Residents who didn't buy their homes are fighting the developer for reasons that transcend economics
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 4, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 4:49 p.m. HST, Feb 12, 2014
When the sheriff showed up with a moving van last month to evict Guy and Lynn Eugenio from their home of 43 years it sent shivers through this small North Shore community.
More than 30 families living in the former plantation camp known as Kahuku Village V have been told they may be evicted.
The eviction letters were sent by Continental Pacific LLC, the Florida company that bought the collection of 72 plantation homes in 2006. Continental offered to sell the renters their lots — some with homes and some without — for $150,000, well below the market price.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The former plantation camp, Kahuku Village V, was sold to a Florida developer in 2006 and now is being split between those who support the developer's plans and those opposed.
Sunday: Homeowners vs. renters
Today: Fighting eviction
Tuesday: Deep ties
Those who chose not to buy are being evicted. They blame Continental for pushing them off the land where their families have lived, in some cases, for generations. They point out that Continental stands to double its income on homes if the tenants are evicted and the property is sold at the market price of about $350,000.
"Big company trying to kick out the small people," Lynn Eugenio said.
Continental sees it differently.
The company says it bought the land with no requirement to sell homes to tenants and voluntarily offered residents below-market prices for the property. While it sent eviction notices to 31 families, Continental says it has dropped many of those and is only pursuing nine evictions.
Reynolds Henderson, a Continental principal, said the company is offering lots at bargain prices. "It's a minimum $200,000 in equity," he said, referring to what Kahuku Village V residents would have even if they take out a loan for the full $150,000 purchase price.
The families that opted not to buy see it as more than just an economic issue.
Kahuku Village V, or KV5, is one of the last holdouts of the old plantation system in Hawaii where immigrants — mostly from China, Japan, Portugal and the Philippines — were brought to the islands to work sugar and pineapple fields. The immigrants typically lived in plantation housing provided as part of their compensation and often stayed on as renters when the plantations closed.
KV5, like many plantation camps, grew into a tightknit community that residents are loath to leave and many believe they have earned the right to stay because of their family's decades of labor in the fields.
"This is my roots," said Jeff Compoc, a 64-year-old disabled veteran, who has lived in the village since he was 5 years old and has three siblings buried in one of KV5's two cemeteries. His father came to Hawaii in 1924 to work as a laborer for Kahuku Plantation Co. "The houses was promised to us by Campbell Estate."
Campbell Estate owned the former Kahuku Plantation land until 2006, when Continental bought the property.
Continental's offer to village residents to buy or get out has divided the community. Some see it as a golden chance to own their home at a deeply discounted price and preserve the community while others see it as dismantling their lifestyle and their past.
The dispute between renters and Continental has resulted in close to 80 court hearings, calls for police protection and appeals to government officials.
Some residents believe the $150,000 offer, which includes land lots between 5,400 square feet and 17,500 square feet, is unfair. Others couldn't afford to buy. And some oppose the deal because they feel new homes in the neighborhood marketed to outside buyers will destroy the character of the place.
One argument Continental opponents make is that the developer's $150,000 price doesn't represent the real cost of buying a home in the village. Residents of about 25 homes in a floodway, for example, would need to either move their homes or build new ones. Some homebuyers may have to pay for an archaeological survey to check if ancient Hawaiian burials are present underground.
Buyers of vacant lots also are responsible for installing their own septic tanks, though Continental did install septic tanks serving many existing homes.
The extra expenses, opponents argue, could bring the total cost to $500,000 or $600,000. "You might as well move to Hawaii Kai," said Glen Maghanoy, a KV5 resident battling eviction after turning down Continental's offer.
Henderson, the Continental principal, calls that figure "the most far-fetched thing I've ever heard." Residents could buy a lot for $150,000 and build a new house for far less than $500,000, Henderson suggested.
It may be difficult to understand the determination and rationale of KV5 residents challenging Continental, but their fight appears to be based on very old and strong bonds with the village.
Guy Eugenio's grandmother worked on the plantation, and Guy grew up in the village.
When the sheriff came to evict the Eugenios, Guy's wife, Lynn, became emotional reflecting on the family's connection to the house with a roof that is crumbling at the edges. "I was so scared. I started breaking out crying. We're just trying to live the simple life."
Even though they don't own the title, the Eugenios feel they have a right to the land.
"We own this place," Lynn Eugenio said. "We own this land."
‘A REALLY SAD SITUATION'
Some of the Eugenios' neighbors who bought their homes believe Continental opponents let their zeal to protect the neighborhood get in the way of preserving as much of the village as possible by purchasing their homes. Or that their mistrust of a mainland developer was too great, or that they have been misled by the attorney they enlisted in the fight.
Those who turned down the offer to buy their homes also may have become used to years of low rent. On average, KV5 families have been paying rent of $650 a month for years.
"It's a really sad situation," said Melissa Camit, a third-generation KV5 resident who bought a home with the help of her father-in-law, Jim Camit, who also bought his residence. The division between buyers and renters has strained friendships and meant some of Melissa's longtime neighbors, whose children play with her children, are facing eviction.
Joshua Primacio, the 32-year-old grandson of longtime Kahuku Plantation union boss Junior Primacio, bought his residence in July and said Continental delivered on Campbell Estate's goal to make homeowners out of KV5 residents.
