An E.K. Fernandez carnival is being held on a piece of usually vacant preservation-zoned land in Hawaii Kai through next weekend, but could the property be better used for housing that serves Native Hawaiians?
That’s an idea being promoted by two state House leaders who recently had a strong majority of fellow House lawmakers sign on to the initiative.
However, the proposal isn’t sitting well with Hawaii Kai’s two representatives in the House and many residents in the area who oppose development of the site, which fronts Kalanianaole Highway overlooking Maunalua Bay at the entryway of the East Honolulu community.
The idea is being promoted by House Speaker Joe Souki and House Majority Leader Scott Saiki via two resolutions, House Resolution 21 and House Concurrent Resolution 54, introduced March 3.
Resolutions don’t have the force of bills that become law, but typically convey legislative policy and intent, often as requests for action by state agencies.
The resolutions from Souki and Saiki encourage the parcel’s owner, Kamehameha Schools, to exchange the 4.5 acres for state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands property, and suggests that DHHL could use the Hawaii Kai land to develop homes for its beneficiaries in a community that has roads, schools and retail stores, unlike most of the areas where DHHL has land available for development.
Furthermore, the resolution noted that Kamehameha Schools has faced community opposition to a prospective plan it floated four years ago to rezone the property and develop a retail center anchored by Foodland Super Market.
Most public response to the resolutions so far has not been favorable, with some suggesting that the Legislature is attempting to get Kamehameha Schools to help DHHL as lawmakers refuse to properly fund the agency. Some observers also have suggested that a land swap could be an end run around county zoning regulations because DHHL is exempt from zoning and could build homes or a retail center on the land as it is.
Rep. Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Hawaii Kai) took personal offense to the resolutions and criticized Souki on the floor of the House for not having the courtesy to inform him or Rep. Mark Hashem (D, Hahaione- Kuliouou-Niu Valley-Aina Haina-Waialae-Kahala) that the resolutions affecting their districts were being introduced.
“Mr. Speaker, this is a territorially aggressive push into District 17 and 18,” Ward said. “Generally, when you’re going to do an incursion into somebody’s district, you have the courtesy to inform them what’s going on, and Mr. Speaker, that did not happen.”
Souki responded by asking Ward to please speak on the merits of the resolutions.
Ward said Hawaii Kai community members regard the property that some refer to as the “great lawn” as dearly held open space.
“When you put in a resolution like this and you don’t consult us, you’re going to put a bee in the bonnet of my community,” he said. “There should be no development on the great lawn.”
House members voted 49-4 to adopt HR 21 on March 10 with two members excused. The “no” votes were Ward, Hashem, Calvin Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Palolo Valley-Wilhelmina Rise) and Andria Tupola (R, Kalaeloa-Ko Olina-Maili).
The other resolution, HCR 54, received the same vote, and as a concurrent resolution is headed to the Senate for consideration.
Ward has urged people to contact Sens. Maile Shimabukuro and Mike Gabbard to urge them not to hold hearings on HCR 54 in committees they chair.
Kamehameha Schools let some Hawaii Kai residents know in 2012 that it was considering building a shopping center that would be anchored by Foodland on the narrow strip of vacant land. There was some support from residents, given that Foodland closed its Hawaii Kai store in 2011 after negotiations over renewing a lease at Koko Marina Center failed. But a vocal outpouring of opposition from the community led the trust to shelve the plan in 2013.
Kau‘i Burgess, director of community relations for the trust benefiting Hawaiians, offered fairly neutral written testimony on the resolutions.
“We appreciate the Legislature’s concern for the success and well-being of our people, especially as it relates to encouraging the creation of more residential options for Native Hawaiians in areas with proper infrastructure and other social support systems,” she said.
“Partnerships and collaborations such as those encouraged in this resolution align well with Kuhanauna — the vision and strategic plan Kamehameha Schools has adopted to guide our actions and commitments for the next 25 years,” Burgess added. “No single entity in our state is able to bring this vision to life without the help of many others around it, so we mahalo the Legislature for acknowledging the strength and value in this collaborative approach. Kamehameha Schools and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands enjoy a strong working relationship, as evidenced by our ongoing collaborative projects in Maili and Nanakuli, and the concept of exchanging lands between our trusts to advance the well-being of our shared beneficiaries is a topic of great interest.”
Another trust spokesman, Kekoa Paulsen, added that Kamehameha Schools has not discussed the suggested land exchange with DHHL, did not ask for the resolutions and has no immediate plans for the site.
Paula Aila, a spokeswoman for DHHL, said in an email that the agency did not prompt or introduce the resolutions. “DHHL and KS share an ongoing relationship as stated in the testimony provided by KS,” she said.
DeMont Conner of Ho‘omana Pono LLC endorsed the resolutions because they encourage two of the most powerful organizations dealing with Hawaiians to work collaboratively for the betterment of Hawaiians.
Desire DeSoto and Leimaile Quitevis said in written testimony that the state should address mismanagement and underfunding of DHHL by having the state and federal government — not Kamehameha Schools — consider land swaps with DHHL.
“HR21 and HCR54 cannot be supported because it is an attempt to manipulate a private alii trust through propaganda, rhetoric and the passing of laws to enable development,” they said. “Furthermore, these hearings need to address the blatant issues surrounding conflict of interests with stakeholder leadership and their collusive relationships to developers, organizations and politicians that have been the root of Native Hawaiian disenfranchisement for generations.”
Paula Aila as an individual and Hawaiian Homes beneficiary submitted written testimony against encouraging DHHL to use land of a private trust that should be used to generate revenue benefiting Hawaiians.
“Instead, the state should look at lands in (the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’) inventory for DHHL housing like the Maui lands that will be available with the closing of (Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.),” she said. “Another end game by the state to have the trusts fulfill the state’s obligations for housing. We see right through you.”