BY HONOLULU COUNCIL MEMBER TOM BERG – The main argument made by pro railers to continue support for this rail plan outside of claims for jobs or traffic relief, is that if you do not build the rail, future housing development will threaten and eventually plague the Windward, North Shore, or east Honolulu areas and all green space as we know it that is characterize as “open space,” will be jeopardized. The premise that keeping the country country is only possible if rail is built is a complete farce.
For fodder, developer DR Horton has petitioned the state Land Use Commission to reclassify some 1,550 acres of the most productive agricultural land in the state into urban development. If the rail is not built, DR Horton’s schemata to develop the acreage for housing is the same regardless of any rail transit oriented development scheme taking hold. The plans advanced by DR Horton with rail and without rail do not offer more or less open space as a result.
There is no acreage whatsoever in Ewa or anywhere else on the island of Oahu that can be quantified or identified as being preserved or protected from development if rail is built or not built.
The North Shore Sustainability Plan recently approved by the Honolulu City Council and other community sustainability plans being reviewed in concert with the Oahu General Plan define what remaining open spaces will get developed and what will not. What is called the Urban Growth Boundary defines what in the Windward, Central, east Oahu and the North Shore areas can be developed and if rail is not built, those boundaries do not get moved. Therefore, if rail is not built, nothing in those regional plans will change. If the second city of Kapolei does not get rail, there is not one iota of a proposal, illustration, rendering, or otherwise on the books that transfers housing development anywhere else on the island of Oahu as a result.
Yet, we have proponents for rail testifying that if rail is not built, needs for more housing will find its way on those pristine, protected areas and this is simply a scare tactic and the dissemination of misinformation.
Most disturbing, is that pro railers have deceived the public into thinking that rail saves farmland. Contrary to that, the fact is that if rail were not built, more farmland would be saved. To build the rail in reality is to destroy more available farmland. By the way, this is not just any farmland that DR Horton wants to develop for rail – known as Ho`opili, but the very land that yields four crops a year, something Hawaii Kai, North Shore, or Windward Oahu cannot lay claim to for their remaining farmlands. Why sacrifice the most important and productive farmland on the Ewa Plain for rail so that in theory, the least productive farmland in east Oahu and other areas outside of Kapolei remain unscathed?
Providing additional housing for Oahu has nothing to do about rail, but rather, we must conclude whether or not Oahu has reached its carrying capacity in totality.
If we fix the sewers and water mains and roads first before rail, and we build the schools needed now to meet the population demands already here, maybe then our elected officials will realize we cannot afford to sacrifice the most productive ag lands for a rail scheme that simply more buses can resolve. Adding more buses to address traffic congestion does not need more open space to thrive. In contrast, rail, if it is to succeed, needs to take every inch of open space left that we have on the Ewa Plain.
If rail is not built, the state Land Use Commission does not have any proposals on the books to trigger the development of remaining open spaces on the island. Thus, keeping the country country, or finding a spot to allow for more residential growth, should be based on the availability of water, landfills, roads, schools, food and energy independence and the like and not about destroying the best farmland we got to force rail on the landscape that simply does not belong, nor fits.
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