Council mulls using eminent domain for affordable housing

  • Laurel Smith / The Garden Island

    The site of a 23.5-acre lot makai of Kuhio Highway on Kilauea Road is the one the county is currently pursuing to acquire for affordable housing.

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Council will vote today on whether the county will use eminent domain to acquire a 23.5-acre parcel of land in Kilauea.

Resolution 2021-27 would authorize the County of Kaua‘i to seize the land for public use after negotiations between the county and the landowner dead-ended. The county plans to develop the property into a housing project.

Leland Bertsch, who owns the property, told The Garden Island in August that the county had offered to purchase the land for $3.6 to $4 million dollars. Bertsch described the offer as an insult, and said it “was not even in the ballpark” of what he believes it’s worth.

“What (the county) offered was a slap in the face,” Bertsch said.

Bertsch offered to sell the plot of land for $30 million, which is more than the county’s entire budget for infrastructure and construction projects for the current fiscal year, which stands at roughly $24.7 million. Bertsch stood by that number, saying that it reflected the value of the property and that he’s turned down offers from buyers at similar figures.

Bertsch also said that if the council votes to authorize the eminent domain acquisition, he will fight back.

“There’s going to be litigation no matter what,” he said.

The Contractors Association of Kaua’i expressed some concerns about the use of eminent domain to acquire the property.

“‘Taking’ of private property through eminent domain is a concern, especially of lands zoned for agricultural use,” the CAK said in written testimony submitted to the council.

“It appears to be contradictory for a county that advocates for farmers, sustainability, growing food for local consumption, etc., while at the same time it is wanting to acquire through a ‘taking’ some 23.5 acres of agriculture land from an unwilling seller, for affordable housing.”

The county will still be required to pay a fair-market price for the property as decided by a court-appointed assessor. Bertsch said he’s willing to sell the property, but not at the price the county previously offered.

According to past testimony from County Housing Agency Director Adam Roversi, the county will utilize $9 million in federal Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funds from the devastating April 2018 floods to build workforce housing.

County Councilmember Luke Evslin said that he planned to vote in favor of using eminent domain to acquire the property, citing the full support of the Kilauea Neighborhood Association and the need for affordable housing on Kaua’i.

“The KNA fully supports the county’s effort to acquire this property through the eminent-domain process,” the association said in written testimony submitted in September. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help shape the future of Kilauea. The KNA and broader community is fully committed to supporting this process and will take any and all actions necessary to help the county succeed in its effort to acquire this property for the long-term benefits it will bring to Kilauea.”

Evslin said he would be “very surprised” if the council did not vote in favor of authorizing the acquisition.

Also on the agenda

• There is a request for additional funds to purchase a grader for use at the Kekaha Landfill. Troy Tanigawa, acting county engineer, is expected to request additional funds to purchase the more-expensive grader in lieu of a drum roller. The grader will cost an additional $151,000.

• The Kaua’i Police Department is requesting approval to receive and expend $44,481 in federal grant funds for use in “drug-related investigations, training, K9 supplies, communication equipment, eradication projects, and travel to other islands or joint operations with other law-enforcement agencies.”

• The council will also hear details on two legal claims against the county, both of which involve alleged damage to personal property.

• Several bills related to changes in Kaua‘i’s county code as it relates to transient accommodations and financial disclosures are also scheduled to be read.

• Bills 2822 and 2838 are set for first reading. Both deal with the regulation of developed campgrounds.

• Bill 2830 would define the type of employees required to file financial disclosures with the county Board of Ethics. That bill is scheduled for its second reading before the council.

A full copy of the council’s agenda and a link to livestream today’s meeting, which begins at 8:30 a.m., can be found at

This article was corrected at 12:15 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Bills 2822 and 2838 regarded potential changes to state transient accommodations taxes. Both bills deal with transient accommodations — specifically, the regulation of developed campgrounds — not state TATs.


Kaleb Lay, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or​

  1. Joe Maka October 6, 2021 5:06 am Reply

    Our County has a proven track record of efficiently managing projects like this. They appreciate our tax dollars wisely do really great things.

  2. Disappointed October 6, 2021 6:38 am Reply

    I’m really surprised Luke is in favor of stealing this persons property at below market value and then rezoning it for residential instantly increasing its value ten fold. Luke unfortunately whatever good you have done thus far is wiped if you proceed to steal this mans land. That’s a slippery slope to go down. This in the name of public housing? Whos to say the next time you need land for something somewhere you don’t just go an enact imminent domain to steal it well
    Below market value. How about zuckerberg gives up 23.5 acres of his 1300 in order to help. He’s just a ways down the road. Or do you plan to use his tactics and sue the person into selling.

  3. Peter October 6, 2021 6:58 am Reply

    So people on the the County payroll getting together to use their governmental power to take land from a rich person against his will to give it back to poor people. Even though the County of Kauai already owns 1000’s of acres of land. And you wonder why some people despise government !!!

  4. Sam G October 6, 2021 7:11 am Reply

    A communist solution for a deep blue state filled with communists. It will start with this land and end with peoples’ land, and eventually their homes, being seized in the public interest.

    1. Will G October 6, 2021 10:17 am Reply

      This forum is not the place to test your stand up comedy. Try those jokes in Mississippi, I’ll help you pack.

      1. Sam G October 6, 2021 11:56 am Reply

        Communism is no joke just ask the people in Venezuela, or wait a few years and ask your neighbors around here.

      2. Sam G October 6, 2021 1:37 pm Reply

        Will G, I want to add that I do like comedy because I think it brings us together so here is a joke in my best Jeff Foxworthy voice: If you’re fine with the government overstepping and seizing private property you might be a communist.

