Welcome Tyler Gomes! Tyler is serving as a summer legal Fellow at KAHEA through the Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the UH Richardson School of Law. He has been working at KAHEA’s Environmental Justice Program, assisting Staff Attorney Marti Townsend with a petition by the Concerned Elders of Waianae to intervene at the state’s Land Use Commission.
Last week, Tyler was witness to an amazing victory–the LUC unanimously granted the Elders petition!
This intervention will allow them them to formally bring evidence and testimony about why they oppose changing the zoning of a large parcel of agricultural and preservation land to allow industrial land use. This zoning change would allow the construction of a large industrial park next to small farms and homes in the back of Lualualei Valley on O’ahu’s west side, and pave the way for a proposed new landfill. (The developers are also seeking this zoning change through the Sustainability Plan process, which we’ve written about here.) This community is a population center for one of the largest communities of Native Hawaiians in the islands.
Over 400 of you have already signed the petition in support of farms, not dumps for the Waianae Coast! Mahalo! To add your name, click here: http://tiny.cc/purplespotpetition
From Tyler, in his own words:
On July 1, the Land Use Commission held a preliminary hearing on whether the Concerned Elders of Waianae can intervene on Tropic Land’s proposal to reclassify farmland to urban and build an industrial park at the back of Lualualei Valley. The Concerned Elders are an all-volunteer group of mostly aunties who want to protect the Waianae they love.
Before I give you the scoops on the day-long process, some back story:
In the process to change a boundary classification (whether a piece of land can used for a farm, a house, or a shopping mall), the LUC gives a chance for people other than the property owner, the state office of planning, and the city department of planning to also be parties to the decision-making process. As parties, you get to put on evidence, question the other parties’ witnesses, and make detailed written suggestions to the LUC every step of the way. It is a lot of work and it is not easy to get. But, the Concerned Elders wanted to be at that table.
So our sole obstacle was: prove that the Elders have a reason to be at the table.
But…sometimes…things don’t happen as planned. Sometimes somebody might miscount a day and miss the filing deadline. That’s exactly what happened. I know. It was heartbreaking for all of us. We were told — on multiple occassions, by multiple people — these LUC rules are complicated and hard to follow and totally unforgiving. That was where our second obstacle came in: how do we address the fact that we filed late?
Thanks to some creative legal research I found a “Motion to Waive Commission Rule.” It had gotten a pardon for other mistakes made before other commissions in other jurisdictions, maybe it would work here, too. So, we immediately filed a follow up motion to support our petition… and waited for Tropic Land’s response. Nothing came. Did they waive their objection to our request to intervene? Highly unlikely. We called the LUC. No, they did file an objection, but they just sent our copy to the completely wrong address — someplace in Oregon. Here was our chance! Surely the LUC would forgive our one-day late filing, when a fancy, well-experienced law firm could make a similarly human mistake. We were back in the game; admittedly, with only one day before the hearing to file our reply to their opposition. In 24 hours, we wrote a brief to answered every one of their objections to our intervention, got declarations from members signed, made 20 copies of everything, collated it (on the floor) and served it — properly — on all parties.
So the LUC hearing addressed two things: 1) Should the LUC give us an extra day and excuse the late filing? and 2) Should the LUC give the Elders their seat at the table?
Here’s the play by play:
8:20 AM- Marti and I trek to the office from our parking gravel pit (four blocks away)…IN THE RAIN.
8:30 AM- We get in and begin prepping whatever documents she may need to reference, getting everything in order, whilst drying off.
9:00 AM- We get to the LUC and students from the Kamakani Kaiaulu O Wai‘anae are all there prepared with signs and speeches. They’re excited. It seems to be the general mood of the morning. Kind of like static electricity, but the good kind.
9:15 AM- The room is already filled, and we’re second on the docket. So there’s a crowd outside. The LUC staff is adamant that the public testimony needs to be about why the Elders should be given their seat, NOT why an industrial park should be built in Wai’anae (though there are so many reasons).
9:30 AM- The first item is up on the docket. Some of the kids sit inside to listen with Aunty Alice and Ms. Nordlum. The first item is a status update, so this should end quickly. Marti, Aunty Walterbea, Shelley, Miwa, Kanoe, Ms. Stack, and myself sit outside on the floor and prepare.
10:00 AM- Still waiting. The excitement is wearing off.
10:30 AM- Quick?
11:00 AM- The LUC takes a break and lets us know to come back at 1:30 PM for our hearing. The kids are a bit restless because they’ve been sitting for almost two hours, and now we need to make arrangements because they weren’t anticipating staying in town for so long. The kids’ testimony also needs to be edited. There is concern that the LUC may be a bit touchy after the long morning, and having multiple kids each read a piece of the testimony may not over well. They decide that they’ll all stand, but one student will read the testimony. The kids go on a downtown field trip for lunch. Marti, Shelley, and I head to the office to regroup and rethink. Many of our Elders have to leave because of the unexpected plans.
