Thursday, November 5, 2009

Musings: Long Overdue

The stars were bright, and so was the moon, when Koko and I went walking in a morning that was delightfully crisp and fresh and cool — weather that is very welcome and long overdue.

In a major victory for Hawaiians that is long overdue, the Circuit Court found yesterday that the state has been way too slow in awarding Hawaiian Homestead leases. Of course, anyone with a brain knew that already. But the court action, which itself took a decade, was needed to force the state to wake up. As the Advertiser reports:

State First Circuit Judge Eden Elizabeth Hifo ruled the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is required to place Native Hawaiians on lands set aside for them by the federal government in a prompt and efficient manner. Hifo's decision means the state could owe unspecified millions in damages to more than 2,700 Hawaiians who have been waiting for land.
About 19,000 people with 50 percent or more Hawaiian blood are waiting to be placed on homesteads, which were promised to them as part of the Hawaiian Homes Act of 1920 passed by the U.S. Congress.

The decision came just as I learned that musician Shilo Pa — "got to leave some land for the Hawaiian people" — had lost his Homestead award because he had lost his job due to the economic downturn. It was really sad, because I wrote an article about the family’s struggle to qualify for the homestead mortgage. And now they’re seeing that dream slip away, just as so many Hawaiians have also seen their dream of a home in their homeland slip away.

Just the day before I was interviewing Koloa architect Ginny Latham, who has designed a number of very nice, but not lavish homes — “I won’t design a home over 5,000 feet unless it’s for a family of 12,” she said — and we were talking about how if the state and/or counties had assessed an impact fee on every home built in Hawaii, there would be plenty of money to provide Hawaiians with homes.

We agreed that it’s never too late to start, because we all know the development of Hawaii is not pau yet. It seems only fitting that those who are contributing to the displacement of Hawaiians should also be making some contribution to get them on the land that was set aside for them 89 years ago. That is, if the government was really serious about fulfilling its trust duties.

Getting back to the court case:

In her ruling, Hifo pointed to several specific examples of the breach of trust:

• The state failed to return 29,000 acres of land that had been taken out of the trust for government entities and private individuals.

• DHHL failed to maintain financial records for a number of years, making it impossible for the agency to issue bonds as a means of financing housing projects until the mid-1980s.

• The state should have conducted a land inventory when it took over trust responsibilities from the federal government in the early 1960s.

In human terms, here’s an example of how people have been jacked around by DHHL:

Among the beneficiaries who would be eligible for damages is Irene Cordeiro-Vierra, 82, of La'ie, who said being awarded a homestead years ago would have made an enormous difference in her life. By the time she was awarded a lease, she was retired and not in a position to afford a mortgage, she said.

Cordeiro-Vierra said she left her home in Honolulu to live on the beach at her brother's property in Puako from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s while working two jobs in the Kona-Kohala region. Cordeiro-Vierra said she applied for a lease in Kawaihae in 1984 but lost out in 1986 to about 40 other applicants ahead of her on the list.

Cordeiro-Vierra said she was ready to agree to take other available properties at that point but was told by a DHHL employee to wait for an upcoming project that would better suit her needs.

She waited until 1988 for such a project to come about but it did not. "Until this day, I don't have a Hawaiian home," she said. She gets calls and letters now from DHHL asking if she'd like to apply. "I'm not capable anymore," she said. "It has been very frustrating."

So when you see how badly the state has screwed up Hawaiian Homes, which represents just a fraction of the lands it’s supposed to be holding in trust, it stands to reason that the state is doing an equally shoddy and unjust job of managing the ceded lands trust.

Time to give it all back to the Hawaiians, while there’s still some land and some Hawaiians left.

And while we're on the topic of shoddy, unjust and corrupt management, this comment left on a previous post caught my eye:

true. and yes, many gifts/favors flow from the development side into the hands of plan. dept. staff.

Really? I'd like to hear a little more about that.


Anonymous said...

Once again, its the Hawaii bureaucrats that just sit on things - never DOING anything sometimes for decades. Its probably not a grand master plan to keep Hawaiians off of their land. The true fault lies more with a culture where government jobs go to the local and connected - regardless of education or skill level - and once people get those jobs, they don't do any work - even if it means an old Hawaiian lady never gets her home. Aloha is a merely PR slogan because in reality many people here (not the Hawaiians), are just ice cold. And attempts to change the avoid-work culture of the local bureaucracy inevitably draw shrieks of "mainland mentality" from the lazy, the entrenched (and their friends). Same situation with the nurses at Wilcox, the teachers unions, KPD, planning dep't, and DLNR.

Anonymous said...

Now the state will appeal and drag it out longer so more people die waiting.

Anonymous said...

Impact fee?
I believe it's called the state income tax, where everyone gets to contribute.
So what will priority be, schools, police, jobs, land for the landless...

Anonymous said...

"Circuit Court found yesterday that the state has been way too slow in awarding Hawaiian Homestead leases. "

-- good for them, good news

"true. and yes, many gifts/favors flow from the development side into the hands of plan. dept. staff."

-- free lunches, xmas parties (best holiday party in town, hands down, guaranteed, and not self funded). ill leave it at that. not my job to expose. but they are way too buddy buddy. the fire line should also include "only employed staff" behind the walls / in the office of the dept. i have no evidence of naked bribes. oh and staff that are remotely educated and trained to be "planners" would be nice (ie, more than 2,3 people). but whatever, local drug culture is probably more of a problem than a poorly staffed planning dept (plus, costa - he actually does a pretty good good given what we has to work with as to rules and staff)