by Andrew Walden
The private sector sometimes corrupts the public sector. But what if the public sector corrupts the private sector?
DTL, which describes itself as “a Hawaiian Strategy Studio,” in 2017 received $99,885 from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ (DLNR) Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) for outreach services on the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor redevelopment. These redevelopment plans were then written up in the form of “Modernizing Ocean Recreation Management in Hawai’i Strategic Action Plan – 2019” and DOBOR’s April, 2019 RFP for “Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor Redevelopment”.
Boat owners are already protesting the doubling of mooring fees prescribed by DTL’s plan.
Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Mililani Mauka) is DTL’s vice president for communications and a 10 percent owner. Kirra Downing, daughter of former Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) member Keone Downing, joined DTL’s payroll in September 2015 and serves as communications director.
But DTL’s profit interest goes far beyond $99,885 from DOBOR. It is more likely that they underpriced their services to ensure getting the contract because of the big-picture deals surrounding Ala Wai redevelopment.
The missing piece of the puzzle is DTL’s close relationship with the State of Hawaii Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). DTL is one of four partners steering development of a plan for OHA’s Kakaako Makai properties. DTL is also currently writing OHA’s ‘Strategic Plan.’
According to its webpage, DOBOR’s mission is “to preserve Hawai`i’s natural and cultural resources while ensuring public access to State waters and enhancing the ocean experience.”
OHA, in contrast, has no interest in boating. OHA stands to potentially receive a 20% cut of revenues generated from development of so-called ‘ceded lands’. All of Hawaii’s ‘submerged lands’ – including formerly submerged lands such as the Ala Wai harbor—are ceded lands.
In addition to doubling mooring fees, the plan steered by DTL’s “outreach services” aims to open up 11 acres of prime Ala Wai real estate to development which will dramatically boost DOBOR’s annual contribution to OHA’s ceded lands revenues ($2M in 2018) and in theory boost OHA’s appeal the the legislature to increase its annual share of those revenues – now capped at $15M per year.
The Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled that OHA’s share of ceded lands revenue is a political question. OHA blew an opportunity to boost the cap on ceded lands revenues from $15M to $35M by lying to the 2019 legislature about the status of an audit of its LLCs. But that hasn’t stopped them from grasping for money at every turn. For instance, OHA’s anti-telescope protesters are demanding $50M annual rent for ‘sacred’ Maunakea.
DOBOR’s mission might be enhanced by a much less profitable fuel dock and boatyard—or by renovation of the restrooms and the dozens of collapsed docks littering the marina.
OHA’s revenue enhancers?
Visualize a ferris wheel, soaring leasehold condos, luxury ocean view townhomes all generating land-lease revenues.
Smelling money, developers began lining up five months before the RFP was released. The Star-Advertiser, November 17, 2018, reported: “Twenty-seven interested parties, including one that is exploring building a Ferris wheel and a movie theater that offers a virtual reality flyover Hawaii ride, have approached the state about redeveloping the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor.
“The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) intends to seek proposals for redevelopment of an 11-acre area. The agency is authorized to offer a lease arrangement that could extend up to 65 years.”
DTL, by snagging the DOBOR contract, has paved the way for OHA’s plan, while doing nothing for boaters—except doubling their fees.