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Mayor proposes splitting up Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting

Catherine Cruz

“Wicked” is how Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi described the issues that are vexing his administration. Some are chronic and systemic.

One issue he highlighted during his State of the City address Tuesday was the need to overhaul the Department of Planning and Permitting, which has had a tremendous impact on our economy.

From a building permit backlog intertwined with the housing crisis to corruption and outdated technology — it is all holding us back.

"The building permit process is just one of many complex functions of a very large department covering a wide range of core services, including the regulation of short-term vacation rentals, enforcement actions, affordable housing, transit-oriented development, zoning, land use, plan and project reviews, inspections, historic preservation, and many other issues affecting communities across the city and county," Blangiardi said.

To improve efficiency, Blangiardi said he is considering whether the department should be split up. He said DPP Director Dawn Takeuchi Apuna and Deputy Director Jiro Sumada have been asked to study the department's structure and present their findings by the end of the year.

"I think it's in line with everything else that we're trying to do. We're looking at how everything has been done or is being done and whether it makes sense, whether it's necessary," Apuna said. "I think accountability over just a building department versus accountability over a planning department, that makes sense to the other counties. They have separate departments. So we will look at it as mayor has asked, and I think it's all part of this whole evolution of DPP."

Meanwhile, Apuna said the department has about a 25% vacancy rate for staff positions with 285 filled positions.

"People are having to do a lot more than, you know, a normal employee would have to do for us to get the job done. And then, yeah, the news that we hear about the department is not always great news. But I try to tell my staff that everything that we're trying to do now is to help them, so that they aren't so overburdened and that we can get the job done and we can do it right," she said.

This interview aired on The Conversation on March 15, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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