Rooted in Reason: Nurturing the Seeds of Liberty

Hawaii National Heritage Area: Hidden Costs, Less Transparency by grassroothawaii
August 25, 2010, 3:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

By David Jaress

Recent legislation submitted to the United States Congress aims to turn large sections of downtown Honolulu into a National Heritage Area that will not only decrease transparency in land use regulations, but also pose tens of thousands of dollars in potential costs to Hawaii taxpayers. Should the bill be passed, an area reaching from Punahou Street to Kalihi would become permanently designated as a National Heritage Area administered by the federal National Park Service and eligible for federal financial support. Proponents of the bill, namely the Hawaii Capital Cultural Commission, claim that such additional federal regulation would both protect important areas like ‘Iolani Palace and simultaneously bring in federal funding to fund cultural studies and the arts.

While the National Heritage program has good intentions, however, its implementation in Hawaii raises serious concerns regarding individual property rights, government transparency, and the possibility of large hidden costs. Although the federal program is intended to be a community-based effort to protect areas recognized by the local population as culturally important, many residents in the affected region had no idea about the city’s plans until a proposal had already been submitted to Congress. Residents and businesses across areas which include Kalihi, Nuuanu, Chinatown, and even Hawaiian homestead lands in Papakolea have spoken out after being surprised by the bill’s existence. A recent hearing for the House Hawaiian Affairs Committee saw many of the very Native Hawaiian groups the legislation would supposedly help speak out against the measures, lamenting their complete lack of inclusion or consultation by the HCCC.

Furthermore, while the Heritage Program itself falls under the administration of the National Park Service, direct control and administration of the area is typically undertaken by local non-profit interests. In Honolulu’s case, the area would be administered by the Hawaii Capital Cultural Commission, the same collection of private interests that is backing the bill. Essentially, this private organization would have a large say in how land in the downtown area can be used and developed by individual residents and businesses. Unlike government offices, this non-profit body would be able to make its decisions behind closed doors and would not be required to account to taxpayers for its spending or resources. Although the National Park Service should theoretically be auditing the administration of the land, a recent report by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that the service rarely investigated spending habits under the program, and determined that “the park service lacks an effective process for ensuring that national heritage areas are accountable for their use of federal funds.”

To make matters worse, the federal funds promised by the HCCC are hardly the pot of gold they appear to be. In fact, these federal funds are intended for the administration and maintenance of the designated area and typically count for only a portion of the costs of the program. As of 2002, less than half of the spending on National Heritage Areas nationwide came from the federal government; the rest primarily fell on the shoulders of state and municipal governments, meaning highers costs to local taxpayers. No one will deny that Hawaii’s culture and arts play a crucial role in our state’s identity, but such non-inclusive plans which hand downtown Oahu’s development over to a small group of private interests can hardly be called either transparent or good policy.


1 Comment so far
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All this begs the question: if the HCCC is so concerned about “important areas like Iolani Palace” why don’t they seek special designation for individual buildings, land parcels, etc – Why this big swath of control? I think I just answered my own question.

Comment by giliar

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