Planning Director Mike Dahilig yesterday told a stunned County Council that he must renew TVRs approved by his predecessor, even if the original applications were flawed or incomplete. Some 84 percent of the files are missing documents required by law.
But Mike said he can move to revoke the improperly issued certificates only if he has evidence they were fraudulently obtained.
Though many people never proved they were eligible for the valuable life-of-the-property permits — as exposed in the 20-part Abuse Chronicles — the flawed applications were essentially legitimized when former Planning Director Ian Costa and his deputy, Imai Aiu, approved them in 2008-10, according to the county attorney's directive.
“Anything after a bad application, how can it be good?” asked an incredulous Councilman Mel Rapozo.
Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung said technically it wasn't a bad application because the former director had signed off on it.
Councilman Tim Bynum said a fundamental component of the TVR law was requiring applicants to prove use prior to 2008. “The most key thing, they didn't even bother, they didn't even ask for it,” he said of Ian Costa and his staff. “This is not incompetence. This is a decision to fail to implement the law. That is unacceptable and now look at the consequences we're dealing with.”
Though Costa and Aiu were never named, both Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura and Chair Jay Furfaro referenced their shockingly poor performance.
“The damage that bad managers do sometimes is irreversible,” JoAnn said. “I hope the mayor is listening, because it's not only in planning, it's in all parts of county government. There is no substitute for a good manager.”
Jay said he plans to write a performance evaluation and will put it the personnel jackets of the former directors “as a documentation of the poor management that got us where we're at.”
The Council also got irritated when Mike prevaricated about numbers. In a power point presentation, he said the department had compiled 657 unique TVR files: 158 are considered “inactive,” 75 are appealing the loss of their permit because they renewed late, and 413 are “active without issues.”
Mel asked how many of the 413 had incomplete files. “It's not overwhelming, but it is significant,” Mike hedged. After Mel repeatedly pressed him, Mike finally replied that “upwards of 84 percent” were missing one or more documents.
“I would encourage you to be forthright and just put it on the table when we're asking,” said Councilman Gary Hooser, who with JoAnn had also been given the run-around by Mike. “When you know 84 percent are incomplete and others ask about the numbers and you say you'll get back to us, that bothers me.”
Mike also told the Council the department was “going after the low-hanging fruit” by issuing cease and desist notices to 101 TVRs that missed their annual renewal deadlines. Ian Jung said the tardiness ranged from a few days to two years, but all would be treated the same. Mike said those that have not appealed “are ripe” for a second level of enforcement: “tighten the screws.” The owners could be fined, or referred for criminal prosecution if they keep operating.
Mel asked whether Mike had pursued the photos of a bare lot with no house that had been given a TVR certificate. “Not yet,” Mike said, prompting JoAnn to ask why that wouldn't be a low-hanging fruit case.
Several Councilmembers expressed dismay that the law was passed five years ago, but the department is only now creating a system for managing the TVR certificates. And even that action was prompted largely by the Abuse Chronicles and a threatened Council investigation.
“They are moving, but to where?” Mel said. “The concern is that the illegals will be allowed to continue and I disagree with that entire rationale."
Tim, Mel and Gary said Mike's report on the depth of the TVR debacle underscores the need for a Council investigation.
“It's clear the Administration does not want to look at what happened, at least not publicly,” Gary said. "In my opinion, past actions are being swept under the rug."
"I think that discussion's important, not just to us, but the public," agreed Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura.
Many of the TVR certificates were approved after Mayor Bernard Carvalho took office. In late 2010 he moved Costa and Aiu to other county agencies, and put Mike, a former county attorney, in charge of planning. As documented in the Abuse Chronicles, some of the improper permits were signed by Bambi Emayo and Vil Baliscan, who continue to work as TVR inspectors.
The question now is whether Ian, Imai and Bambi just decided on their own to blow off the TVR law, or if they were acting at the direction of others.