Sustainability bill faces opposition


A group of Puna residents is intensifying its battle against a bill that would authorize Hawaii and Maui counties to issue so-called “sustainable living research permits” that would skirt building and zoning codes on parcels from 1 to 15 acres.

Senate Bill 2274, sponsored by Sen. Russell Ruderman, a Puna Democrat, would promote sustainable living through renewable fuel and energy generation, provision of water, sewage treatment, organic food production and shared living situations, according to a House Water and Land Committee report on the bill.

It cleared the House on March 13 with two voting no and nine voting yes with reservations out of the 51-member body. It now goes to the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection.

Sheryle “Sativa” Sultan, a Seaview Estates resident, and eight other residents filed an ethics complaint March 10 against Ruderman, saying the bill was written by Graham Ellis, president of the Hawaii Sustainable Community Alliance and a Puna developer, who is featured in a Ruderman campaign brochure.

A voice message left on Ellis’ phone Friday afternoon was not replied to by press time.

“It appears to us that Sen. Ruderman used his position as a senator to ‘secure unwarranted privileges and exemptions for others’ by introducing special interest legislation, authored by the special interest group who could financially gain from its passage,” Sultan said, quoting from the Fair Treatment provision of the state ethics code.

Sultan said Friday the group has amended its complaint to include a 35-minute recorded phone conversation with Ruderman, who she said tried to threaten her.

Ruderman has characterized the complaint as baseless and said the complainants don’t understand the legislative process. He said a preliminary review by the Ethics Commission found no basis for the complaint. Ruderman could not be reached Friday afternoon for a response.

“In this case, rather than participating in the legislative process to improve the bill or oppose it through testimony, a small but vocal minority chose to file a complaint to the Ethics Commission in an effort to intimidate me into pulling the bill,” Ruderman said in a March 15 letter to the editor. “I choose not to respond to such intimidation because I am doing my job honestly and fairly. “

Ethics Commission Executive Director Les Kondo said Friday that the complaint is still an open file. He said, however, that changes to the ethics code several years ago give legislators broad latitude under the Fair Treatment provisions, provided they are performing official duties. He said filing a bill would definitely fall into that category.In this case, rather than participating in the legislative process to improve the bill or oppose it through testimony, a small but vocal minority chose to file a complaint to the Ethics Commission in an effort to intimidate me into pulling the bill. I choose not to respond to such intimidation because I am doing my job honestly and fairly.

Proponents say the research sites would provide data for the implementation of the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan, reduce waste going to the landfill, promote the development of think tanks focusing on sustainable research and development, reduce dependence on imported food and increase employment in small business sustainable enterprises, among other pluses.

Opponents include Sultan and other neighbors of such proposed sites who worry about noise, unsanitary conditions, a deterioration of the neighborhoods and lower property values. Two state agencies also oppose the plan.

Sultan fears the bill would allow for geothermal exploration under its energy generation language.

But Ruderman said the bill would still require a special use permit for activities it covers, so the public would still have a chance to comment before the planning commissions. Typical users of the special use permit would be communes, farmworker housing and extended families, he said.

“It would create an avenue toward legality,” Ruderman said in an earlier interview. “There are a lot of properties on the island in legal limbo.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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