by Andrew Walden
With federal agents preparing to unveil bribery indictments against five Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) employees and a local architect, the employees' onetime boss, the former acting director of DPP, quietly quit his plum position as Chair of the Honolulu Planning Commission.
Arthur D. Challacombe’s term was to expire June 30, 2022. He had been elected Planning Commission Chair at its January 6, 2021 meeting, but suddenly resigned prior to the February 17, 2021 Commission meeting. There was no public announcement. Minutes of the February 17 meeting note Challacombe’s absence only as “9th commissioner [vacant]”. Laborers Union lobbyist Brian Lee was then elected chair.
Federal authorities, March 30, 2021, unsealed indictments charging six suspects in a DPP bribery scheme going back as far as 2012. Challacombe had been Deputy Director of the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting from 2013-2016, and then Acting Director in 2016-17.
The indictments should have come as no surprise to DPP insiders since the investigation had been revealed in open Federal Court records showing DPP employees’ court-appointed lawyer requests dating back to June, 2020.
A May 18, 2021, message informs the Honolulu Council that Mayor Blangiardi is appointing Mr. Pane Meatoga III to the Planning Commission. Council Resolution 21-126 seeks council approval of the nomination. Meatoga is “Community Liaison representing of the Hawaii Operating Engineers Industry Stabilization Fund” and has testified before the Council in favor of numerous development projects. As a member of the Koolauloa Neighborhood Board and the Laie Community Association, he backed installation of the controversial Kahuku wind turbines.
Meatoga’s father, Pane Meatoga Jr, is District Representative for Operating Engineers Local 3 and a Hanabusa endorser in the recent Mayoral elections.
The appointment is on the June 17, 2021 Zoning Committee agenda and is already drawing opposition from the Kahuku community. Christopher Goody writes:
I am opposed to Resolution 21-126: the nomination of Pane Meatoga to the Planning Commission, due to his apparent association with development entities including but not limited to Envision Laie. the Polynesian Cultural Center, and the new large wind farm development in Kahuku, These connections represent clear special interests that, if nothing else, could at least have the impression of effecting his judgement while serving on the Commission, These ties could be seen as a potential conflict of interest, and would in turn give the appearance of special consideration to such development entities over the greater public interest of all Koolauloa residents.
Unlike city elected officials, candidates, cabinet members and department heads, financial disclosures for members of City Boards and Commissions are confidential.
If confirmed, Meatoga will be one of three Building Trades union representatives on the Planning Commission. Currently there are two vacancies. The seven current Honolulu Planning Commissioners include:
Brian Lee Chair Term Exp. 6-30-24 – Lobbyist for ‘Hawaii Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust’
Ken K. Hayashida Vice Chair Term Exp. 6-30-24 – “President and founder of KAI Hawaii (structural and forensic engineers)”
Steven S. L. Lim Commissioner Term Exp 6-30-22 – Lawyer, Carlsmith Ball: “Mr. Lim concentrates in advising clients on real property due diligence reviews, land use entitlements and administrative issues, including litigation of land use and real property disputes…. Steven Lim is a revered real estate attorney who is skilled at handling contentious and regulatory matters concerning land use and zoning. His experience includes complex redevelopment projects.”
Arthur B. Tolentino Commissioner Term Exp 6-30-23 – Hawaii Sheet Metal Workers Business Manager/Financial Secretary-Treasurer
Gifford K. F. Chang Commissioner Term Exp. 6-30-21 – Realtor, Ideal Properties, Inc.
Aki Marceau Commissioner Term Exp. 6-30-21 -– “Director - Electrification of Transportation at Hawaiian Electric”
Ryan Kamo Commissioner Term Exp. 6-30-22 – Employee of “Design Partners Incorporated” which, on its website, explains: “The strength of the firm lies in its ability to cover the entire design process, from planning and design to construction administration.”
Res 21-126: Text, Status
Feb 7, 2020: Free Golf, Methamphetamines, and Building Permits
Mar 30, 2021: Feds Bust Six in DPP Bribery Scheme