by Andrew Walden (originally posted February 1, 2009)
In response to the Lingle Administration’s appeal of last years Hawaii State Supreme Court ‘ceded lands’ ruling, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, backed by its client-protestors, is demanding the state legislature vote to abandon its right to sell state-owned ‘ceded’ lands. If the Legislature bows to OHA’s demands, the state will be in direct violation of the Admission Act—and contrary to OHA propaganda; it is native Hawaiians who will (once again) pay the price for OHA’s power grab.
OHA’s legal assault on ‘ceded’ lands began with a 1994 suit seeing to prevent the State from selling about 500 acres in Lahaina to construct the Leiali`i affordable housing development and another approximately 1,000 acres in North Kona for the La`i`opua affordable housing development near Kealakehe High School. The Hawaii Admission Act specifies five purposes for which the ceded lands “shall be” used including: “the development of farm and home ownership on as widespread a basis as possible….” If the State cannot sell ‘ceded’ lands, it cannot promote “ownership.”
Thousands of Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians have left Hawaii in recent years. In 2007 nearly 10,000 residents left—proportionally higher than the average rate of exodus from communist Cuba. The primary reason for these departures is the lack of affordable housing in Hawai`i. And yet the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has consumed the last 14 years seeking to prevent the construction of affordable housing on ‘ceded’ lands. According to OHA ‘ceded’ lands are to be used for the benefit of Hawaiians. In reality OHA’s policy is to grab power for its Trustees by preventing the use of ‘ceded;’ lands for the benefit of Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike.
It’s not just affordable housing which suffers. OHA trustees in 2007 blocked the County of Kaua`i from constructing a juvenile residential drug treatment facility near the Hanapepe Salt ponds. OHA’s motivation--to again assert authority over other entities’ land use decisions. As a result of OHA’s actions, Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian children are not getting the help they need to get off methamphetamines.
OHA trustees also claim ownership of Hawai`i’s subterranean fresh water resources. Their 2007 assault on the Kaua`i Springs bottled water company failed. But OHA’s grab for natural resources strangles economic opportunity. Lack of opportunity is the flip side of lack of affordable housing—together these two conditions, created by OHA, drive the continuing exodus.
OHA’s claims over the land use decisions of Moloka`i Ranch and competing claims from OHA-agent-turned-rival Walter Ritte, led to the shutdown of the island’s largest private employer and the loss of 120 jobs on the most Hawaiian of the major islands. Now the legislature is considering a bill to steal the ranch from its owners. This drives the exodus.
Had OHA been successful, thousands of acres of Moloka`i Ranch land would have ended up under the control of a so-called ‘non-profit’ headed by OHA trustee Collette Machado. Is Moloka`i paying the price for an OHA policy designed to benefit one Trustee?
On the Big Island, OHA-funded agents asserting claims over the private property of others created the Hokuli`a debacle. They demanded millions of dollars in payment for themselves backing down in 2006 when the Legislature threatened to pass a bill by Rep Bob Herkes ‘grandfathering’ all agricultural subdivisions. Jobs and affordable housing have both been lost as investors seek jurisdictions where they will not be subject to greenmail. This too, drives the exodus.
OHA-funded agents led by convicted drug dealer Ralph Palikapu Dedman, blocked construction of clean geothermal electricity generation facilities at Wao Kele O Puna. OHA Trustees in 2006 got ownership of 25,856 acres in Puna, including the valuable geothermal well at an out-of-pocket cost of only $350,000 to OHA. Hawaiians lost economic opportunity and lost the opportunity for cheap clean energy. (Although one may be sure that as soon as the lava threat from Pu`u O`o subsides, OHA will begin looking for a contractor to finish the geothermal project in order to generate a revenue stream to the agency.) Thanks to OHA, electricity costs are higher, pollution is greater, jobs and economic opportunity are lost. This too, drives the exodus.
Dedman’s OHA-funded group Ka`u Preservation, Inc sought to convince the County of Hawai`i to use its power of eminent domain to seize a resort property and take the kuleana plots of other Hawaiians at Punalu`u, Ka`u. They failed, but did manage to chase away the developer. The same OHA-funded gang also failed in efforts to force the demolition of a legally constructed single family home nearby. These efforts endanger the real assets of all Hawai`i residents including Hawaiians. They also destroy economic opportunity and affordable housing. This too, drives the exodus.
Senator Dan Inouye wins federal support for a $1.2 billion dollar telescope atop Mauna Kea. OHA operatives are demanding $50 million in yearly “rent”. Extortion makes diversifying Hawai`i’s economy more difficult. Lack of opportunity also drives the exodus.
OHA’s stewardship of O`ahu’s Waimea Valley under a newly created LLC is challenged by the Stewards of Waimea Valley who demand a “forensic audit” OHA calling it a “rogue agency.” Others argue that OHA is “trying to turn Waimea Valley into a popular visitor attraction … at the expense of cultural and natural resources.” Thousands of Hawaiians are homeless and living on the beach, but OHA did not seek land for them. Instead they took control of a potentially-money-making cultural attraction and then handed it over to a Limited Liability Corporation.
Hawaiians testified against last years proposed OHA settlement with signs reading: “OHA Stop stealing from Hawaiians”. One speaker at a Hilo public hearing February 25 on the settlement proposal pointed out, “You guys (OHA) are just using us Hawaiians.” The meeting opened with a 30 minute power-point presentation by Dr Jonathan Scheuer, director of OHA’s then-newly-created land management hale. Scheuer explained: “OHA has fought this battle (for control over land) for 30 years. And it has distracted OHA from its core mission which is the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians.”
This should not be surprising. Land is a natural resource. Economies based on natural resources tend toward poverty and corruption.
The Economist, December 20, 2005 explains: “When it comes to wasted wealth, and the problems that bedevil poor countries that are rich in natural resources, especially oil, there is plenty of blame to go around. Economists have long observed that such countries tend to do badly. In a study in 1995, Jeffrey Sachs, now of Columbia University in New York, showed that the resource-rich grow more slowly than other poor countries—even after such variables as initial per capita income and trade policies are taken into account. …”
OHA’s entire “30 year battle” has been to place the worst elements of a natural-resource dependent economy under the control of a tribal government and mix in the kind of dependency-creating social programs which have done so much damage in America’s inner cities. The common factor: each of these elements of OHA’s scheme have proven to entrench corrupt political officials in power.
The penultimate section of OHA’s proposed bill reads: “This Act shall remain in effect until the claims of the native Hawaiian people to the public land trust lands have been resolved or until the legislature finds that the state no longer supports reconciliation between the state and the native Hawaiian people.”
The State of Hawaii should apologize to Hawaiians for establishing the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and should reconcile with Hawaiians by abolishing it.