It’s the kind of spectacular example that will leave future reapportionment commissions swooning in awe, even though it’s a case of economic rather than political gerrymandering.
And here it is! A new economically-challenged district officially determined to be plagued by stubbornly high unemployment, according to the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism.
I’m indebted to an article in Civil Beat this week for bringing this excellent example to my attention, but I fear the fine reporters at CB failed to appreciate its true brilliance. This isn’t your everyday fudging of the numbers. No, this is real heavy lifting, a world-class bit of boundary bending!
It seems there are some smart cookies over in DBEDT which, among many other things, administers the federal government’s EB-5 “cash for green-card” program in Hawaii. This is the program that allows foreign investors to put money into “qualified” projects and, in exchange, earn a green card allowing them to come to the United States.
Along came developer Jay Fang (also known as Zhe Fang), who wants to qualify his proposed new high-rise project for the EB-5 program, and to tap special benefits which come from investing in an area suffering from high-unemployment.
Unfortunately for Fang, his proposed project is a stone’s throw from the Keeaumoku Walmart, and just down the street from Ala Moana Center. It’s also just mauka of Kakaako, where a high end construction boom has been underway for years. The local unemployment rate is rock bottom.
But, it seems, DBEDT took it as a challenge. How they could take a proposed project in an area with extremely low unemployment, and in a city with unemployment well under 3%, and make it appear to to be in an area with an unemployment rate of at least 150 percent of the U.S. national average, thereby qualifying for the especially lucrative benefits of the EB-5 program?
Those tricky folks at DBEDT finally found a way to make it come out right!
They carved out that strange, lizard-shaped district encompassing the large, high unemployment districts on the west side of the island, and sweeping down to small, affluent census tracts over by Ala Moana, where developer Fang hopes to build his project. Average out the unemployment rates across those diverse census tracts, and DBEDT could certify the newly created district as a “Targeted Employment Area for the purposes of the EB-5 program.”
It’s the kind of effort that would make Texas legislators, well known for their gerrymandering prowess, glow with pride! And this from our home town boys in DBEDT, who appear to be at the top of their game!
And who says Hawaii state government can’t get things done!