Kakaako Makai intent in 2012 needs to become reality in 2023
January 8, 2023

By: Mililani Trask

Mililani B. Trask is an attorney and vice chair of the board of trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

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

It’s time for state legislators to fulfill the promises they made to Hawaiians in 2012. Waiting is something Hawaiians have been asked to do repeatedly. We have had to wait even 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 in 2012. The records show that the state gave the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) parcels of Kakaako Makai lands with the clear 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 legislative committees — for 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 on 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 Kakaako 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 the part that specified 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 Kakaako 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 mauka 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 where they lived, worked and played — but from which they were gradually excluded. Hawaiians need what Hakuone will provide: kupuna and keiki day care, an authentic cultural center, farmers’ markets, a fish market, an oceanfront boardwalk, housing that they can afford, and a sense of the Hawaiian neighborhood of old. In addition, the development of Hakuone will 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 as they clearly expected to do in 2012. I join my fellow trustees in asking lawmakers to lift the restrictions on residential housing on Hawaiian lands in Kakaako Makai. It would be a tangible demonstration of good faith toward the indigenous people of these islands, something that is sorely needed at this time when our confidence has been shaken by disappointment after disappointment, scandal after scandal. I choose to be optimistic.