“…. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
― Aldo Leopold
MY name is Debbie Hecht. It has been the greatest honor of my life to work on this campaign since 2005. I have written most of the legislation since 2005, with Brenda Ford. I have been a Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Commissioner. I wrote a Process paper for the commission. Just recently, I submitted a Suggestion Form for acquisition for the Kaloko Trail in North Kona. I have helped other community groups with their applications to the Land Fund and the Maintenance Fund. I have experienced the 2% Land Fund program from all different ways. I hope we can have more trails acquired island wide. In August 2021, Kapainaia was acquired in North Kohala. Wai’ele in Puna, has just been aquired and I know there is an ancient trail there.
I have met so many intelligent, heartfelt people who deeply care about the places on Hawai’i island that make our island home one of the most beautiful places in the world. I learned that kuleana communities are built around Hawaii island’s treasured places. Building community is the greatest benefit that has grown out of the challenges of the 2% Land Fund. Out of the love of the land, there are non-profit community groups that are volunteering their time and using their own money to care for these special places. Out of this campaign for the last 16 years, people have forged great friendships that have resulted in great acquisitions to protect our treasured places.
Hawai’i County Acqusitions as of 6.30.2022- As of 9.1.2022 the county has aquired: Total of 19 properties that equal 8,408 acres – 3,964 acres in conservation easements and 4,714 acres in fee simple properties. There is $20,860,000 in the fund as of July 2022, but we were told that is to be used in purchases under negotiation. The Maintenance Fund contains $3,100,000.
The 2022 Report to the Mayor comes out in December of 2022. Here is the list of priorities for 2021, anything with 50% approval or more will make the Report to the Mayor and could possibly be acquired:
GRASS ROOTS ORGANIZING PROCESS with our wonderful volunteers to pass the 3 ballot measures:
- During the Petition Initiative process, the Save Our Lands Citizen Committee had over 100 people who collected signatures of more than 50 signatures in 2006.
- The Committee has a 2,200 personal email list, which we use to keep supporters informed, or if we need emails sent to elected officials, or to ask people to show up for public meetings or to lobby their County Council members. They represent a large portion of the voting public on the island. Historically, there have been approximately 100,000 voters registered for the County of Hawaii, usually about 33,000 of these registered voters actually vote. Our grassroots efforts asked supporters to forward our emails to friends and family. We learned a lot about grassroots organizing and petitions!
QUICK HISTORY OF THE LEGISLATION FROM 2005 through 2020:
- Where did the 2% amount come from? In 2004 and early 2005 the Trust for Public Lands (TPL) did a survey of Hawaii County residents to ask if they would like to see a 1% Land Fund or 2% Land Fund. A large majority of residents said they would want a 2% Land Fund because land is so expensive on the Big Island. Sammie Stanbro donated the money to TPL for this survey. Sammie was also a huge supporter with time and effort to talk to people, collect signatures and make and deliver signs. Her son, Josh Stanbro was the original driving sources along with attorney David Kimo Frankel.
- The Save Our Lands Citizen’s Committee Petition Initiative drive collected 9,600 signatures from April to July of 2006. We only needed 4,400. This was during Harry Kim’s first term. Mayor Kim was adamantly against setting aside 2% of property taxes for land acquisition, even though it was only 1.5% of the total income for the County. County Clerk Connie Kiriu and County Counsel Lincoln Ashida (both Kim appointees) disqualified almost 6,000 signatures for leaving off Pl, St. or Rd, or if husband and wife used ditto marks for their address when signing under each other or if the year was left off, (we collected signatures from May to July so it was only during 2005 which made the year implied and not including it was irrelevant).
- We needed 4,400 signatures, but because of the disqualifications we got less than 4,000. The County Council, under Chair Stacy Higa decided to place the ballot measure on the ballot for 2006 anyway. Stacy supported us; I remember him saying that if all those people cared enough to sign we should put it on the ballot.
