.

 

“It needs to be a long view because this is something that’s going to impact planning for the next decade,” she said.

 

Blake Oshiro, Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s deputy chief of staff, said the governor’s supplemental budget request asks lawmakers for $40 million in bond money to acquire prime agricultural land and $10 million in bond money to purchase conservation land in Central Oahu and the North Shore area.

 

The Trust for Public Land has said it is working with the state and a renewable energy developer on the purchase of the Dole land over the next three to five years.

According to one presentation by the trust, about 6,000 acres could be leased for farming and ranching, and about 9,000 acres could be managed for recreation, hiking, hunting and watershed and species protection. The renewable energy developer, according to the trust, would use a portion of one parcel for a large solar energy project.

 

The trust has warned that the Dole land, which is near the urban growth boundary, “is the next logical target for development.”

 

“This is really keeping the country country,” Lea Hong, state director of the Trust for Public Land, said of the conservation effort.

 

Godzilla invades Waikiki, devours tax credits - Hawaii Free Press

by Malia Zimmerman  Watchdog.org, July 17, 2013 

 

WAIKIKI – Godzilla is stomping through the streets of Waikiki, Hawaii’s prime tourist hub, asLegendary Pictures and Warner Bros. put the final touches on the American-made reboot of the classic daikaiju eiga, set to be released in May 2014.

 

Producers of the newest version of Godzilla are getting some hefty tax credits from Hawaii taxpayers.

 

The oversized, fire-breathing “King of the monsters” may be a little less cranky when he learns that Hawaii lawmakers passed legislation, approved by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, which ups the percentage of tax credits motion picture productions can claim when filming here.

 

As of July 1,  Hawaii has a new, expanded production tax credit, which grants motion pictures, digital media and film productions, an income tax credit of 20-25 percent.

Productions that qualify can claim tax credits equal to 20 percent of production costs from the island of Oahu, and 25 percent on neighbor islands including Hawaii Island, Kauai, Lanai, Maui and Molokai. That is an increase over last year of 5 percent for each category.

 

Donovan Dela Cruz, chairman of the Hawaii State Senate’s Economic Development Committee, said he isn’t a fan of giving away “free money”, but agreed to the legislation because he said he wants to see the industry develop and not “move backward.”

 

Click here for more.

Tax credit small but 'better than a poke in the eye, 'lawmaker says - Honolulu Star-Advertiser

By Derrick DePledge

 

Burned by high-technology tax incentives that many tax policy experts thought were too generous and ripe for abuse, state lawmakers have chosen to resurrect a pared-down research and development credit to reward scientific experimentation.

 

The 20 percent income tax credit would apply to research spending from 2013 through 2019 and would cost the state about $3.2 million a year. Companies would have to claim a similar federal tax credit to qualify and would have to increase research spending over time to enjoy the full amount.

 

Companies that take advantage of the tax credit would also have to file detailed annual surveys with the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism so the state can track the effects on job creation, new patents or intellectual property and commercial applications.

 

High-tech tax incentives, which included a research and development credit, cost the state $1 billion through the past decade and were criticized by the state auditor and tax policy experts as deficient. The auditor concluded in a report last year that the state was unable to measure or ensure the effectiveness of the credits, which ran from 1999 through 2010.

 

Patrick Sullivan, founder and chairman of Oceanit, a science and engineering firm, said the revived research and development tax credit would be so limited that it is largely a symbolic gesture. But he and others believe it is worth starting with something smaller in scope, given how the last high-tech tax incentives were perceived.

 

"What we're really trying to do is restart a conversation in the state on why the tech industry and R&D is important for the state long term," Sullivan said.

 

Lawmakers still believe tax credits, even smaller ones, can be catalysts for innovation and economic diversity that might help the state's economy grow and reverse the "brain drain" of science, technology, engineering and mathematics talent to the mainland. Gov. Neil Abercrombie is likely to allow the credit in Senate Bill 1349 to become law.

 

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Wheeler-Wahiawa-Schofield), the bill's sponsor, said he is not necessarily a huge fan of tax credits and would prefer a more comprehensive plan for economic diversification. But he believes the incentive is consistent with the "live, work, play" theme the state wants to nurture.

