Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Chairperson Laura Thielen announced today that the state will not take any action to evict six Kahana Valley families who are living in Kahana Valley Park, while the 2009 Legislature considers revisions to the law to address this issue. "Although we could not resolve this issue with the six families, we are encouraged it will be addressed during the 2009 legislative session," said Thielen. "We trust the Legislature will continue to respect the basic foundation of the public's right to access state parks, keep residential areas separated from the public areas and make Kahana Valley a public park that welcomes and enriches all residents and visitors of Hawai'i."
Some of the residents, such as Lena Soliven, had been promised leases by the state and had fulfilled legal and financial requirements to acquire those leases. However, an abrupt shift in state policy in March of this year pulled those leases out of reach.
The new policy was prescribed by Attorney General Mark Bennett in an opinion on Act 5, a law passed in 1987 that allowed the land board to issue residential leases in Kahana ahupua'a. The land had been purchased by the state through eminent domain from a private estate in 1970. Kahana ahupua'a is an important asset because it contains approximately 80 percent of the island's water, and is the beginning of the Waiahole Ditch.
A grassroots victory
Soliven credited the community's support for the successful stopping of the evictions.
"I truly believe that it was a combined effort," she said.
More than 200 supporters came to Kahana ahupua'a before the morning daybreak last Monday to prevent the anticipated eviction. Notices posted by state officers ordered residents to vacate their humble, makeshift homes by 6 am. By 5 am, the perimeter of Ahupua'a o Kahana park was lined with young and old people from throughout the island, carrying signs and flags, calling for a stay on the evictions.
Next: the legislature
Attention now shifts to the legislative branch. State Sen. Clayton Hee (D-District 23), who won his re-election last night with 10,722 votes—beating his opponent, Republican Richard Fale, by a 2-to-1 margin—has promised to pursue a legislative resolution to the Kahana situation.
Hee and the state senate are on record supporting a new bill for Kahana ahupua'a. The House of Representatives, by contrast, refused to pass Hee's previous bills.
That may change in January, however. Attorney Jessica Wooley (D) beat incumbent Rep. Colleen Meyer (R) for the district representing Kahana ahupua'a, which may make the Democratic Legislature more inclined to support taking action on the Kahana issue.