- Despite the Corporation Counsel submitting confusing ballot language using double negatives, the amendment to the Code passed by 63% of voters who voted on the issue and become part of the Hawaii County Code.
- In 2008- Mayor Kenoi and the County Council suspended deposits to the Fund for two years as his very first piece of legislation after taking office because the legislation was part of the Hawaii County Code and could be changed by the Council. On a tip by a friendly council staffer, we learned there were more than 260 funded but unfilled jobs in the county budget totally around $14 million. Despite this source of possible funding, Mayor Kenoi failed to reinstate payments to the 2% Land Fund after cutting these budget entries
- In 2010, the Charter Commission put the Land Fund on the ballot again, but only as the 1% Land Fund. WE lobbied hard to get the 2% amount. Again the Land Fund passed by 63% of voters, who voted on the measure.
- In 2012, to honor all the people who signed the petitions at 2% and worked so hard over the years, Debbie Hecht and Brenda Ford realized we needed to put the 2% Land Fund back on the ballot as a Charter Amendment, together with a 1/4% Maintenance Fund. We wanted to make sure the Council and Mayor couldn’t stop funding deposits. A charter amendment can only be changed by a vote of the people. Again, 63% of voters approved both measures.
- THE PERPETUITY CLAUSE: As part of the 2% Land Fund legislation in 2012, every property obtained with the 2% Land Fund, which is taxpayer funds, shall have a covenant that runs with the land that states: “This property (or easement) was acquired with money from the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Fund. It shall be held in perpetuity for the use and enjoyment of the people of Hawai’i County and may not be sold, mortgaged, traded or transferred in any way.” This has already blocked a proposed land trade with the State of Hawaii for Hapuna Beach State Park.
- THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PERPETUITY CLAUSE:
- To make sure that 2% Land Fund monies and Maintenance Fund monies are used for the public benefit. They are public tax dollars.
- To protect matching funds by making sure that matching funds are spent as originally promised.
- The Maintenance Fund was clarified in the Hawaii County Code in 2016 to allow the PONC Commission to review Stewardship Grants and to recommend which grants to approve to the Director of Finance. This legislation was written by then Council member Karen Eoff.
- In November of 2020, citizens once again passed two charter amendment to approve the 2% Land Fund and the Maintenance Fund. The results are:
- Charter amendment to pay for Staff from the 2% Land Fund– This proposed charter amendment will allow the 2% Open Space Fund to pay a staff person to dedicate their time to the 2% LAND FUND PROGRAM. We are trusting that the county will not deplete the purchasing power of the 2% Land Fund by paying out more than 1 salary, wages or benefits. The intent is to have:
- more properties purchased,
- more matching funds obtained and
- more Maintenance Funds granted to the non-profits to care for lands purchased with 2% funds.
- Charter Amendment for the Maintenance Fund– This proposed charter amendment will allow the non-profits who care for lands obtained with 2% Land Fund money to increase their good works. The Stewardship Grant process will be improved by:
- Moving the administration of the Maintenance Fund to the Department of Finance from the Department of Parks and Recreation.
- Streamlining, and further defining and expediting the Stewardship Grant process.
- Giving the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Commission AND the Department of Finance Department oversight for Stewardship Grants.
- Allowing the non-profits to build, rent or lease toilet facilities, paths, trails and small structures for education purposes or the storage of equipment.
- Allowing the non-profit stewardship groups to pay workers for their duties caring for the land.
The 2021 Report to the Mayor comes out in December of 2021.
To see the 2020 Report to the Mayor by the Public Access and Open Space Commission (PONC), which lists this year’s top properties recommended for acquisition go to: http://records.hawaiicounty.gov/weblink/1/doc/110224/Page1.aspx
Another great gift of the 2% Land Fund is the capacity to apply for matching funds. The County frequently applies for an gets money for matching funds from State Legacy Lands and US Fish and Wildlife Service. So far, the County has received approximately 25% of the purchase price of the acquired properties.