 

"Whatever we can do to try to make Hawaii an attractive place to do business for research and development," he said.

 

Rep. Isaac Choy D, Manoa-Punahou-Moiliili), an accountant and a former chairman of the Tax Review Commission who has become a resource for other lawmakers on tax policy, said the state's previous research and development tax credit was too generous.

 

Choy said the intent behind the federal tax credit is to provide an incentive for companies to increase research spending, not to award tax breaks for base amounts of research spending from previous years, as the old state tax credit did. He acknowledged that aligning the state's tax credit to the federal tax code will significantly limit the potential tax break.

 

"It's better than a poke in the eye," he said.

 

Lowell Kalapa, president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, questions whether Hawaii has sufficient talent in the academic and high-tech sectors to take advantage of such tax incentives. "Before you put the cart and fill it up with gold, make sure you've got a horse to pull it," he said.

 

Kalapa has told lawmakers that using tax credits as incentives for targeted economic growth is often poor policy, mostly because the effectiveness of such incentives has been difficult to document.

 

The two tax credits that survived last session were the expansion of film production tax credits — which he attributes to Hollywood allure — and the research and development tax credit, "which basically nobody really understands."

 

But many investors, entrepreneurs and executives in the state's burgeoning high-tech industry have defended tax credits during the past decade as important seeds of economic diversification.

 

Without new incentives, many argue, a high-tech industry may never fully bloom.

 

"It allows us the ability to bring in talent and a strong labor pool back to the state. It makes us more competitive," said Martin Kao, president of Nava­tek Ltd., a research and development company for military and commercial operations.

 

Kao had wanted lawmakers to apply the research and development credit annually to all qualified research expenses — and not just the increases in spending over the base amounts from previous years — warning that many companies may not be able to qualify.

 

But Kao appreciates that a credit might be revived. "It troubled me personally where we didn't have a state that kind of acknowledged the notion that what we're trying to do is bring jobs back to Hawaii," he said.

 

James Karins, president of Puko‘a Scientific, which develops image-processing software, said other states are making stronger pushes to attract research and development. He said a limited tax credit in Hawaii could be toughest on smaller companies that can take years to develop resources to finance research.

"Certainly anything is better than nothing," he said.

Help Send Mahealani to the Miss Jr High School America 2013 finals

By Mahealani Sims-Tulba -

 

My name is Mahealani and I am Miss Hawai’i Jr High School America 2013. I am entering 8th grade at American Renaissance Academy, and will be representing Hawai’i in Orlando, Florida this July. We are a month away from the National Pageant and we are all very excited.

 

I completed my 7th grade year at ARA on the Honor Roll and Dean’s List with a 3.95 GPA. I have been working with such great organizations as The Children’s Miracle Network, Make A Wish Foundation, American Red Cross, American Heart Association, Pinwheels for Prevention and the Teddy Bear Drive just to name a few. I have also continued my work with the homeless shelter and Hawaii Literacy Foundation.

 

Recently, I have just finished writing and illustrating my first children’s book called “It’s Okay to Be Different” which is being published by Watermark Publishing and soon to be released!

 

I am also continuing to bring awareness to the bullying problem with my pageant’s platform, The Crown C.A.R.E.S, and even had the honor of meeting with Governor Neil Abercrombie and sharing with him the importance of bringing awareness to Hawai’i’s youth regarding the bullying problem.

 

I was also so very honored to have been asked to sing Hawai’i Pono’i on the steps of Iolani Palace and at the Friends for the Natatorium 25th year celebration and to be a part of the King KamehamehaDay Parade.

 

On June 13, 2013 I was presented with the Gold Level President’s Volunteer Service Award by Lieutenant Governor Shan S. Tsutsui and was also given an award of recognition by the Senate by Senator Donovan Dela Cruz.

 

On June 14, 2013 I was also given an award of recognition by Mayor Kirk Caldwell for going to different schools and libraries and other locations bringing awareness to the pageant’s platform “The Crown C.A.R.E.S.”

