Testimony: Bill 10 could help add Oahu housing

Photo by Charley Myers

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration Sept 26, 2022, by the Honolulu City Council.

To: Honolulu City Council
      Tommy Waters, Chair
       Esther Kia‘aina, Vice Chair

From: Ted Kefalas
            Director of Strategic Campaigns
            Grassroot Institute of Hawaii


Dear Chair and Council Members:

The Grassroot Institute would like to offer comments on Bill 10 (2022), CD1, which would restructure the land-use ordinances contained in Chapter 21 of the 1990 Revised Ordinances of Honolulu.

Regarding protecting agricultural land and agribusiness, Bill 10 aims to strike a careful balance as it applies to agricultural land. The Council must balance agriculture’s vital contributions to Hawaii’s culture while protecting landowners from cumbersome and costly regulations.

The Council deserves praise for seeking to remove the requirement that agricultural lands be farmed for 10 years, but the Council should reconsider the requirement that 50% of each agricultural parcel be dedicated to crop or livestock production.

Many agricultural lands are rocky, contain gulleys, lack adequate water, have poor soil or are otherwise infeasible for farming. In addition, 66% of Hawaii’s farms are only between one to nine acres.[1] Given Hawaii’s high cost of living, it can be extremely difficult for farm owners to make a living from raising crops or livestock on such small acreage, so it is important that Bill 10 does not overburden these households.

Remember, too, that weddings and other group events — such as community harvesting days — are vital to many farmers. Capping the number of events per week and the number of people who can attend will only limit revenue opportunities and make it harder for families to afford to raise crops or livestock.

Already, 56% of Hawaii’s farms operate at a net loss.[2] Heavy-handed mandates might make the problem worse.

Residents who have lived on agricultural land for years should not be subject to the fear that they might lose their land simply because they are physically or financially unable to farm it.

The Council should consider mandating that only 25% of land be dedicated to crop production or livestock, allowing farmsteads to access water and electricity, permitting the use of certain motorized vehicles and increasing the allowable number of events and people that a farm can host each week.

On the matter of expanding ADUs and multi-unit housing, the Institute welcomes Bill 10’s proposed changes as to how accessory dwelling units are regulated. In Sec. 21-5.50-3, pages 28 and 29, the bill would allow ADUs to be slightly larger and to be built on smaller lots. It also would remove the requirement that ADUs have dedicated parking spaces, as long as they are within 800 feet of a bus stop.

All of these minor changes would make ADUs more affordable for the average individual.

Meanwhile, as the Institute explained in earlier testimony, Bill 10 would expand the zones in which multi-unit dwellings can be constructed. These dwellings would be allowed in B-1 and B-2 zones, but only in the transit-oriented development area.

The Council should consider allowing multi-unit dwellings in all B-1 and B-2 zones, not just in the TOD areas. Honolulu’s residents are already facing sky-high housing prices, and expanding the available stock of multi-unit dwellings would help counter that trend.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. We appreciate the work you are doing in trying to update the county’s land-use ordinance.


Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] 2017 Census of Agriculture: Hawaii State and County Data,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Vol. 1, Geographic Area Series Part 11, April 2019, p. 7.
[2] Ibid, p. 16.

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