City Council puts brakes on OCCC relocation plan
Gov. David Ige’s plan to relocate the Oahu Community Correctional Center to Halawa has hit a new roadblock.
Skeptical members of the Honolulu City Council voiced reluctance to approving a Plan Review Use permit that would clear the way for the proposed facility, which would, like the current OCCC, primarily house pre-trial detainees.
They told state administration officials at a Council Zoning, Planning and Housing Committee on Sept. 26 that the request is premature because it lacks details, including a firm source of funding. They also said they don’t want to get into the middle of a firestorm between Ige and the state Legislature.
The concerns led the committee to delay a vote on Resolution 19-136, which would grant the state a Plan Review Use permit closing the existing Kalihi facility and relocating to 29 acres at what’s now the state Department of Agriculture’s Animal Quarantine Station about a mile away from the existing Halawa Correctional Facility.
Committee Chairman Ron Menor said Thursday that he’s not yet decided whether to hold a vote on the matter in the coming months or wait until after the Legislature signals its intent when it meets early next year.
Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, whose district includes Halawa, grilled Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda, project architects and the Department of Accounting and General Services over the lack of specifics about the plan.
“It just seems kind of premature at this point to be granting approvals … when we really do not have a final determination as to what the scope of the project should be as well as the potential financing alternatives given that a relatively major redevelopment is now being proposed for a location that is right down the road from this area,” Fukunaga said, referring to the state’s New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District.
Traffic and safety concerns raised by residents have yet to be addressed, she said. “Understandably, people are very upset.”
Joseph Earing, head of DAGS’ capital improvement projects section, said the state is in the process of seeking a private partner to help finance and build the site. The timeline calls for an entity to be selected in late 2020 or early 2021, he said.
The Council’s approval of the PRU would make it easier for a prospective partner to determine financing for the project, Earing said.
“The more uncertainty that there is, the cost associated with any proposal goes up, so we’re trying to narrow down the uncertainties,” he said.
Ige has called the relocation one of his top priorities. State officials argue that the existing facility, built in 1917, is overcrowded and dilapidated, and that the prime site on Dillingham Boulevard and Puuhale has broader development potential.
The Halawa plan calls for a four-story detention center, a two-story pre-release facility outside the new OCCC and a third building that would contain a warehouse, central energy plant and facility maintenance operations.
Plans also call for 1,044 beds, slightly more than OCCC’s current 982 beds, Espinda said. The existing Laumaka Work Furlough Center would remain in Kalihi.
In August 2018, Ige announced he was accepting a final Environmental Impact Statement for the plan, which carried a $525 million price tag.
Since then, the project has been stalled by state lawmakers who have been cool to providing funding for it.
Councilman Tommy Waters said the state should take a harder look at relocating OCCC to the state Circuit Court parking lot on Pohukaina and South streets in Kakaako. It makes sense for pre-trial detainees charged with a crime and awaiting trial to be housed near the Circuit Court building and near the District Court facility several blocks away, he said.
Waters, a criminal law attorney, said prisoners being driven from Halawa “are always late.”
Another possible solution would be for the state to take over the Federal Detention Center near Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Waters said. A proposal for that plan was passed by the state House but stalled in the Senate last session.
Bettina Mehnert, president and CEO of Architects Hawaii, said the Circuit Court parking lot and other downtown locations were looked at as possible relocation sites. “None of them fit the criteria that we felt were essential to be on the short list.”
Espinda said the administration supports looking further at the Federal Detention Center purchase and will continue doing so at the same time the Halawa relocation plan advances.
Councilman Joey Manahan, who represents the area where the current OCCC is housed, did not attend the committee meeting. He said last week that while a new OCCC site is critical, he would support a temporary postponement of a vote until after the Legislature considers the various options for relocation during its upcoming session.
Menor said the Council has to look at both sides of the issue before deciding to support a Plan Review Use permit.