Guest Commentary for Friday – February 10, 2006

If you frequent Koke’e and drive or hike by your favorite picturesque cabin, the sight of which warms your heart with its carefully tended lawn, quaint rustic architecture, cut-stone chimney, cold-weather flowers and trees, and ancient peacefulness, you better take pictures of it right now, because it probably won’t be there much longer.

Based on a questionable and secret opinion from the Attorney General, State Parks and the State Historic Division have just proposed to get rid of the current leaseholders this way: they will host a drawing. They will not do negotiations allowed under state law, nor will they have an auction allowed under State law. They will have a drawing.

The lot number of each cabin will be put into a hat, and the name of each person who wants a lease will be put into another hat, and one slip will be drawn from each hat. The lot number drawn will be matched with the name drawn, and that is the cabin/lot that that person will get. Period.

Here is the catch: Current leaseholders are already preparing to dismantle the cabins their grandparents or great-grand-parents hand-built, or, in recent years, that they purchased and paid real money for, and they will remove their rightful property from Koke’e. So the very thing the state says they are trying to do — preserve the historical cultural character of Koke’e and “share” it with everybody, is actually the thing that will destroy Koke’e.

The new incoming lessee will be faced with an empty lot, which may or may not have water, or electricity. The lessee will be required to build a cabin, and it will have to be in the “Koke’e Vernacular” style. The state will be the one coming up with the design guidelines, and the state will be the one dictating what you build and how it will look and how small it will be. We can look all around Kaua’i and see the wonderful architectural examples of “State Style.”

Under the law the state is proceeding with, the lease term can be no longer than 20 years. So a new lessee will have to build a new house with expensive old-style everything. How much would, say, a 600-square-foot, one bedroom house cost? $100,000? $150,000? More? Don’t forget, it’s up in Koke’e, from Kekaha 15 plus miles of bad dirt and paved road, where everything costs at least double to do. Looking at today’s insane real estate market, let’s say $200,000 for that tiny house.

So you waltzed in thinking you’d take a cabin the state took from a leaseholder, but you only got an empty lot because the leaseholder removed his rightful property rather than have the state steal it. Now you’ve got a 20 or 30 year mortgage on $200,000.

On top of that, you will be paying the state a yearly lease rent for the lot, which will probably be around $5,000 a year. After waiting for county and state permitting, and having your house built, you will probably have 18 years left on your lease. And, if the State continues with the same lease language, you can only use your house 180 days out of the year.

Now comes the really, really hilarious part: At the end of 20 years, you have to give your house to the state, because it’s sitting on state land.

Fortunately, the Board of Land and Natural Resources is meeting today, in Honolulu, to take up this “drawing” idea. We’ll be there to testify.

The life or death of the Koke’e which Kauaians know and deeply love will be decided on this morning. We are not lease-holders, but we are property owners on Kaua`i since 1989, and Koke’e is our favorite place to be on this beautiful island. For many years, we have enjoyed countless idyllic and peaceful hours visiting quite a few different leaseholding friends there.

To preserve and protect the historical and cultural landscape, we believe the fairest solution would be to negotiate directly with the leaseholders, which would be allowed under HRS-171-36.2. If the state chooses not to do that, then an auction of all the leases should be held, where the current lease-holders have at least a chance to retain their precious stake in this most sacred place. We think it would be a disaster for Koke’e if the state put the leases into a blind drawing. It would be the opposite of Aloha ‘Aina.

Fred and Marj Dente are residents of Kapa’a.

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