Letters for Friday, October 15, 2021

Use eminent domain on Coco Palms

I have a question.

If the county can “eminent domain” 26 acres of prime ag land in Kilauea, why can’t they use the “eminent domain” process with the 20-acre site the old Coco Palms sits on and create a park and cultural center which certainly would be in the public interest?

Judith Gardner, Kilauea

Grateful for county eminent-domain action

Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use, ostensibly for the public good, such as railroads or freeways.

Mr. Stewart (TGI Letter 10/12/21) gives a historical perspective on it in the context of property rights and the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. There is another perspective in the context of land and real-estate speculation on Kaua‘i: The ownership of the Kilauea land is in the hands of an LLC in North Dakota.

I applaud the County Council for exercising the right of eminent domain over this property to build much-needed affordable housing on Kaua‘i. Has eminent domain been abused at times? Of course. But is island speculation on Kaua‘i by mainland LLCs, or anyone for that matter, more important to the public good than affordable housing on Kaua‘i?

The median price of a home on Kaua‘i is now $1.1 million. Land and real-estate speculation in combination with the rise of the short-term rental market (e.g., VRBO, Airbnb) only exacerbates this problem.

In my opinion, the only people who should be deeply concerned about the county’s move in Kilauea are the land and real-estate speculators who rarely have the public good in their business models. Further, you should talk to people who cannot afford a home or cannot find a suitable long-term rental on Kaua‘i for their families. Their voices should be as important as any others in this context.

These are complex issues with many competing perspectives, but prioritizing land and real-estate speculation over the common good is not the answer.

Frankly, I am not very concerned that the B&D LLC from North Dakota will not make as much money on their Kilauea land speculation as they would like, and I suspect they will make a handsome profit from the county nonetheless.

And, finally, if one is counting on developers to build affordable housing as part of a larger development deal, look only to Princeville to see that it took over 40 years for the Kolopua Apartments to be built.

The motivation of land and real-estate speculators is clear: profits first, the people last. The county is trying to reverse that in this case, and we should be grateful that they have the courage to do so.

John Brekke, Ha‘ena

On the state’s broken emergency-powers law

If there is one thing more powerful than COVID-19, apparently it’s a winning football team.

Just a day after Gov. David Ige extended his coronavirus state of emergency for two more months, the University of Hawai‘i Rainbow Warriors football team played an exciting, nationally televised home game at its new Ching Field in Manoa, and that changed everything.

The team beat a nationally ranked rival for the first time in more than 10 years. Yet virtually no fans were in the stands. Neither were there any crowds at its nationally televised home game two weeks before. As the game announcers made clear to their viewers during both events, that’s because UH football was the only major-college program in the country that wouldn’t let anyone attend its local football games, not even family members.

But on Friday, Oct. 9. the governor relented. He and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced they are loosening restrictions on public gatherings, including UH football and volleyball games. Friends and family members will be able to attend the next home football game, and the general public should be able to attend the final games at reduced capacity.

What happened? Did the situation change so much in a few short days?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know for sure. We are constantly being told that all coronavirus restrictions have been crafted in consultation with experts, but the public still knows very little about who those experts are or what data they are using to make their decisions.

On Thursday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that the state Department of Health is refusing to share detailed COVID data with local researchers and epidemiologists, leading to the conclusion that state health officials don’t want independent scientists reviewing their work.

What we do know is that public pressure started building to allow fans into the UH football games even before the Rainbow Warriors’ latest winning game. Newspaper sportswriters had complained about the empty stands and artificial crowd noise, and House Speaker Scott Saiki implored the governor just the day before the latest game to allow fans to attend.

Nevertheless, the governor defended his decision to keep Hawai‘i’s sports stadiums empty. He made vague statements about reopening “various sectors” at the “appropriate time.”

Now, of course, it appears that the “appropriate time” for reopening sports has arrived. And thank goodness for that. But there still is the issue of public trust.

For more than 19 months, critics have been pointing out the logical inconsistencies, lack of fairness and lack of transparency regarding the various state and county lockdown measures. Meanwhile, the official goalposts for a return to normalcy have been moved so often that it’s a wonder anyone takes the official pronouncements seriously anymore.

It didn’t help that in the governor’s latest proclamation, those goalposts seemed to vanish altogether when he abandoned vaccination percentages as the standard for lifting restrictions and said that no “single metric” would determine the end of the emergency.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, all of these problems are the result of Hawai‘i’s broken emergency-powers law. It was never intended to create a system of unaccountable executive rule that would last for nearly two years. We have created a precedent wherein any threat to our state can legitimize the seemingly endless abuse of executive power.

This will not be the last emergency Hawai‘i faces. But it can be the last time that due process, transparency and the state’s constitutional balance of powers are tossed aside for months on end. The Hawai‘i Legislature must reform the state’s emergency-management law to create a check on executive power and end the possibility of a never-ending emergency.

Yes, it is possible the Legislature could reform the statute, step in to end executive rule, then pass a series of objectionable laws. But if that happens, at least it will be done openly, with the opportunity for public debate and public testimony — and by elected officials who will have to defend those decisions at the ballot box.

Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawai‘i.