 

I am so humbled by the support I have been receiving from all over Hawai’i and the mainland and I am so excited be representing Hawai’i in Orlando, Florida this July. Please use the Donation Button to the right to make your donation today and help me make this dream a reality.

 

I would love to honor Hawai’i by becoming the next Miss Jr High School America and share my message with the nation. I am always so grateful and appreciative of all the continued support from sponsors or donations to help me to achieve this dream.

 

Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for supporting me on this journey. I promise to do my very best to represent Hawai’i!

Former owner of Lanai offers $1.1B for Dole Food Company - KHON

By Brianne Randle

He made millions when he sold the island of Lanai. Now, David Murdock has plans to spend it and much more.
 

The owner of Castle & Cooke has put in a bid to buy Dole Food Company. It's a deal that would give him ownership of the world's largest fruit and vegetable producer.


The $1 billion takeover bid would include farm land in Wahiawa.


The prime real estate has a lot of potential, but residents are making it clear what they want to see done with it.

Click here for more.

Hawaii ready to put Galbraith Estate lands to work - West Hawaii Today

HONOLULU — Three month after a deal was concluded to protect hundreds of acres of rich Oahu farmland from development, the state is ready to invite farmers to put the Galbraith Estate lands to work.
 

State officials want Hawaii farmers to come work the land, according to Friday's Hawaii News Now.


The state acquired more than 1,700 acres of estate lands in December, with the bulk of that land reserved for use by farmers. The farmers who invest in the land will get access to packing and processing facilities and a stable water source in nearby Lake Wilson. Farm workers will live at Whitmore Village.


"Wahiawa was a thriving ag community," said Democratic Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, one of the chief proposers of the Whitmore Village Agricultural Development Plan. "Whitmore Village employed thousands of jobs at the Dole facility and nothing really took its place."

Click here for more. 

Bill puts solar energy within reach - Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Lawmakers agree on a measure that lets consumers use low-cost loans to finance photovoltaic systems

 

By Derrick DePledge
 

Consumers may soon be able to obtain low-cost loans to install solar and other alternative energy systems and then repay the loans through the savings on their electrical bills.


State House and Senate negotiators Thursday reached consensus on an innovative bill that could help middle- and lower-income consumers afford solar. The loans, which would enable consumers to overcome the high upfront costs of installing photovoltaic power systems, would come from a pool of money generated by the same type of bond financing used by utilities to upgrade power plants and respond to storm damage.


The state would issue revenue bonds — backed by fees paid by electricity customers — based on financing orders from the Public Utilities Commission. A new Hawaii Green Infrastructure Authority would use the money from the bond sales to make loans to consumers.


The green infrastructure loan program could appeal to middle- and lower-income consumers who do not have the money to take advantage of the solar tax credits the state now offers as an incentive for alternative energy.
 

Rep. Chris Lee (D, Kai­lua-Lani­kai-Wai­manalo), t­he lead House negotiator on Senate Bill 1087, called it "a big step forward for renewable energy in Hawaii."
 

Richard Lim, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, described the bill, which is up for final votes next week, as "the democratization of clean energy."


Utilities have used the bond-financing tool, known as securitization, for more than a decade to pay for environmental improvements to power plants, respond to transmission-line damage from storms and recover the so-called "stranded costs" at power plants when markets are opened to greater competition.
 

The bonds are secured by the ability of utilities to charge customers to satisfy the bond debt.


Hawaii could be among the first to use the bond-financing tool to help underwrite solar.

"It's a game-changer, that's the best way to put it," said Richard Wallsgrove, program director at the Blue Planet Foundation, a conservation group.


"It's innovation because we're taking all of these pieces that people have figured out — rich guys in suits in New York who have figured out how bonds work to finance big projects — and rather than financing coal plants and nuclear power plants, now we're going to finance rooftop solar, energy efficiency in homes — so, things that are directly going to drive down people's bills. And anybody can sign up for it. There's no limit to the impact it could have on our energy infrastructure."


Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Wheeler-Wahiawa-Schofield), the lead Senate negotiator on the bill, has urged the state to consider incentives for energy other than solar, such as natural gas, because of capacity issues at Hawaiian Electric Co. HECO requires customers, mainly businesses with larger solar projects, to pay for interconnection studies before allowing new installations in regions where solar has reached a 15 percent threshold on the circuit.


"Hopefully, this is a tool that will help us reach penetration goals sooner rather than later," Dela Cruz said of the loan program. "However, once we reach those penetration goals, we need to make sure that there are going to be technologies available so that working families, senior citizens and other local residents will still have access to clean energy but affordable energy as well."

Lawmakers OK $6M for growth initiative - Honolulu Star-Advertiser

By Derrick DePledge
 

The Hawaii Growth Initiative, which would encourage entrepreneurs who might help diversify the state's economy, received a $6 million vote of confidence Thursday.
 

State House and Senate negotiators agreed to provide financing next fiscal year for the Hawaii Strategic Development Corp. to start the initiative. The Abercrombie administration had originally asked for $10 million in fiscal year 2014 and $10 million in fiscal year 2015.
 

The state money would be used to help mentor entrepreneurs so they can take business ideas to scale while also attracting private-sector investment capital.


"We obviously had a different plan based on a different amount of money, and we'll have to take a look,"said Karl Fooks, president of the Hawaii Strategic Development Corp. "But we're very grateful for the support shown for technology and economic development here in the state, and we'll work hard to justify the confidence."


Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Wheeler-Wahiawa-Schofield), the lead Senate negotiator on the bill, said he hopes that the state directs some of the entrepreneurial activity into Kapo­lei, Oahu's planned second city.


"I think it's a step in the right direction in helping us to diversify the economy and reverse the brain drain, but we really do need to put more of an effort in creating jobs out there in Kapo­lei," he said.


While lawmakers agreed on House Bill 858 on Thursday, House negotiators mistakenly took a vote without a quorum, so another vote is expected today. Final votes are next week.


"Sometimes you think about $6 million versus $10 million versus $1 million, but you have to come to some kind of happy equation," said Rep. Clift Tsuji (D, Hilo-Wai­akea-Keau­kaha).

State plan aims to turn Wahiawa into agricultural hub - Hawaii News Now

WAHIAWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - 

Three months after buying the vast, 1,723-acre Galbraith Estate lands in central Oahu, the state is ready to turn the area into an agricultural hub by inviting Hawaii farmers to come work the land. 

 

"Wahiawa was a thriving ag community," said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D - Wahiawa, Haleiwa, North Shore), one of the chief proposers of the Whitmore Village Agricultural Development Plan.

 

"Whitmore Village employed thousands of jobs at the Dole facility and nothing really took its place. We have a lot of fallow ag land. Thousands of acres between Wahiawa and the north shore and we really haven't gotten a comprehensive plan."

 

Click here for more.

Ag save - Honolulu Weekly

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) has purchased 1,700 acres of land near Wahiawa from the Galbraith Estate, Governor Abercrombie announced at a press conference on Dec. 11. These “prime agricultural lands . . . really some of the best in the state,” had “seemed destined for the next large development,” said Department of Agriculture Chairperson Russell Kokubun. Now they will be protected for farming.

 

“[This purchase] will allow us to reduce our reliance on food imports and increase our food security, a priority of this administration,” the governor said.

 

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Galbraith Estate in Hawaii Protected For Farming - Hawaii Free Press

A partnership of public agencies and non-profit organizations announced the purchase of more than 1,700 acres of land from the estate of George Galbraith of Oahu, protecting it for farming rather than development.

 

The land, near Wahiawa northwest of Honolulu, has been fallow since 2004, when Del Monte ceased growing pineapple there.

 

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State buys Galbraith Estate for agriculture use - KITV

HONOLULU — Gov. Neil Abercrombie gathered with representatives of several public agencies, business and non-profit organizations, and the military Tuesday to formally announce the purchase of more than 1,700 acres from the Estate of George Galbraith, preserving the former pineapple land for agricultural use.

 

"Hawaii currently imports about 85 percent of its food, but the purchase and protection of the Galbraith land for agricultural use will allow us to reduce our reliance on food imports and increase our food security, a priority of this administration," said Gov. Abercrombie.

