Intent for Kakaʻako Makai in 2012 Needs to Become Reality in 2023

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Mililani B Trask: Trustee Hawaiʻi Island

Originally printed as an OpEd in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Jan. 8, 2023.

The Star-Advertiser began the year with an editorial that suggests that, for lawmakers, 2023 may be “a chance to complete unfinished business.” We certainly hope so.

It’s time for state legislators to fulfill the promises they made to Hawaiians in 2012. Hawaiians have repeatedly been asked to wait. We have even had to wait for what the law dictates. Will we in 2023 see a genuine attempt to do what is pono?

Do we have reason to be optimistic? I think so. We have done our homework. We scoured the records to see what legislators said when Act 15 was passed. The records show that the state gave the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) parcels of Kakaʻako Makai lands with the expectation that OHA would also be given development rights to generate the equivalent of the ceded land revenues due to OHA by law – but which had gone unpaid for years.

As we ask again for the lifting of the restrictions on what Hawaiians can do on Hawaiian lands, legislators should remember what was said in 2012.

Four committees – Hawaiian Affairs; Water, Land and Housing; Judiciary and Labor; and Ways and Means – all noted that “property values could be enhanced by certain entitlements that, while not specifically provided for in this measure, could be obtained at a future date.”

The committees on Judiciary/Labor and Ways and Means then also recorded their understanding that “this measure does not represent a final settlement of all of the longstanding ceded land claims, nor does it encompass all ceded land parcels within the lands identified as the Kakaʻako Makai area.”

In sharp contrast to 2012, we are now in a time when the state’s coffers are full to overflowing.

Yes, many challenges face the state and there are many needs to be met. Comments from House leadership that “a deal is a deal” fail to acknowledge that more action was expected from them to fill out the framework of the “deal.”

We have waited for more than a decade for this discriminatory law to be corrected. As a trustee and an attorney, I have a fiduciary obligation to ensure that OHA realizes optimum value from our Kakaʻako parcels, known collectively now as Hakuone.

Hawaiians must be free to do what is right and smart to realize the full value of their lands. Developers on the ma uka side of Ala Moana Boulevard do not have their hands tied. So, why have lawmakers placed obstacles in the way of OHA delivering for its beneficiaries? That needs to change.

OHA plans to restore access for Hawaiians to a place from which they were gradually excluded. Hawaiians need what Hakuone will provide: kūpuna and keiki day care, a cultural center, farmers’ markets, a fish market, an oceanfront boardwalk, housing they can afford, and a sense of the Hawaiian neighborhood of old. In addition, Hakuone could generate a revenue stream that will feed OHA’s efforts to address the needs of at least some of the 28,000 Hawaiians who have been waiting for years for DHHL housing.

The enthusiasm at our recent community meetings affirms our vision for Hakuone. Lawmakers must deliver. I join my fellow trustees in asking lawmakers to lift the restrictions on residential housing on Hawaiian lands in Kakaʻako Makai. It would be a tangible demonstration of good faith toward the Indigenous people of these islands, something sorely needed at this time when our confidence has been shaken by disappointment after disappointment, scandal after scandal. I choose to be optimistic.