  1. Zchechuan October 15, 2021 12:15 am Reply

    That’s good Judith. But the land in Coco Palms is already under state ownership. If they use it for that use, hotel, it will become public taxed. The public will be taxed. So you pay higher taxes in property or whatever they have going.

  2. Mark October 15, 2021 4:37 am Reply

    Keli’i, I agree with your well written letter. You are however going to be very disappointed. The power grab by our elected officials will evolve into total control. What we are living with right now, loss of freedom and choice is permanent. Government never gives up power willingly.But you know that. We all know that. Question is, what to do about it

  3. Kauairesident October 15, 2021 5:09 am Reply

    John-excellent letter! The long term housing situation for year round residents who are not millionaires has become ridiculous. $5,000 for a two bedroom basic house on the Northshore? Illegal dwellings being rented for $3k-$4k? Landlords raising rent $700 in one year because “that’s the going rate”. We need rent control or updated rentAl laws for this county.

    1. Reality Bites October 15, 2021 5:35 pm Reply

      Here we go again….so let me provide you an education…

      Landlords provide a service, and take risk….the cost of the house, taxes, and insurance….Oh, and occupancy rate. How about lawyer costs and repair costs when someone does not pay and wrecks the home/apartment? How about the back rent that never gets paid?

      Landlords provide a service……….and wait for it……….TAKE THE RISK. Either pay the cost or find somewhere else to live on the planet, that provides a lower cost of living, while providing better job opportunities…..other than supporting tourism. You are not “entitled” to live here if you cannot or will not afford it.

      For the love of God, you people need to learn personal finance and personal responsibility.

      Subsidized housing = taxpayer funded housing for the lazy

      We ACTUALLY have programs for the select few that ACTUALLY CANNOT TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES, unfortunately it is abused and inefficient.

      Stop the “affordable housing” madness on this island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! Carry on.

  4. Everythingisawesome October 15, 2021 5:37 am Reply

    eminent domain
    Is this plot of private land the only acceptable location for low income housing?
    Wouldn’t it make more sense to use eminent domain on the Hyatt Regency in Koloa? Or maybe one of the resorts on the east side? The infrastructure is already there and it’s only wealthy tourists that use it. “Move-in ready” as they say. I can’t think of ANY reason not to. After all, we’re talking about the common good.

  5. Ashley October 15, 2021 7:29 am Reply

    Right on, John Brekke.

  6. Rich Belmont October 15, 2021 7:34 am Reply

    Thank you John Brekke, well said.

  7. therealhawaiian October 15, 2021 8:38 am Reply

    It was a good letter John, but you may be missing one overriding point that one should consider. You state that because the owner was from North Dakota that eminent domain is justified, but if it was a good ole local Hawaiian boy it would not be justified? Your logic is that one deserves to not make a profit in America and the other, because of “circumstances” and the nature and color of their skin, deserves more profit? Do you realize the slippery slope that creates? The greatest Document ever written is the Constitution of the United States. It’s main framework is to limit Government Powers over “We the People”. If a Government is ever given the power to pick and choose who deserves eminent domain and who doesn’t “deserve” it, our entire perspective on Freedom has to change and Government politicians will begin making vast sums of money by picking and choosing who deserves to be “punished” by Government. Even thinking about giving Government that power of decision over who deserves a Freedom, and who doesn’t, starts the ball of tyranny rolling down the same hill that created the Governments of Oligarchy, Communism, and bondage for it’s unfortunate “People”, ie. China, Russia, and even North Korea! We need to be very careful when giving Government any opinion of a choice of control over the people. Was this “Pandemic” that many believe, including the Governments of every Country in Scandinavia, a hoax? Perhaps. We do know that it transferred and forced “We the People” to “voluntarily” lose more freedoms than any event in the History of America. Let’s hope it’s over soon and “Government” will give up the Powers they’re now emboldened by and inebriated with!

  8. Barry Dittler October 15, 2021 11:51 am Reply

    It is amazing that many feel the county is justified in basically seizing private property because the owners are a small family owned LLC in North Dakota. The Bette Midler family trust owns tens of thousands of acres on Kauai. Why not some of her land, too rich and powerful maybe ? Or how about some of Mark Zuckerberg’s hundreds of acres, again too rich and powerful ? Affordable housing is a worthy goal, but doing the wrong thing for the right reason is still wrong ! I am sure John would feel different if they county took his expensive home up in Ha’ena, say for a shopping center. It is so easy to judge when it does not effect you.

  9. hutch October 15, 2021 2:18 pm Reply

    I nominate John Brekke’s property be placed on the eminent domain list next. I’m sure he’ll welcome the opportunity to help out his “ohana”.

  10. manawai October 15, 2021 8:42 pm Reply

    John Brekke, is that the sound of your drawbridge clanging shut I hear?

  11. Rev Dr Malama October 18, 2021 8:42 am Reply

    Push back is coming in the form of yet again more lawsuits the county coulda/woulda avoided by doing a little research and development…..
    One has to wonder “are the lawyers running this island political?”
    Google the Kilo decision and Justice Sandra O’Connor decent on the matter of overturning the 5th amendment to the constitution of the United states of America…..
    Then go read about where Kauai is really situated politically because changes are coming to the government at last….. rule of war applicable. @

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