On Politics: Kakaako Makai reopens drama between state, OHA
April 9, 2023

by: Richard Borreca

Should we protect or develop the critically important Kakaako Makai area?

Would you like open space, do you think Native Hawaiians should get money they are due, and who do you think should open their checkbook?

It is not an easy issue, but it is coming back and it is going to be a fight.

Speaker of the House, Rep. Scott Saiki last week offered a new deal with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to give it $100 million plus $65 million to fix damage to a wharf area on part of OHA’s land — in return for a final deal, called a protective covenant, to agree not to excessively develop the area.

OHA last week rejected the compromise.

After a round of meetings Saiki said he expects a summer filled with hearings, meetings and negotiations before the start of the 2024 legislative session.

This is important because Kakaako Makai, the land oceanside of Ala Moana Boulevard, is some of Hawaii’s signature land in the state. It is mostly open space but it is historic with the footprints of Hawaiian kings and commoners marking its story.

Simply put, almost anyone who ever came to Hawaii walked on this land. Almost all classic views of Diamond Head have the foreground including Kakaako Makai. It is Honolulu’s front yard, filled with everyday folks working, relaxing, surfing, picnicking and just getting down to the water’s edge.

The somewhat complex and controversial dilemma now features OHA, the Native Hawaiian entity responsible for continuing negotiation with the state. This is all over the amount and terms of reparations due Native Hawaiians set forth in the federal provisions of agreements drafted with statehood for Hawaii in 1959. Money is due; how much and for how long is the debate.

To settle part of it, former Gov. Neil Abercrombie reached agreement with OHA in 2012 for selling portions of state land in Kakaako, in lieu of $200 million the state owed the agency for unpaid ceded-land revenue.

Waiting and watching is a skeptical public that wants open land remaining clear, right of ways to the ocean preserved, and not a blade of picnic grass touched.

“Preserve these lands for future generations. Once this land is sold to private entities this land is gone forever,” said citizen groups banding together to petition both OHA and the state to save Kakaako Makai.

It gets tricky fast. OHA last week blasted Saiki, saying: “He is clearly not moved by the voice of the people — the people he supposedly serves. And he most certainly is not receptive to the Native Hawaiian community.”

OHA’s Chairwoman Carmen Hulu Lindsey said: “Let’s be clear: We are not asking for special treatment. We are asking for equal treatment,” adding, “We are asking to be accorded the same privileges as the developers from the mainland whose towers continue to go up, unimpeded.”

Last week when Saiki offered a compromise, it seemed like there was a chance of movement. But positions quickly hardened and now it seems like this has become a time for drama, not a deal.

Indecision is stopping both development and continued view plane and open space protection.

Let’s see if Saiki’s search for compromise can find some takers.