 

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Hawaii Set to Spend Millions of Dollars to Boost Local Farming - Honolulu Civil Beat

By Sophia Cocke
 

The state is poised to spend $13 million on 1,750 acres of agricultural land in a plan to boost farm production and food security. But obstacles remain to making the farming experiment on central Oahu lands owned by the George Galbraith Estate a success.


“To acquire the land by itself doesn’t assure successful ag,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who represents the district where the former pineapple fields have laid fallow since 2006. He’s helping craft plans for cultivating the land near Wahiawa in a way that will not only lead to increased food production, but job creation and redevelopment of the region.


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Hawaii Senate: Leadership Plays A Game Of Political Musical Chairs - Honolulu Civil Beat

For the first time in nearly two decades, a Republican holds a leadership position in the Hawaii Legislature.

 

On Friday Sen. Sam Slom was appointed vice chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Housing, which will be chaired by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz.

 

"Senator Slom is a small businessman, and sometimes we need to look beyond the partisanship and get to the skill sets," explained Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria. "That's the primary reason he will serve as vice chair, and why we are crossing the aisle.

 

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State gets closer to purchasing Galbraith land in Central Oahu - KHON

It's been years in the works and the state is now closer to purchasing the Galbraith land through a public - private partnership.

Plans for the area were presented to the Wahiawa - Whitmore neighborhood board on November 19.

Senator Donovan Dela Cruz says the plan includes a section for packing and processing, separate from the farming that would happen on the Galbraith land.


Senator Dela Cruz helps lead bipartisanship effort to improve state's economy - Hawaii Reporter

Improving the economy, creating more jobs and improving the business climate are some of the most important tasks for lawmakers, according to Senator Dela Cruz. And he'll go anywhere to help accomplish that goal - including crossing party lines. Senate President Shan Tsutsui recently asked the lone Republican Senator, Sam Slom, to serve as vice chair of the Senate Economic Development and Housing Committee, which Dela Cruz serves as chair. 

 

"I think everyone can agree that fixing our economy has to be one of the top issues as well as reducing the burden on working families and senior citizens and investiing in new industries and encouraging new industries," Dela Cruz said 

 

"I did discuss with both of them that at times I probably will find myself at odds with specific controversial legislative initiatives of the Committee, but, to their credit, they both said that they support more open discussion and better legislation," Slom said. 

 

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Win some, lose some: 21 Fil-Am candidates win in US elections

By DANNY MANALO and BARBARA MARCHADESCH, GMA NEWS 


(UPDATED 5:30 p.m.) -
The win-loss record of Filipino-American candidates during Wednesday’s (Philippine time) US elections was spotty, with 21 candidates for major political positions winning their runs.

On the national front, Rep. Robert Scott was re-elected to an 11th term as Virginia’s 3rd District representative in the US Congress in Washington, D.C. He first became Virginia's congressman in November 1992.

"Having a maternal grandfather of Filipino ancestry also gives Rep. Scott the distinction of being the first American with Filipino ancestry to serve as a voting member of Congress," according to his official biography on the website of the US House of Representatives.

 

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Hawaii Ranks Near Bottom for Doing Business — But Does It Matter? - Honolulu Civil Beat

By Anita Hofschneider

Earlier this year, Hawaii gained the dubious distinction of having the worst traffic in the nation and some of the worst roads.
 

Now, the state can add another poor rating to the mix: a CNBC special report named Hawaii the second-to-worst state in the nation for business in 2012.

State officials weren't surprised by the news.


“We always rank at the bottom. It’s not something new,” said Eugene Tian, the economic research administrator at the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. Last year, Hawaii only did marginally better in the rankings — 48 out of 50.


Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said that despite its predictability, the low score should still be cause for concern.


“It’s not enough just to agree we’re anti-business,” he said. “We have to change it.”

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A Real Plan for Supporting Hawaii Farmers and Creating Jobs - Honolulu Civil Beat

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of columns by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz discussing why Hawaii is not doing as much as it could to boost the economy and how it can be better.
 