"I believe we have an opportunity here to achieve something that has long been sought after for over 40 years," he said in a statement provided by Continental last year.
Continental said 15 village residents have bought or are buying their rental homes.
Another roughly 30 residents out of 52 included in a first phase of sales were told in December they must leave.
Eviction notices went to all tenants who rejected Continental's purchase offer made in November 2012. Several others, including some who wanted to buy their homes, received eviction notices for other reasons that included rent delinquencies.
KV5 residents have month-to-month leases with Continental, but these leases and a tenant's occupancy can be terminated without cause or reason.
Some tenants criticize Continental as terminating leases because they can make more money selling empty lots to the general public at market prices.
Selling all 72 home sites for $150,000, the price offered to current residents, would bring in $10.8 million. That compares with $23.7 million for 72 sales at $329,000 — a rough average price for the 32 parcels listed on the market.
FIRM SAYS IT'S BEEN FAIR
Continental said it has tried to be fair, and made the $150,000 purchase offer to all but one tenant, including those being pursued in court for eviction.
Continental also said it stopped eviction proceedings against about 25 residents after the city ruled in March that their homes, which lie in a floodway, don't have to be relocated for as long as the current residents live there or until 2040. The families in those homes can continue renting from Continental.
The city's decision reduced the number of people fighting eviction, though a significant number are still fighting back and are doing so in court with the help of Oahu attorney Tony Locricchio.
Locricchio has gone to great lengths trying to keep KV5 residents from being evicted, challenging the cases in state court with counterclaims and trying to disqualify judges.
In five cases, KV5 residents filed for bankruptcy with Locricchio's help, though even these moves appear to have slowed but not stopped the eviction process.
Locricchio also filed a complaint with the state Real Estate Commission, and has argued to state and county officials that construction work by the developer — including tree removal, infrastructure improvements and efforts to build two model homes — has progressed illegally.
Continental insists all its work is permitted, and government officials have not stopped construction, except in one case where iwi, or human burial remains, were discovered during excavation work to build a model home.
The developer also alleges that its opponents have slashed tires on cars belonging to residents who bought their homes, and cut hydraulic lines and draped dead chickens on construction equipment. In response, police officers were hired to protect Continental's contractor, Hilo-based Johansen Contracting.
Henderson said it's unfortunate what some residents have gone through, however the company needs to complete the project.
"It's been a long road," he said. "There's a lot of emotions. We certainly wanted everyone to buy … but the $150,000 ship sailed a long time ago."
The movers that came with a sheriff to evict the Eugenios on Oct. 11 loaded half their possessions into the van before Locricchio showed up with a letter that claimed the eviction notice was not properly served. The sheriff backed down and the movers returned the Eugenios' furniture to the house.
Lynn and Guy Eugenio were relieved, but they realize the sheriff may be back someday and force them from the only home they've known for four decades.
NONBUYER SETTLES TO GET ON WITH LIFE
Eddie Canumay's father came from the Philippines to work at Kahuku Plantation and retired when it closed in 1971.
As a child of a retiree, Canumay was able to move into House No. 355 at KV5 in 1991. His mother and sister live in two other homes within the village.
After developer Continental Pacific bought the village in 2006, Canumay thought his chance to buy the property had finally come. But the company offered him an adjacent lot because his residence was in the path of a planned new road.
Continental offered to front Canumay $20,000 to move his home but would increase his purchase price to $170,000 from $150,000. Canumay rejected the offer and joined about 30 other residents in retaining local attorney Tony Locricchio for help.
"Tony, he's our last resort," Canumay said in May.
Shortly thereafter though, with eviction lawsuit hearings not going well, Canumay settled with Continental and left his home. He is now living with friends.
"It was just dragging out and I wanted to settle and get on with my life," he said. "I'm on a limited income. Continental has millions. They can keep on going."
As part of the settlement, Canumay arranged for his daughter to rent another home at KV5 and received $3,000 that he had put into a home demolition fund long ago.
Canumay's mother, Lourdes, lives in a KV5 home where she may remain for the rest of her life.
The family of Canumay's sister, Geraldine, plans to buy her home at KV5 but has not closed on a purchase.
'PLANTATION BABY' WANTS TO RETURN
A home on this lot fell down and was removed last year by its occupant, Robert Trotter, 53, who has perhaps the longest connection to Kahuku Plantation. Trotter is the great-great-grandson of James Campbell, who leased out the land in Kahuku for sugar cane cultivation.
Trotter was a "plantation baby" who grew up in Kahuku Village as the son of the late Fred Trotter, a former Kahuku Plantation manager.
When his old house fell down, Robert Trotter moved into a workshop he had built on the property (shown in photo) because city rules prohibited rebuilding.
As a result, landowner Continental Pacific sent him an eviction notice in part because the city deemed the workshop to be an unpermitted structure. Trotter's wife had also gotten into an argument with a contractor removing a tree and fired a BB gun in the air in an incident that led to her arrest.
Trotter said he has had trespassing charges filed against him, so he said he stays out of KV5. But he wants to return, and believes he should receive the same $150,000 offer as his neighbors. Because Trotter's lot is part of a future phase of development, sales offers have yet to go out.
"My life's in limbo," he said.
--Andrew Gomes, Star-Advertiser