Vision team interest, participation on wane
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer
With change already in store for O'ahu's vision teams, the Mililani Neighborhood Board has proposed the most radical idea yet for the community groups.
The board voted 17-2 last month to forward a resolution urging Mayor Jeremy Harris to merge the vision teams into a subcommittee of the neighborhood board, run by elected board members and attended by community members.
"We've been fighting this vision process for years," said Daniel Romero, a member of the Mililani Neighborhood Board for 14 years. "Most of the members are on the neighborhood board and the others come for a special purpose and they're not in it for the long haul."
The city started the vision teams in 1998 as a way to give people more of an opportunity to get involved in planning and selecting capital improvement projects.
Since then, the city has given the teams money for such improvements as canoe halau, renovated park bathrooms and skateboard parks in the community.
One criticism has been that the teams consist of non-elected people making decisions for the community.
The Mililani proposal would address that by making vision teams subordinate to the neighborhood board, an elected body.
Harris has tweaked the vision team process in several ways.
First, money has been cut. A tighter city budget required that vision money be reduced from $2 million to $1 million.
The teams also were told to finish old projects before starting new ones, and each team must draft a community action plan that incorporates the vision community's individual mission statements and other city plans for that community, said Eric Crispin, city deputy director of the Department of Design and Construction.
The administration hopes that the changes will refocus the vision process and make it part of broader city planning.
As the teams enter their fifth year, participation has become inconsistent. When the teams debuted, it wasn't unusual for interested citizens to fill a meeting room with as many as three dozen people.
Now, interest is starting to wane, leading some to wonder whether the teams have run their course.
"I haven't gone in three years," said Lynne Matusow, chairwoman of the Downtown Neighborhood Board. "I think it's a total waste of time. Only when there's a hot button do people show up for a meeting or a special interest group shows up with a project."
In some areas, such as the North Shore, the teams still draw about as much participation as they did in the beginning. Typically, about two dozen people are on hand.
But at the past three meetings in East Honolulu, only about 10 people showed up. In the downtown-Kaka'ako area, there are about 15 regulars each month.
Originally, the vision process intended to make champions out of the person whose idea was selected and that person would see the project through from concept to construction. What's happening today is people may come forward and bring their idea, but they disappear after a couple of meetings.
Some say the reason is the length of time between conception and actual construction of a vision project.
"The process is long and you lose people because they think that nothing is getting done," said Patty Teruya, a member of the Wai'anae vision team. "It's a rough process. Some lose interest and get tired of meeting every month and talk, talk, talking.
"Some people weren't touched by vision, but it touched me and I'm going to stick with it."
Murray Luther is one of the few Hawai'i Kai vision team diehards who attends each monthly meeting. First it was to babysit his project for a community identity sign. Now it's to ensure that other projects go forward and that the community is represented.
"You have to support your community in little ways by participating," Luther said. "Each one of us should reach out to someone new and see if they can attend a vision meeting."
Reach Suzanne Roig at firstname.lastname@example.org or 395-8831.