LIHU‘E — For a few hours Monday afternoon, the entire state connected through simultaneous events linked by one moving force: Repeal Act 55. Community members on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu and Big Island got together from 2 to 4 p.m., and on Maui from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., to protest against the controversial act.
“We gotta bring the aloha back,” Keoni Kealoha told a crowd of approximately 100 people, most wearing red shirts, who came to the lawn fronting the Historic County Building in Lihu‘e Historic District on a show of support for a statewide rally to repeal Act 55.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed Act 55 on May 20, 2011, following the state Legislature’s approval of Senate Bill 1555. Act 55 created the Public Land Development Corporation and gave its five board members broad powers to allow commercial development on public lands — including 1.8 million acres of ceded lands — while circumventing county zoning laws.
Kealoha was the emcee at the Kaua‘i event, which attracted a string of community leaders who spoke against Act 55.
“Is it in the best interest of our community to give away our power?” said Kealoha, explaining that Act 55 takes the power of controlling public lands away from the community and rests it in the hands of five appointed board members.
“This five-men board has been given so much power, it’s totally insane,” said Rich Hoeppner, who was one of the community leaders who was instrumental in building opposition to the now-defunct Superferry a few years ago.
Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i said PLDC’s action would bring irreparable harm to Hawai‘i’s “extremely limited resources.” He recently crafted a resolution — unanimously approved by the council — urging Abercrombie and the Legislature to repeal Act 55. Big Island’s County Council has also approved a similar resolution, and Maui is halfway through approving a comparable measure.
Felicia Cowden, who was instrumental in putting the event together, brought Hawaiian activist and Moloka‘i native Walter Ritte to Kaua‘i.
Ritte has decades of successful activism for Hawaiian rights, including pushing for a moratorium on research for GMO kalo and being part of a select group of Moloka‘i natives who pressured the Navy in the 1990s to stop bombing Kaho‘olawe.
From the get-go, Ritte praised Kaua‘i for being famous across the state as a people who fight for their ideals. When Abercrombie visited the island two weeks ago, the people of Kaua‘i told him “Hi, Mr. Governor. Bye, Mr. Governor,” Ritte said.
Everything the government could have done wrong, they did with Act 55, said Ritte, asking the people not to fall for a trap to change PLDC rules. No input has been taken from the community in crafting the law, and this is the people’s opportunity to kick back at the government, he said.
“Stick for this issue, fight for this issue: Repeal Act 55,” said Ritte, causing a loud ovation from the crowd.
Each speaker, one by one, asked for a repeal.
Former state Sen. Gary Hooser, who was appointed by Abercrombie to head the state Office of Environmental Quality Control, said “repeal the bill, start over.”
Hooser said he believes the intent of the bill was to make good things happen, but this is not about the intent, it’s about the law.
Hoeppner asked the people to start a public fund to take the case to Hawai‘i Supreme Court.
Bill Georgi, running to represent Kaua‘i as a state Senator under the Republican ticket, said he wasn’t questioning the intent of Act 55, but questioned its consequences.
“If I wanted to write a bill to defraud the state of Hawai‘i, I’m not sure I could write a better bill than this one,” said Georgi, adding that the community should start talking neighbor islands legislators to begin building a majority needed at the Legislature to repeal Act 55.
Councilman Mel Rapozo said he initially wanted to craft a resolution asking the Legislature to amend the act. But after talking with Abercrombie at a community meeting on Kaua‘i on Sept. 19, he said he realized the governor wasn’t interested in hearing from the people. It was then that he threw out his resolution and supported Kuali‘i’s resolution asking for a straight ban.
The Local 5 workers union endorsed Abercrombie on his 2010 successful gubernatorial bid. Angela Prigge, from Local 5, said unions usually support development, but on this instance they are against PLDC.
“Our lands are for our future generations,” Prigge said.
James Alalem said Abercrombie lied to the people, and called for the governor’s impeachment. A similar call had already been made at a public PLDC meeting Aug. 31.
Jerry DiPietro talked about past mistakes, but asked to move forward starting Monday.
“There is nothing more powerful than aloha,” she said.
The event began with music from John Cruz and Sean Carillo. Kaimi Hermosura began to wrap up with afternoon talking about the simple rule of malama ‘aina, taking care of the land, that Hawaiians live by.
“I believe this thing is going to get squashed,” he said of Act 55, before strumming his six-string ‘ukulele and leading the crowd to the tunes of Hawai‘i Aloha, with everyone holding hands and forming a giant circle on the lawn of the Lihu‘e Historic District.
A pule, prayer in Hawaiian language, sealed the event.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.