Agriculture is at a critical crossroads in Hawaii now more than ever. Over the years we have heard time and time again about the diversification of the industry, food sustainability and security, and the importance of preserving agricultural land. Looking over the past two legislative sessions, numerous bills were introduced to address the concerns of our farmers yet only a few became a realities: dams and reservoir maintenance, Act 154 and 155 (2011), commercial based operations for farmers on their farmlands, Act 113 (2012), assuring that the state has an agricultural easement when using public funds to purchase fallow farmlands, Act 284 (2012), and requesting the Agribusiness Development Corporation to acquire lands for improvements and infrastructure, SR101 (2012).
 

Unfortunately, a lack of vision, planning, coordination and not making the proper investments have left the industry limping along the last several decades. Thousands of acres without infrastructure and the absence of long-term leases for farmers and ranchers have only compounded the challenges. 

 Click here for more.

How Hawaii Can Reverse the Brain Drain - Honolulu Civil Beat

Editor's Note: This is the second of two columns by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz discussing why Hawaii is not doing as much as it could to boost the economy and how it can be better.
 

In 2007, Forbes conducted a study ranking American cities with the best- and worst-paying jobs. Honolulu received top recognition with above average salaries for busboys, bartenders, and lifeguards. Albeit these are much needed services, Honolulu needs to push the envelope in reversing the brain drain and keep our local people here. We need jobs in business, diplomacy, education, technology and science, energy, and film. First we need to create the environment and the culture to attract investment to achieve synergy and scale to make those jobs real. 


This idea of creating a globally competitive Hawaii also provides possible answers to dealing with budget deficits, developing public private partnerships and investment opportunities, reversing the brain drain, focusing growth in the urban core and stopping urban sprawl in its tracks to protect agricultural land. This can only be done by truly envisioning and achieving regional centers of industry along the rail line: 

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Is Hawaii Globally Competitive? - Honolulu Civil Beat

Editor's Note: This is the first of two columns by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz discussing why Hawaii is not doing as much as it could to boost the economy and how it can be better.


In 1999, the Honolulu Star Bulletin published an article by Lavonne Leong, "Isles Lose Many of the Best and Brightest." When University of Hawaii graduates in finance were asked, "What advice would you offer current and soon-to-be graduating students in your major?" almost twenty-five percent responded, "Move to the mainland." 

 

Let’s fast forward to 2012. Is the advice the same?

 

We have heard the catch phrases of “diversify our economy” and “reverse the brain-drain” time and time again for more than 30 years. We have even heard the terms “gateway” and “where east meets west.” And what progress have we made?

 

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Whitmore Village Site A Boon For Agri-business-MidWeek

Now is the time for us to show and execute leadership to create a successful revenue-generating model for agriculture that we can later template all across our state.
 

Over the years we have heard time and again about the diversification of the agricultural industry, food substantiability and security, and the importance of preserving agricultural land.


Unfortunately, a lack of vision, planning, coordination and not making the proper investments have left the industry limping along. We have not restructured government to appropriately respond to the globally competitive situation that places Hawaii farmers at a severe disadvantage. Because of evolving federal regulations and an increasing number of low-priced imports, some local farmers have abandoned their efforts, and younger generations feel the situation is too overwhelming and difficult to pursue.

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Bills expand permitted farm activities

Agriculturally related businesses would be allowed on farm land under a measure signed into law Friday by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

 

Permissible commercial activity includes the preparation and sale of certain food grown by the owner or operator of a retail food establishment and the sale of logo items related to a producer's agricultural operation.

 

"The ability to be able to take what you grow and turn it into products and to be able to sell it is really what this is all about — to get people used to not just the brand names but the fact that they're able to support agriculture as a result," Abercrombie said.

 

The proposal, Senate Bill 2375, was introduced by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea).

 

"Farmers are being forced to diversify their products in order to make ends meet while continuing to provide local food for the community," he said. "This bill allows for additional opportunities for them to create revenue."

 

Senate Bill 2375 was among 16 bills signed into law Friday by the governor, who must notify the Legislature by June 25 of what bills he might veto.

