Hawai’i County Poll Supports Land Fund

HAWAI’I COUNTY, HI, 5/21/04 – Hawai’i County voters are concerned about the loss and deterioration of local lands and want to dedicate a portion of their existing tax dollars to pay for protection, according to a new poll. The telephone survey, released Friday by the Hawai’i office of the non-profit land conservation organization Trust for Public Land (TPL), revealed that an overwhelming 70 percent of Big Island voters want to see mandated County spending on land and water protection.

The full poll results are attached in PDF format at the end of this page.

Local voters cited concern about the future health of the County’s environment and support a dedicated county fund to protect watershed health, coastal and beach areas, flooding and hazard areas, and Native Hawaiian cultural sites, according to poll results. In response to the survey and the success of a similar fund on Maui, the Hawai’i County Council and the Mayor’s office have initiated a process that could give voters a chance to vote on a land protection measure at the ballot box in November.

The survey showed that 70% of voters on the Big Island back a charter amendment that would set aside two percent of existing property tax revenues to create a land protection fund. After hearing background information and arguments both in favor and against the proposal during the 20 minute survey, the approval rating by voters climbed to an impressive 80%. Large percentages of all major demographic groups – Democrats, Republicans, Hawaiians, new residents and voters born and raised on the Big Island- supported the creation of the fund.

“Hawai’i County voters are clearly very concerned about the protection of water quality, native forests, beaches and coastal areas,” said Josh Stanbro, project manager for TPL’s Hawai’i program. “There is tremendous support for a charter amendment to provide the funding for the protection of these important lands. We’re excited that both voters and members of the Hawai’i County Council are willing to do something positive to protect our land for future generations.”

The survey showed strong support-at least 68 percent-throughout all districts of the Island indicating that voters on both East and West sides of the Island have a common vision and set of values when it comes to the environment. A charter amendment, at 2 percent of existing property tax revenues, would set aside approximately $2.5 million each year for land protection. If placed on the ballot by the County Council and passed by voters, it would establish the County’s first dedicated source of public funds for the protection of critical lands. A county fund could leverage millions more in federal dollars for the protection of coastal lands, forest areas, and agricultural land uses. Maui County and Kaua’i County established similar funds in the 2002 election where 73% of voters in both counties overwhelmingly approved the measures.

“The overwhelming voter support for this Maui County measure clearly demonstrates the public’s commitment to protecting and preserving Hawai’i’s most precious resource: our open spaces, breathtaking views and unobstructed beaches,” stated Dale Bonar, Director of the Maui Coastal Land Trust about Maui voters approving a similar measure in 2002. “We’ve made one of the most visionary investments we can make in our children’s future.”

The concept has also drawn support from other legislators familiar with the process. “I fully support the concept of a land protection fund and think it’s especially vital if we are to protect our historic and cultural lands,” said Representative Bob Herkes. “I can tell you that a dedicated fund like this would improve our chances of attracting State and Federal dollars to help out on local land protection projects.” Former Big Island Mayor and current OHA trustee Dante Carpenter concurred: “This type of fund could have done a lot of good over the past few years on Hawai’i. But putting this charter amendment in place now will mean that in the future we can protect Hawaiian cultural sites that are so central to our identity.”

Asked to rank the importance of a variety of conservation projects that could be funded by revenue from the proposed charter amendment, more than 80 percent of voters in the poll listed projects that protect water quality, native forests, beaches and coastal areas, Native Hawaiian cultural areas, and land that will help prevent erosion, floods, and landslides as “extremely important” or “very important.” Recent flooding has caused extensive damage in many parts of the County, and coastal development in both East and West Hawai’i is making it increasingly difficult for fishermen and families to frequent favorite spots.

Community and business leaders also voiced approval of the creation of a dedicated fund and urged the Council to move forward with the process of putting the issue on the November ballot.

“This type of tool has been used successfully on Maui to help protect lands that are important to local culture and the visitor economy,” said Eric von Platen Luder, President of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce. “We fully support the creation of a dedicated fund because businesses know that the local economy ultimately depends on protecting our beautiful Big Island landscape for the long-run.”

Both the Kona and Waimea chapters of the Outdoor Circle also endorsed a dedicated land protection fund. “The results of this poll confirm what we’ve been increasingly hearing from our members and the community,” said Ann Peterson, Vice President for Public Affairs with the Kona Outdoor Circle. “People are more than willing to pay to protect our natural environment and way of life because the beauty of the land is why we all love this Island so deeply.”

The poll was conducted in April by QMark Research & Polling and surveyed 405 Hawai’i County voters likely to vote in the November 2004 general election. The margin of error for the full sample is +/- 4.9%.

The Trust for Public Land, a national non-profit land conservation organization established in 1972, specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law to protect land for people to enjoy as parks, community gardens, open coastlines, and wilderness. TPL has helped protect more than one million acres, valued at $2 billion, across the country. In Hawaii, TPL’s Honolulu office has helped acquire and publicly protect important coastal lands on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Molokai and the Big Island. TPL’s website at www.tpl.org highlights TPL’s work in the Hawaiian Islands section.