Saturday, February 6, 2010

Eminent Domain Honolulu Style: You Could Lose Your House in a Month
By Panos D. Prevedouros, PhD, 2/5/2010 7:45:03 AM

This case is about two owners (sisters) being directed to enter eminent domain proceedings thereby being forced to sell their property to the city so that a fire station is relocated on their property in Hauula.

"Eminent Domain must be the last resort in the acquisition of private properties. The owners of Parcel 2 (Lot 65) do not wish to sell. They should not be condemned to sell when the city enjoys other options. We do not believe this particular condemnation is by necessity when due process and other optional sites have not been thoroughly explored.

"Neighborhood Board #28 concurs with the Hauula Community Association (HCA) in its concerns regarding ongoing problems with timely communication between government agencies, consultants and our community.

"We invite the Department of Design and Construction to begin needed and meaningful dialogue with the Hauula community."

So summarizes the Chair of Neighborhood Board 28 to Mayor Hannemann and Council Chair Apo.

"The city has no good excuse to condemn the lot for a fire station relocation because it has other options. The owner does not want to sell. There are other big lots along Kam Hwy. Just do the homework. Using this lot by Kawaipuna St. will cause more traffic problems for Hauula. The mothers are always dropping their children at the preschool."

So wrote Marvin Iseke of Hauula to the Council and there were 87 signed petitions opposing Council Resolution 10-3 introduced by Council Chair Apo. Council Resolution 10-3 evokes eminent domain and forces two parcel owners to sell to the city.

Community reaction has been strong.

"The Hauula Community Association (HCA) at its regular meeting on January 5, 2010, discussed the proposed re-location of the Hauula fire station and the HCA has concerns with the process and any decision-making regarding the proposed site.

"The HCA is distressed that there seems to be ongoing problems with timely communication between government agencies, consultants and our community. The HCA does not believe the correct process is being followed.

"The HCA further is concerned that the timelines for sending letters of notice, scheduling hearings and receiving feedback is unreasonable and does not provide the opportunity for the property owner or the community to respond."

Here is the timeline as reported to me by one of the affected owners:

December 31, 2009 -- Department of Design and Construction - Letter informing owner of condemnation proceedings

* January 4, 2010 -- Corporate Counsel draft request to city council chair
* January 4, 2010 -- City council chair assigns Resolution 10-003 to Budget Committee
* January 13, 2010 -- Budget Committee hearing -- Owners have 3 minutes to present their case
* January 27, 2010 -- City Council hearing -- Owners have 1 minute to present their case.

If the Hauula community did not stand up to support their neighbor, a decision could have been made by Council on January 27 to approve the resolution, then a fellow citizen could have lost her home and land in less than 30 days! In this case, decision-making was set for the February 24, 2010 Council meeting.

Underlying bullying actions also make this case egregious. On January 21, 2010, the owner received a notice of violation from Department of Planning and Permitting regarding tall weeds in the lot. The fine was set at $50 per day. The violation was reportedly issued in June 26, 2009 but owner received no such notice until the receipt of certified mail. Owner asked if someone complained. The city inspector replied that this was a follow-up to a 1988 violation. (A violation dating over 20 years ago! The lot has had several owners since.)

The main conclusion from this eminent domain application in Hauula is that government power is scary and there are people in government that will use it. Given how the community has been railroaded with the rail proposal, I have grave concerns about due process in the eminent domain takings of several hundred properties for the proposed project.

Panos Prevedouros is a professor of civil engineering at the University of Hawaii and a candidate for mayor in 2010. He can be reached at

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