HRS 171-93: Law Allows Swap of Lava-Covered Lots for State Property in Zone 3
by Andrew Walden
Legislators have a plan for Leilani Estates residents displaced by volcanic eruptions in their subdivision—a homeless tent city. Hawaii News Now, May 10, 2018 reports:
State Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, who represents Puna, said families who have been evacuated are already experiencing trauma.
"You could see these people ... are not used to being homeless," he said. "It's traumatic."
State Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Commission, said she'd like to see a temporary housing situation that officers evacuees showers and restrooms.
Meanwhile, people living in the shelters and camping out in the surrounding grounds say they're doing the best they can with what little they have.
"It’s kind of challenging living with a bunch of people and dogs. Everybody is on edge," one evacuee said.
Another evacuee added, "I's been very humbling, but we've had to adapt, trying to make the best of the situation. It's not easy."
Lawmakers also spoke to state and county officials about providing temporary access to homes that are now safe and the possibility of a special legislative session to discuss funding for the disaster.
"If that’s what we need to do to help the residents of the Big Island then we all stand ready to assist," said Senate President Ron Kouchi.
This wouldn’t be the first time that a Hawaii Legislature met in Special Session to provide relief to a natural disaster on the Big Island. Three weeks after the May 22, 1960 tsunami destroyed 530 buildings and killed 61 people in Hilo, the State Legislature convened. In the next 17 days, legislators passed 12 bills all of which Republican Governor William F Quinn signed into law. Some of these are still on the books, codified as HRS 171-85 through 92 -- dealing with relief for businesses destroyed by the tsunami -- and HRS 171-93 and 94 -- providing replacement for residential real estate.
In exchange for their tsunami-damaged real estate or leaseholds--business property owners were given new leasehold properties in what became the Kanoelehua Industrial Lots. Homeowners in the destroyed Shinmachi area of Hilo bayfront were given fee-simple lots on newly subdivided state land in Waiakea Uka. Shinmachi is now the site of the Hilo Bayfront Park.
HRS 171-93 reads:
“The Board of Land and Natural Resources may dispose of by sale, lease, or lease with option to purchase, public land through drawing by lots … to persons dispossessed or displaced as a result of a natural disaster, as determined by proclamation of the governor….”
State-owned non-DHHL land is colored Light Green.
The State of Hawaii owns quite a bit of land including large parcels in the relatively safe volcanic Zone Three, just a couple of miles from the unsafe Zone One Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions.
Leilani Estates is located in Zone One.
The 1959 Hawaii Admission Act lists five purposes for public lands including: “the development of farm and home ownership on as widespread a basis as possible.” Governor Quinn, won on a platform promising "The Second Mahele" distribution of fee-simple land.
Quinn explains, tsunami land exchanges “gave me the chance to show that you could take state land and use it for social purposes for the betterment of the people of Hawaii…. You can see it … in the prosperous business community and the residences up higher … a nice waterfront park and the knowledge that the terrible damage will never happen in Hilo again.”
Quinn's policy was altered by his successor, Democrat Jack Burns. The result is recorded in the 1990 book, Land and Power in Hawaii--which brings us back to Leilani Estates, described on page 272 as a 1960s subdivision project of developer Norman Inaba and Republican State Senator Richard Henderson.
Inaba, deeply ingrained in the Democratic Party power structure, also helped develop the ill-fated Royal Gardens subdivision described in Land and Power (pg 272-4):
“A (Royal Gardens) brochure described the development as being ‘directly adjacent to Hawaii Volcano National Park with its spectacular attractions.’ Another way of putting this would be to say that Royal Gardens was only 12 miles to the east-southeast of an active volcano ….
“In 1960 a lava flow covered much of Kapoho, destroying the village of that name. In 1977 an eruption nearly destroyed the village of Kalapana, about three miles northeast along the coast from Royal Gardens. Then in 1983, 1984, and 1985, a total of seven lava flows entered Royal Gardens, destroying altogether 22 homes, or about one in three of all residences so far built in the subdivision ….
“With this in mind, it is ironic to note that among those who invested in Royal Gardens in the 1960s were several people connected directly or indirectly, then or later, with government response to natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions.
“Investor Arthur Ishimoto was in 1983 state director of civil defense. Engineering consultant Yoshio Inaba had approved Royal Gardens’ creation as county engineer. As county engineer he also had some responsibility for Big Island civil defense plans and operations. One of Royal Gardens’ lawyers, George Ariyoshi, was the state’s chief executive when the volcano erupted (in 1983). The son of two other investors, the Matayoshis, was the Big Island’s chief executive in 1983.”
Other limited partners included judges, senators and representatives, Hawaii county supervisors (council members), a future Hawaii county mayor, and state and county engineering personnel.
Cooper and Daws explain: “Norman Inaba, who brought Milolii Beach Lots Subdivision and Royal Gardens into existence, was among the biggest of Hawaii County’s developers. In 1964 the Hawaii Star-Bulletin described him as ‘the Big Island’s most diversified if not the biggest subdivider with nine developments around the island covering some 7,000 acres.’”
Because of the balance between supply and demand created by its subdivisions, East Hawaii has the only affordable housing in the entire state. A long running Zone One eruption could wipe out thousands of lots, thus changing the balance and jacking up prices. HRS 171-93 and 94 allows for dangerous Zone One lots to be exchanged for Zone Three lots just as Shinmachi was exchanged for Waiakea Uka. Housing affordability can be maintained.
UPDATE May 14, 2018: A DLNR Land Division spokesman provided Hawai'i Free Press with the following statement: “Having land and having 'developable' land (with water, sewer, electrical, paved roads, telecommunications) are two separate issues. There are zoning and environmental impacts to consider as well as development of sensitive lands that may for instance contain burials. Additionally there are the issues of funding and actual construction.“