REPORT FROM THE SIERRA CLUB, HAWAII CHAPTER — Today, the Sierra Club deferred endorsing a candidate in the Honolulu City & County mayoral race. The three candidates -Ben Cayetano, Peter Carlisle, and Kirk Caldwell- are in a fierce race that could have a significant impact on the future of land development on O‘ahu.
As the largest grassroots environmental organization in the state, the Sierra Club’s endorsement has been touted by many as a potential election game-changer, especially in the context of the increasingly heated debate on rail.
“Unfortunately we believe none of the candidates has yet put all the pieces together,” said Anthony Aalto, Chair of the Sierra Club, Oahu Group. “Honolulu needs a mayor who is both committed to keeping the country, country and who understands the urgency of developing the modern infrastructure needed to ensure most new growth will occur in Honolulu’s traditional urban core.”
Keeping the Country, Country
“O‘ahu must protect the prime farmland that grows the food that we eat,” Aalto said. “Experts have warned that there are only 3150 acres currently available on this island with access to potable water suitable for growing fruit and vegetables. Yet the Land Use Commission has given the green light to suburban sprawl on 2300 of those acres at Koa Ridge and Ho‘opili – which between them could add 20,000 to 30,000 cars to our congested freeways. We need a mayor who will halt that sprawl and moderate growth in unspoiled places like La‘ie,” said Aalto.
“Ben Cayetano’s strong opposition to the Ho‘opili and Koa Ridge suburban sprawl projects deserves a round of applause,” said Aalto. “Few politicians are willing to say ‘not here’ to the development industry. Cayetano sees the common-sense need to protect the shrinking number of places that grow the food we eat.”
Since statehood, sprawl has consumed more than half our prime ag land – not including the monster Ho‘opili and Koa Ridge schemes. Experts draw a direct line between the lack of affordable farmland and O‘ahu’s lack of food security. We currently import some 92% of the food we consume.
Developing a Modern Mass Transit System
To stop suburban sprawl on a long-term basis, the Sierra Club believes we need to create more housing in the City. “That’s why Honolulu also needs a modern mass-transit system and infrastructure improvements to facilitate future growth in the urban core,” continued Aalto. “We applaud Kirk Caldwell and Peter Carlisle’s support of rail. With anywhere between a quarter and a half million new residents expected on O‘ahu before the end of the century, the only way to prevent suburbs sprawling across the entire island is to confine new development in compact urban villages in the already developed leeward corridor. But if we are to pack that many people on the leeward coast, they have to have an efficient way to move around – otherwise the demand for suburban sprawl will continue unabated on other areas of the island. We have to encourage people to get out of their cars. The Sierra Club believes a modern mass transit system will benefit our environment and our quality of life.”
“If we don’t start redeveloping our urban core, market pressures will ensure we have the same problems that impact us now: more ‘dumb’ development, increased infrastructure costs, more traffic, more carbon emissions, and higher homelessness,” said Aalto.
“We can’t just say ‘No’ to growth. It won’t work. People are going to continue to move here and people are going to continue to have babies.”
“A modern mass transit system offers the opportunity to revitalize parts of Honolulu into exciting, walkable mixed-use communities,” said Aalto. “So far the Sierra Club has not seen a viable alternative to the current rail project. Bus Rapid Transit would require dedicated lanes and dozens of buses to replicate the capacity of the train – that would only worsen traffic congestion in town. Such a system would eventualy require a double-decker highway system, which would likely entail even greater visual, air pollution, noise, and cost impacts than the current rail project.”
“Most residents of Hawai’i believe in keeping the country, country,” said Robert Harris, Director of the Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter. “Most people also support revitalization of our urban core through modern infrastructure development. We need a mayor who can tie the two together. The Sierra Club would be proud to support a candidate who commits to a vision of protecting the country through smart planning and compact urban growth,” said Harris. “But we need concrete plans and specifics. Rhetoric is not enough.”
Hawai`i Chapter of the Sierra Club: Founded in 1968, the Hawai`i Chapter of the Sierra Club is the state’s largest and most active grassroots environmental organization. The Club actively promotes reducing the impacts of global climate change by encouraging the development of clean renewable energy, reducing the use of fossil fuels, and ensuring our fragile native habitat is protected from harm. www.sierraclubhawaii.org