Senate leadership stands with Kahana Valley families
A member from each of the families facing eviction from their Kahana Valley homes stood patiently behind a table of some of the state's most influential politicians with the message that they will be standing their ground and they will not be moving.
Yesterday, Democratic senators announced in a press conference at Senate President Colleen Hanabusa's office that they will be supporting the Kahana Valley families.
"We are here to affirm that the Senate Democrats stand shoulder to shoulder with the six families being impacted by [The Department of Land and Natural Resources]," Sen. Clayton Hee said.
The announcement came after a week of active support shown by the community for the families, from sign waving to dropping off food and supplies.
Hanabusa, Vice President Donna Mercado Kim, Hee, and Sen. Russell Kokubun said that they believe the courts would be in favor of the families if the issue were to go to trial.
Hee sited the state's previous intention to create new leases, the reliance of the families on the state to negotiate, and a recent reinterpretation of the law by the Attorney General as reasons a court would find in favor of the families remaining in Kahana Valley.
In March, the Attorney General said that the state's authority to provide new leases in Kahana had expired in 1993.
Hee said that a legal defense fund was being prepared by various groups and unions to defend the families.
"While we're wordsmithing, there are six families behind us who haven't slept and are wondering when the bulldozers are coming," Hee said.
Senators ask "why now?"
Hanabusa questioned the timing of the evictions and said that there is no reason to rush the evictions.
"There's nothing pressing that requires these families to be evicted so close to the holidays," she said. "The Attorney General's opinion is very convenient."
The recent interpretation of the language in Act 5, the law which sets forth the plans of an educational park in Kahana Valley and grants the state authority to give leases to families who have been living there, is the only thing driving the evictions, Hanabusa explained.
"There are ways to address the issues that we have," she said. "[The families] have detrimentally relied on the inactions of the state."
The senators urged DLNR to allow the families to stay in Kahana until the legislature is back in session so they can address any language issues in the law preventing the families from staying.
The families will be meeting with the senators throughout the week.
DLNR says families need to be relocated
DLNR chair Laura Thielen said that allowing the six families to remain would be unfair to 22 other families who had already moved out of Kahana Valley.
"I have a problem with favoring any certain people over another," she said. Thielen does not want to allow the six families to stay in Kahana if it means that other families who had applied for leases will not have a chance.
Thielen said in a meeting with Hee she would like to revisit the state's previous position to include all of the families in Kahana Valley.
However, regardless of any future decisions, the six families in question will have to relocate from their homes because they are currently located on a public area near the park's entrance, Thielen said.
Thielen explained that her concerns also lie with following the original legal agreements which designate certain areas public park land and other areas residential.
She said that DLNR is looking into plans to relocate the families to transitional housing near Kahana Valley.
Thielen will be meeting with the families today to determine an official deadline for them to move out.
"We are just families exercising our traditional, customary, ancestral rights and an ahupua'a lifestyle." Kahana Valley resident Lena Soliven said. "We're going to stand our ground and we will not be moving."-----