Governor David Ige has nominated Carleton Ching, Castle & Cooke Hawaii’s Vice President of Community and Government Relationships, to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources. But the nomination, only announced last Friday night, has already spawned joint opposition from a broad coalition of groups ranging from the Sierra Club to community associations, and an anti-Ching online petition that has garnered over 5,000 signatures.
“Stewardship of Hawaii’s unique resources is one of the most critical tasks of State government, and Carleton Ching has the heart, knowledge and skills to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources. No one understands better the complex issues this Department handles and how to balance the needs of our environment and our residents,” Ige said in his announcement of the nomination. Ige noted that “early on” in Ching’s career, “he spent a decade with the Hawaii Housing Authority where he specialized in building affordable homes. From his time at the Authority he is best known for his role in facilitating a resolution to the contentious conflict between the Waihole-Waikane Community Association and the state.”
Ching’s account on LinkedIn, a popular social medium for business networkers and job seekers, lists his skills as “Marketing, real estate, first time home buyers, investment properties, residential homes, public relations and budgets.” But it makes no mention of any skills related to public service, land management or conservation practices—an omission that over eighteen organizations latched onto in a joint statement blasting the nomination, noting that “He has no demonstrated expertise in managing the cultural and natural resources that fall under the department’s purview, including but not limited to endangered species, iwi, ceded land, water resources, forests, beaches, coral reefs, fishing and hunting resources, historic sites, and state parks.”
The statement was endorsed concurrently by Sierra Club, The Outdoor Circle, Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, Hawai‘i’s Thousand Friends, Life of the Land, Friends of Lana‘i, Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i, Earthjustice, Defend O‘ahu Coalition, Surfrider Foundation, Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund, Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action, Hui Ho‘omalu I Ka ‘Aina, Kupa‘a No Lana‘i, LOST FISH Coalition, MANA (Movement for Aloha No Ka ‘Aina), Maui Tomorrow, Puna Pono Alliance, Wailua-Kapa‘a Neighborhood Association, West Maui Preservation Association, and ‘Ilio’ulaokalani Coalition.
The Hawaii State Sierra Club took its criticism farther, pointing out Ching’s close ties to the real estate/construction industry. In a release about the nomination on the club’s Web site, club spokesperson Anthony Aalto noted that Ching has “lobbied for developer Castle and Cooke, [has] served as a director on the Building Industry Association of Hawai`i and as vice-President of the Land Use Research Foundation, which according to its Web site is ‘devoted exclusively to promoting the interests of the development community.’ Both organizations have consistently lobbied to weaken laws that protect the state’s cultural and natural resources.”
The Land Use Research Foundation has not updated its list of officers on the organization’s Web site since 2010, when Ching was listed as a “Vice President.” But the site still lists Ching as Castle and Cook’s contact for the Foundation, whose membership is comprised of at least 25 major landowning and development companies and trusts including Alexander and Baldwin, Kamehameha Schools, W. H. Shipman and Hokulia developer Oceanside 1250.
As Castle and Cooke’s PR man, Ching as taken the point on such controversial projects as Koa Ridge Makai, a “master planned community” in Wahiawa, which has been stalled for over a two decades by opposition from the Public Land Use Commission, the Hawaii Sierra Club, the Mililani Waipio Neighborhood Board and other organizations. Sierra Club is still collecting donations to continue an advertising campaign against Koa Ridge. Ching also served as spokesman and sometime defender of Castle and Cook’s sole owner, California-based mogul David Murdock, in the latter’s closure of the island of Lanai’s pineapple plantations, its development into luxury hotels and real estate, and the island’s sale to Internet billionaire Larry Ellison; in one article, he reportedly opined that “Murdock has had his critics, but he [Ching] believes Lanai would be worse off had Murdock not stepped in.” Before his current job, Ching worked for now-defunct developer Westloch, Inc., Castle & Cooke Kunia, Molokai Ranch and engineering firm SSFM International.
The governor’s announcement of the nomination put its own spin on Ching’s career.
“Ching has devoted much of his career to creating communities for Hawaii’s residents,” it said, and described Ching’s activities with Castle & Cooke thus: “he supports the organization’s real estate, agricultural and renewable energy initiatives.”