 

One of those measures highlighted by Abercrombie was SB 2646, which is intended to promote diversified agriculture by exempting certain nonresidential agricultural buildings and commercial farms from county building permit requirements.

 

"I think these two bills are just the epitome of where we want to go in agriculture," he said. "We support local farming."

New laws support local farmers- Hawaii 24/7

Gov. Neil Abercrombie has signed a number of measures into law including two bills that are aimed to benefit local farmers who want to sell their products and/or establish agricultural-based commercial operations.

 

Senate Bill 2375 authorizes agricultural-based commercial operations in agricultural districts that will increase farmers’ ability to sell their products and promote food sustainability for the islands.

 

Senate Bill 2646 is intended to promote and support diversified agriculture by exempting certain nonresidential agricultural buildings that are on commercial farms from county building permit requirements.

 

“To truly support our local farmers we must empower them,” Abercrombie said. “These measures not only provide for that to take place but it also promotes diversified agriculture. I want to thank the Legislature for recognizing the importance of helping our farmers.”

 

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz who introduced SB 2375 stated, “Farmers are being forced to diversify their products in order to make ends meet while continuing to provide local food for the community. This bill allows for additional opportunities for them to create revenue.”

 

SB 2375 immediately goes into effect; SB 2646 is effective July 1, 2012.

TOD developers say legislative help is needed- Pacific Business News

The state Legislature’s failure to pass laws designed to spur transit-oriented development along the 20-mile rail-transit line being built between Kapolei and Ala Moana Center    could derail such projects before they even get started, developers said.

 

Senate Bill 2927, which was introduced by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, D-Kunia Village-Mililani Mauka-Wahiawa, would have waived development fees and eased some requirements for transit oriented development, or TOD, near the rail’s 21 stations.

 

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Bills would allow state to make money from private developers- Hawaii News Now

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Queen Liliuokalani School in Kaimuki ceased to be a school this past year, when the Board of Education decided to close it. Education officials said the campus and its buildings would be used for a teacher resource center and storage. But it's not generating any revenue for the state. A measure in the legislature would allow that to happen through public-private partnerships.

 

"So it allows us to create more jobs, bring in more revenue instead of increasing our taxes, and allow the Department of Education to have some flexibility with revenue that it can create from underutilized assets and public-private partnerships," said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D-Kunia, Wahiawa, Haleiwa, Sunset Beach).

 

Click here to read more. 

Bill to speed development at rail depots moves ahead- Honolulu Star Advertiser

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz wants the city's rail system to make money, or at least break even, and is pushing for a bill that would encourage urban development and redevelopment on land around planned transit stations.

 

The development could provide more riders for the train system, and more riders will pay more fares, according to Dela Cruz (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea).

 

The idea is that extra fare revenue could reduce or eliminate the tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies the city plans to spend each year for rail operations.

 

Click here to read more. 

If Oahu is going to have rail, lawmakers should pass SB 2927- Pacific Business News

Rarely do developers in Hawaii get any kind of break when it comes to fees and other requirements. And, while we often wish that local and state governments were easier to do business with, we do not have problems with reasonable laws designed to ensure the thoughtful use of our natural resources.

 

At the same time, we think the state would not be violating this approach even if it were, on occasion, to give developers some motivation for growth that helps achieve a well-planned and highly desired outcome.

 

That is why — despite our objections to the elevated-rail transit system planned on Oahu — we are in strong support of Senate Bill 2927, which would waive development fees and ease some other requirements for developers who want to build residential, retail and office space near rail stations.

 

Click here to read more. 

Proposed bill to charge tour boat operators; fund DLNR conservation efforts- KHON

Hawaii is surrounded by sun, sand and sea, but the Department of Land and Natural Resources says our paradise comes with a price, especially in Marine Life Conservation Districts.

"The number of users that are going in there mostly for commercial activities are starting to have impacts, so we need the funds to start mitigating some of those impacts," says DLNR Dir. William Aila.

Senator Donovan Dela Cruz has drafted a bill that would establish a special fund by charging tour boat operators for non-residents who use 11 specified swimming, snorkeling and diving spots across the state.

 

Click here to view the story. 

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