On April 6, 2023, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) Board of Trustees (BOT), recognizing both the significance and time sensitivity of Hawaiʻi House Speaker Scott Saiki’s proposal regarding development plans for OHA’s land in Kakaʻako Makai, convened a special meeting at its headquarters at Nā Lama Kukui in Honolulu.
The proposal, articulated in writing per OHA’s request in an April 3, 2023, letter regarding Senate Bill No. 1235, SD2, HD1 (Proposed), followed an in-person meeting between Saiki, OHA Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, and other OHA trustees. Saiki’s proposal included compensation to OHA of $100 million for a perpetual easement that would prohibit residential development; $65 million for wharf repairs; raising the interim pro rata portion of the public land trust income and proceeds to OHA from $21.5 million to $25 million on July 1, 2024, followed by a formula to raise the pro rata portion based on the consumer price index annually; and $100,000 made available to the Department of Land and Natural Resources to make information of the public land trust inventory easily searchable by the public.
The meeting included an executive session where trustees carefully reviewed and discussed the proposal before returning to regular session for an open vote.
While OHA appreciates that Saiki clearly recognizes the overarching need to make OHA whole, and acknowledges the historic nature of his latest proposal, trustees nonetheless found that both the terms and funds offered remain far off the mark. As a result, the BOT voted unanimously to reject the offer.
The BOT and its advisors agreed on several key reasons why the proposal could not be accepted:
- The dollar values specified, in the aggregate, still represent a small fraction of the total make-whole value owed to OHA, notwithstanding the escape clauses regarding future state budget surpluses.
- The prohibition of residential development via a “perpetual easement” has too adverse of an impact on the future value of Hakuone lands, and thus its critical, long-term role as an economic engine for OHA and its beneficiaries.
- The use of future Public Land Trust obligations to pay off a past Public Land Trust obligation is not acceptable.
While OHA gratefully acknowledges Saiki’s public overtures for a compromise, and for proposing a legislative solution so late in the current session – even entertaining the possibility of a special session – the BOT sincerely hopes that these developments reflect a much-needed thawing of entrenched positions and a meaningful start to open discussions and negotiations on this issue.
Ultimately, OHA maintains that the best and most appropriate venue for this debate is in public, at the Capitol, in both chambers of the legislature. As significant as these external negotiations are, OHA remains disappointed that a bill to repeal the restriction on residential development in Kakaʻako Makai was not allowed a fair hearing in the House, despite progressing in the Senate.
“Let’s be clear: we are not asking for special treatment. We are asking for equal treatment,” said Lindsey. “We are asking to be accorded the same privileges as the developers from the mainland whose towers continue to go up, unimpeded, just across from Hakuone.
“I am tired of seeing Kānaka Maoli dominate the statistics for houselessness, incarceration, and serious diseases. It breaks my heart to see children living with their parents in encampments and on sidewalks. Our lāhui and future generations would reap the benefits that would flow from OHA’s development of Hakuone,” Lindsey added.
“We see it as an economic engine, a place close to the urban core, where we can showcase our culture, allow families to thrive, and encourage business growth. We believe it would be a positive step towards fulfilling our sacred mission to foster the wellbeing of Native Hawaiians. Hakuone would be a crown jewel in downtown Honolulu, a place that is welcoming to all locals.”