The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Senate Committee on Water and Land on March 13, 2023.
March 13, 2023
Conference Room 229
To: Senate Committee on Water and Land
Senator Lorraine R. Inouye, Chair
Senator Brandon J.C. Elefante, Vice Chair
From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns
RE: HB670 HD2— RELATING TO THE LAND USE COMMISSION
Dear Chair and Committee Members:
The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on HB670 HD2, which attempts to streamline the process by which the state Land Use Commission acts on boundary amendments.
Under this bill, the number of affirmative votes required for a boundary amendment would be reduced from six to a simple majority of those serving on the LUC.
This bill correctly identifies and addresses one of the major causes for the slow growth of housing in this state: the delays caused by multiple layers of bureaucratic approvals.
Delays in county and state approvals — whether caused by permitting backlogs or the difficulties of navigating Hawaii’s multitiered approval process — are one of the reasons Hawaii’s average approval delay is three times the national mean.
We commend this committee for considering a bill that would reduce such delays at LUC.
Over time, the LUC has evolved into a kind of state-level zoning and approval agency, which has added to the delay and bureaucracy faced by those looking to develop more housing. A Grassroot Institute of Hawaii report, “Reform the Hawaii LUC to encourage more housing,” discussed how state policymakers could encourage the growth of housing by reexamining the role and purpose of the LUC.
The Grassroot report focused heavily on ways to reduce the scope of the LUC, leaving it free to focus on statewide environmental issues and district boundary amendments of conservation lands. But it also promoted the idea of making the LUC more efficient in general.
We do have one concern about an amendment to this bill. The removal of the bill’s original time limits on LUC actions might be responsive to the objections of the LUC, but it frustrates the intent of this bill to streamline LUC decision-making.
The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii suggests the inclusion of a compromise time limit, such as 150 days for a hearing and 250 days for a decision. This is still a reduction of the current limits, but would give the LUC more time to make its determinations. Given the LUC’s previous testament that most projects were heard within the required 180 days and that the LUC is able to issue extensions as needed for larger projects, this should be a reasonable middle ground.
Further reform should look at ways to continue refocusing the LUC to better achieve its original purpose. But in the short term, this bill would help reduce the wait for housing developments that require LUC approval.
For anyone who wants to see more homes built, enactment of this bill would be an important and very welcome step forward. We urge the committee to pass this bill.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii