A winding case of litigation over private use of several Kakaako roads took a hard turn Tuesday, with a judge ruling that the state owns the disputed streets.
The decision by Circuit Judge Jeffrey Crabtree comes seven years after several business owners sued two brothers who began charging for parking and towing unauthorized parked cars along several Kakaako streets in 2010 after decades of free public use.
Crabtree’s ruling followed several ineffective attempts by Hawaii lawmakers to force a public takeover of the streets through amendments to state law, as well as sluggish moves by the city to seize ownership through condemnation.
The judge’s order also followed a settlement in 2019 between the business owners and the brothers doing business as Kakaako Land Co., under which business owner claims against Kakaako Land were dismissed.
Even though the plaintiff companies bowed out of the case, the state pressed on with a challenge to the ownership position of Kakaako Land, led by Calvert and Cedric Chun.
Following a trial that began in September, Crabtree ruled that the streets were surrendered or abandoned to the state by either the man who developed the roads more than 100 years ago or the man’s heirs after many decades of no asserted ownership.
“The court concludes the State of Hawaii owns the streets at issue,” Crabtree said in the order. “KLC and the Chuns hold no right, title, or legal interest in the streets, and have never had any legal right to charge parking fees, restrict parking, or tow vehicles for using or parking on the streets.”
Bob Emami, owner of The Car Store on Kawaiahao Street, where the Chuns charged for parking, said Crabtree’s decision was like “a breath of fresh air” blowing in Kakaako after years of tension and pressure instigated by the Chuns.
“The residents and businesses in Kakaako will celebrate Feb. 2, 2021, as the day that justice was served and their cries for help did not go unheeded,” said Emami, who was not a plaintiff in the litigation. “As residents and business owners, we feel that the system is working and the rule of law has prevailed.”
Besides Kawaiahao, the litigation involved whole or partial segments of Ward Avenue and Queen, Cooke, Cummins, Ilaniwai and Hustace streets.
State House Speaker Scott Saiki, who represents the Kakaako area and has tried to help free the streets from Kakaako Land control, said efforts paid off.
“What Kakaako Land Co. did to the public was fraud,” Saiki said. “They had no regard for the law and for residents and others who use those roads.”
Calvert Chun said Kakaako Land was reviewing the ruling and had no further immediate comment.
The Chuns contended that they bought the roadways from the last living heir of a man who developed part of Kakaako around 1900 and initially owned the streets at issue.
That developer, Charles Desky, died in 1924.
In 1985 the Chuns arranged to pay Desky’s last known living heir, granddaughter Adele M. Christian, for any interest she had in the roads along with some land in Waikiki. The price was $5,000 plus 25% of any rental income from the property.
Christian, a retired Dole/Castle &Cooke employee who in 1985 was living alone in a rented basement, died in 2000 before the Chuns began charging $100 or more a month per parking space fronting numerous businesses.
The deal with Christian was made through a quitclaim deed, which offers no warranties against there being other ownership interests in the property.
Crabtree ruled that the deed was a binding agreement but that Christian had no interest to convey in the roads because of a 1947 Hawaii law that has to do with private roads being abandoned if no ownership action is exercised for five years.
“There is not one iota of evidence in this case, not even inadmissible hearsay, that after 1903, Desky or any of his heirs asserted any control over the streets, considered the streets to be theirs, tried to transfer the streets, maintained the streets, paid real property taxes, or tried to monetize the streets in any way — except for the 1985 quitclaim deed,” the judge wrote.