MONIES IN THE FUND: As of 9.1.2022 the county has aquired: Total of 19 properties that equal 8,408 acres – 3,964 acres in conservation easements and 4,714 acres in fee simple properties. There is $20,860,000 in the fund as of July 2022, but we were told that is to be used in purchases under negotiation.
THE MAINTENANCE FUND CHARTER AMENDMENT was on the ballot in 2012. Council member Brenda Ford and I wrote the legislation creating the 2% Maintenance Fund to care for the lands obtained by the 2% Land Fund. Maintenance Fund grants are available to community groups who are maintaining Hawai’i Islands treasured lands. The goal is to empower these groups to continue their good work and to enable and encourage kuleana and the building of community for these lands. The County has used these funds for studies, goat tending for weeds, surveys, fencing, luas etc . But in the 5-year period of 2013- 2018, there have only been 6 groups that have obtained these funds for a total of $343,800.00 There was $3,833,000 that has been deposited during the same time period 2013- 2018. THAT MEANS THAT LESS THAN 9% OF FUNDS WERE OBTAINED BY THE NON-PROFITS THEY WERE INTENDED FOR- WHY? Here is the information: Maintenance Fund with Critique 1.31.2019 https://debbiehechtdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/maintenance-fund-with-critique-1.31.2019.pdf
I called every group that had applied for funding to get their input on the process. I worked with Brenda Ford to make changes to the Maintenance Fund to accomplish the original goal: to get funding to help the non-profits manage the lands.
Charter Commissioner Sally Rice was our champion on the Charter Commission to get the changes that were requested by the non-profits and to move the administration of the Maintenance Fund to the Department of finance. Voters approved this measure at the polls in November 2020.This should help get these funds to community groups!
I was a PONC commissioner, and these volunteers are strong advocates for land conservation and maintenance. Get in touch with your PONC Commissioner and ask their help to obtain Maintenance Funds or how to suggest lands for preservation in your community. Who is your PONC representative for your District? https://records.hawaiicounty.gov/weblink/browse.aspx?dbid=1&startid=13770 There are several openings for PONC commissioners, please consider applying.
An information sheet on PROPERTY ACQUISITION PROCESS is available here: https://records.hawaiicounty.gov/weblink/1/doc/97127/Page1.aspx
The 2021 Report to the Mayor contains: The Report is located here: https://records.hawaiicounty.gov/weblink/1/edoc/114325/2021-12-31%20(2021%20Annual%20Report%20to%20the%20Mayor).pdf
The Public Access and Open Space and Natural Resourses Commission’s Stewardship Grants are located:
STEWARDSHIP GRANT: Properties that are acquired with Land Fund monies can apply for maintenance funds. Here is a link to apply: http://records.hawaiicounty.gov/weblink/1/edoc/111868/2022%20Stewardship%20Grant%20Application%20(non%20fillable.pdf
*MATCHING FUNDS- My opinion: The highest and best use of 2% of taxpayer’s funds is to use the 2% Land Fund to get dollar for dollar matching funds. To date the County has only received 1 dollar for every 3 dollars spent for taxpayers OR only 32% of the money spent is from grants. The ultimate goal would be to get dollar for dollar matching funds.
Citizens have proposed 180+ properties for acquisition: This will be updated once the County updates their information (7.20.2020)
- Puna area: 16 properties
- South Hilo area: 16 properties
- North Hilo: 7 properties
- Hamakua: 26 properties
- North Kohala: 29 properties
- South Kohala: 18 properties
- North Kona: 27 properties
- South Kona: 14 properties
- Ka’u: 27 properties
THE HAWAII COUNTY CHARTER AND THE HAWAII COUNTY CODE: which regulates the 2% Land Fund (PONC) and the PONC Maintenance Fund go to: http://records.co.hawaii.hi.us/weblink/browse.aspx?startid=13770&dbid=1
Submitted by Debbie Hecht, Campaign Coordinator Save Our Lands Citizen’s Committee Hecht.firstname.lastname@example.org 808-989-3222
More information on Debbie: https://debbiehecht.com/about/
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