1:30 PM- Back at the LUC. We’ve had lunch and talked it through. We’ve got answers for every question they could throw at us. Exhibits. Caselaw. The Wai‘anae Sustainable Communities Plan. The EIS — tabbed ad infinitum. We were set. Some might think us “rag-tag,” but even rag-tag can never be too prepared.
1:35 PM- The head of the LUC reminds us that our public testimony should not speak to the merits of an industrial park; just why the Elders should get their seat at the table. It seems to be a point of concern for the LUC.
1:40 PM- At this point, the excitement got so high, I don’t really have any concept of time.
They begin. The Kamakani kids give a great testimony about why the kupuna should be admitted. Heartfelt. Tearjerking for some. Legit.
Then Aunty Walterbea offers her testimony. It spoke to the point and was so real. Marti asked Aunty Walterbea some clarifying questions in order to strengthen the arguments.
The LUC asks for any more witnesses. No others?
Wait! One of the Kamakani kids, Kimi Korenaga, volunteered to give her own testimony, much to everyone’s surprise. She spoke about how the kupuna have offered her such a unique point of view in life, it would be unwise to dismiss the kind of knowledge and insight they have in the proceedings. She brought the hammer down on the nail’s head.
The LUC then asks Marti for her argument about our shot-in-the-dark “Motion to Waive Commission Rule.” Marti takes full blame for miscounting the days. True leadership. While anyone could’ve caught the mistake, Marti explains to the Commission that she miscounted. She then cites a Supreme Court case that procedural rules are not there as a “game of skill” to boot out players on a small slip-up, but rather ensure a “proper decision on the merits.” Marti continues on about how we fixed the issue immediately in less than 24 hours and we have proven that we are committed to a fair process.
Commissioner Devens clarifies: it was just miscounting, and it was rectified immediately. Marti also reminds the Commission that anyone can make this mistake, and that even Tropic Lands can sympathize with the inability to serve papers on time.
Tropic Lands objects without comment. Department of Permitting and Planning does not object. The Office of Planning does not object. The LUC throws the motion on the table, it’s seconded. The Comission takes a roll call vote……
8-0! Unanimous. They’ve waived their deadline rule, and without hesitation grant us the extra day…which means we aren’t technically late anymore!
Now onto the meatier of the two issues. Should the Elders be admitted? (Obviously! But does the Commission think so?)
Again, Marti gives our statement. Emphasizing the unique interests of the Elders. Explaining why the Elders will be affected by the outcome of this decision, and therefore they should participate in this decision-making process. Commissioner Devens again asks for clarification regarding the Elders’ group itself. Marti explains about the history of the Elders. He’s satisfied.
Tropic Lands, unsurprisingly, objects with no comments. The DPP does not object. The OP conditionally supports our petition. The Commission throws down a motion to grant our petition.
Whoa. Wait. Where’s the questions? And the interrogations? We have citations! And papers. Lots of papers! And answers! We have tons of answers! But that seems to be it. The staff prepares to take the roll call.
But wait, the OP has one more question. The petition to intervene says that Marti is currently the attorney for the Elders. Will there be someone else? Marti, very humbly, tells the Commission that we’re actively looking for a more experienced attorney who “knows what they’re doing” because this is the closest she’s come to this type of work before the Commission. She asks the LUC for any suggestions. They laugh (this disproves my theory that Commissioners are robots.) Marti explains, though, that until they find someone, she has vowed to stand by the Elders until the end. Very chivalrous. The Deputy Attorney General tells Marti that she’s doing a great job, because, duh, she is!
At this point Marti, Shelley, and I have this odd moment of clarity. You know that feeling where you realized you’ve prepared yourself so much more than you ever needed to? That’s the feeling we got.
They take the roll call vote in support…
1 yes. 2 yes’. 3…4…5…6…7…and…8! YAHTZEE!!! Again unanimous. There seems to be a common air of disbelief at how simple it all was. Tears are shed. Many tears are shed. Two wins in a row provides great momentum for the hearings to come!
We regroup in the lobby and discuss how great it went. There are some fantastical dance moves thrown around. Some wildly giddy laughs. A plethora of smiles. Hugs and kisses. More dancing, just me though. Marti thanks the kids for coming out and representing their communities. They perform Oli Mahalo to the Elders that were able to stay, and Aunty Walterbea responds with Oli Aloha. It all seems so….balanced. Pono, if you will.