Forum Journal & Forum Focus

State: Hawaii's Commitment to Preservation 

03-11-2019 15:22

It is clear from the number of bills and resolutions relating to historic preservation that were introduced during the 1991 session of the Hawaii State Legislature that there is high interest in the subject. Sixty-five bills proposing changes to the historic preservation statutes or proposing the expenditure of state moneys for certain historic properties were introduced, fifty-three resolutions relating to historic preservation were proposed.

Of the sixty-five bills introduced, four were enacted; of the fifty-three resolutions proposed, nine were adopted. (Although not enacted during this session of the legislature, bills “carried over” may still be considered by the 1992 legislature. Article III, Section 15, of the Hawaii Constitution provides that any bill pending at the final adjournment of a regular session in an odd-numbered year “carries over” with the same status to the next regular session. Resolutions, unlike bills, do not carry over to the next session.)

Of the four bills that passed, the first provided for changes in the statute relating to the state historic preservation program; the second appropriated $449,500 over the next two fiscal years for the state capital tour-and-in- formation program; the third appropriated $100,000 in each of the next two fiscal years to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for the repatriation of native Hawaiian human remains; and the fourth authorized the Department of Land and Natural Resources to establish and manage a regional state parks interpretive program.

Perhaps the most interesting provision to pass this session was included in the first bill, now Act 108. This amendment to the statutes allows the state historic preservation program to develop interpretive programs for sites that are eligible for listing in the Hawaii Register of Historic Places but not yet listed. This allows the state greater discretion in determining which properties gain interpretive programs. By relaxing the provisions relating to interpretive programs, the legislature intended to save the paperwork and staff time necessary to pursue registration of these sites on the Hawaii register while ensuring the development of valuable interpretive programs. An unintentional effect of the bill may well have been to increase the pressure on the historic preservation program and its staff to implement interpretive programs for sites that are deemed to be endangered by development interests but for which official protection as historic sites does not exist. As a result of this new provision the state may find itself caught between developers and preservationists in litigation over land uses.

The relatively low percentage of bills passed and resolutions adopted during this legislative session reflects both the state’s tight budget situation and the factionalism of supporters. Supporters of historic preservation in Hawaii have tended to focus their zeal on a particular site or building, on a particular landscape, or on a particular amendment to the statutes relating to the historic preservation program. While different issues will attract different constituencies, this diversity of interests has meant little progress on more than one front at a time. Assuming that their goals are not mutually exclusive, local advocates of historic preservation would be well advised to establish their priorities and focus their efforts.

In the Summer 1990 issue of Preservation Forum Lisa Purdy, a developer of historic inner-city properties in Denver, offered what she calls “Purdy’s Points for Pushing Preservation Programs.” Her eleven points provide an insightful guide to all those interested in effective lobbying. Lobbyists in Hawaii, though, in addition to practicing “Purdy’s Points,” need to be aware of certain features peculiar to local politics. Foremost among these peculiarities is the local relationship between land and power.

The legislative history of land-use control— including the establishment of the Land Use Commission in 1963 and the enactment of the Hawaii State Planning Act in 1978—can be traced in the statutes. (A history of land’s connection to political power in Hawaii and of the key political, labor, and business figures involved in its development is chronicled in Land and Power in Hawaii by George Cooper and Gavan Daws, published in 1985 by Benchmark Books, Inc., Honolulu.)

Indeed, another local peculiarity it would behoove preservation advocates to note is the number of political leaders and bureaucrats who have been in place since statehood was granted in 1959. Because Hawaii is a young state, institutional memories are prevalent and persistent. Most of these functionaries are conversant on the issues: how they began, who has been involved, what their connections are, and where the votes can be found. The best advice in this situation is to know what you’re talking about and who you’re talking to.

Surprisingly, the media are a negligible force in local politics. They have played no great role in revealing potential or actual abuses of political power nor have they editorialized strongly against the concentration of power in land-use development. For instance, the editorial review of Land and Power in Hawaii in The Honolulu Star-Bulletin on November 16,1985, characterized the purported land development profiteering by elected officials as “disturbing” but went on to say, “[I]t seems unlikely that local or state government could have or should have prevented the spectacular growth of the last twenty-five years.” Rather than taking on the task themselves, the editors suggested that “the authors may have prodded voters into demanding higher standards of conduct among government officials.” The Honolulu Advertiser’s politics editor and government bureau chief also reviewed the book on November 17,1985, and concluded, “In other words, so what? It’s fascinating to learn just how deeply the politicians and moneymen have been involved with each other. But given human nature and the thrust of Hawaiian history, how else could it have been?” Like The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, The Honolulu Advertiser lay the burden of action on the electorate: “In 1986, Hawaii’s voters will get their say. The entire power structure revealed in this book will be on the electoral chopping block.” In fact, there was no wholesale “throw the rascals out” reaction at the polls. In Hawaii, as elsewhere, a “better-the-devil-you- know” attitude prevails.

Legislators also like to deal with people they know. Successful lobbyists get to know lawmakers (and let them see their commitment to a project) by frequently visiting legislative offices both during legislative sessions and between sessions and by attending political fund-raising events. These social encounters serve a variety of purposes: Lobbyists not only “show face” to the legislator and the legislator’s staff, but also meet others with whom they may build alliances in the pursuit of common (or at least noncompeting) goals.

Lastly, with regard to the actual day-to-day lobbying of the Hawaii State Legislature, it is important to remember that this legislature rarely acts on any new proposal during the first session at which it is introduced. It takes time to accustom legislators to change, and it takes time for them to find out who supports the proposal, who opposes it, and why. The “patience, persistence, and perspective” to which Purdy refers apply most particularly in Hawaii.

Publication date: September/October 1991


Author(s):Christina Uebelein

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