        1. Will G October 7, 2021 1:13 pm Reply

          The joke is you think we’re a Blue State filled with communist. Why would you subject yourself to such horror?

  5. Makani B. Howard October 6, 2021 9:02 am Reply

    Ridiculous! Don’t take someone’s land, even if it is a rich man’s! At least offer fair market value! If it was to build a road that everyone on island would use, that is one thing. But to build an “affordable” (joke) housing project that few will use, that’s a completely different animal. This is government at it ‘s worst!

    1. Critical thinker October 6, 2021 4:35 pm Reply

      How about we start with your property Luke, or your dads property off kahuna rd. Your such a self righteous spoiled brat. You never worked hard in your life you are the worst, guess that’s why you picked politics. Now you can tell everyone else how to run their life and they can do better while your family hoards land and money. Pathetic.!!

  6. Gordo October 6, 2021 9:08 am Reply

    23 acres for affordable housing?!?!? WHAT?!?! Are you planning on housing 20,000 people?!
    Eminent domain is for roads and bridges when there is no other way. THIS IS OBSCENE. STOP IT.

    1. Eric Greenfield October 7, 2021 6:31 am Reply

      Scumbag politicians.

      1. Eric Greenfield October 8, 2021 6:50 am Reply

        Luke you know where to put your ideas. It’s dark and smells bad and it’ll hurt when you put them there.

    2. Reality Bites October 8, 2021 1:59 am Reply

      Well said sir.

      “Affordable Housing” = Taxpayer subsidized (your money) housing for the lazy.

      When you cannot afford housing prices and there are not many well paying jobs then………..wait for it………you move to where housing is affordable and jobs are better. It is not that hard. Stop the madness!

  7. Anahola Paul October 6, 2021 9:15 am Reply

    This is a non-starter for the county. Here’s my theory. Council would propose to purchase, again. Homeowner would object, again. Council would then try to push eminent domain to acquire. Homeowner hires top attorney to represent his interest.
    (Anyone that has land worth $30 MM is not going to hire a small law firm) Council THEN figures out that outside attorney representing County will charge $800,000 in total fees with 3.5 – 5 years of everyone’s lives to put together an argument to win or at least TRY to win….Council gets turned over during year 3… realizes that they have nothing to show except an unwinnable lawsuit… BUT having spent over $500k….the Council and property taxpayers of Kauai decide to concede. Please…Find some other land…and save the taxpayers $500k upfront.

  8. what about the Robinsons' vast land? October 6, 2021 12:54 pm Reply

    the Communist Party of Kauai wants to take this man’s land?!? why not strike a deal with the Robinsons for even a fraction of their gazillion acres?

  9. Richard Blake October 6, 2021 12:55 pm Reply

    If Hawaii would mint a coin, for a billion, which is a lot less then the trillion Biden is proposing to fix Trump’s mess, the state of Hawaii could use those funds to acquire this land, and much more, and before you tell me states can’t print their own coinage you are wrong because the law is what the people say the law is.

  10. Will Dargan October 6, 2021 1:01 pm Reply

    The Waimea 400 Master Plan has 417 raw acres between Waimea and Kekaha (County Owned). Could the Kaua‘i County Council apportion 23.5 acres of already owned county land to develop their housing project? No litigation fees, No community disharmony, No out-of-pocket land purchase expenses.

    1. MisterM October 6, 2021 3:39 pm Reply

      Sure they could. Except the problem is the extreme lack of affordable housing in the North Shore, which Waimea 400 does nothing to fix.

      County needs to stop this absurd eminent domain action. They surely don’t need 23.5 acres to build affordable housing, unless they plan on building hundreds of units and ruining Kilauea’s character.

      Make a deal. Buy 10 acres for $5M and make an offer to rezone the rest. Win-win.

  11. Willy wonka October 6, 2021 2:55 pm Reply

    Should of thought of that before letting mark Zuckerberg but over a,thousand acres of land.. rediciulous for 1 family to need so much land on this little island.

  12. Daniel October 6, 2021 4:52 pm Reply

    This is an abuse of government power. The government shouldn’t be trying to provide people housing in the first place; there are any number of things county and state government could do to make it easier for the private sector to provide more housing if that is a need. And if they do provide housing, and the seller doesn’t want to sell for your absurdly low price (does anyone think 23.5 acres on the north shore is worth under $4 million?), then too bad. Try somewhere else. These intimidation tactics and inappropriate use of eminent domain is wrong. I hope this guy sues, wins, and collects damages.

  13. Scheme October 6, 2021 6:53 pm Reply

    The real scheme is to line the pockets of their attorney friends that knows this is a lose lose situation but will get PAID handsomely for this bait and switch scheme.

    This is the same with paying almost $2,000,000 for what park to receive ticket booths and what else for $2,000,000 like the gum roof that cost over $1,000,000.

    Same same game with same contractors getting PAID for campaign contributions.

    You fools.

  14. Keep it real October 8, 2021 7:51 am Reply

    County councilman Wild Bill Decosta owns 10 acres in Lawai. Maybe he can donate half? What about Aryl Kaneshiro? His family owns even more than that I’m Omao. Sell them 🐏 and put houses on that pasture before you sell anymore of it to rich mainland people like you’ve already done repeatedly in the past…

  15. behappy October 9, 2021 3:52 am Reply

    Kilauea is doomed as the sweet little town we all know and love if this happens. I absolutely refuse to believe homeowners in Kilauea are in favor of this atrosity. Someone is not telling it straight!!!

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