FEE LAW REPEALED:
Repeal supporters cheer the 6-3 Council vote, but lessees fear loss of their homes
By Crystal Kua
The City Council voted yesterday to void the controversial ordinance that allows condominium owners to use the city's condemnation powers to buy title to the land under their buildings.
"I love my home and I don't really want to give it up, and I really don't think that it's fair that we should have to after the many years we have been there."
Owner of a unit in the Kalia in Waikiki
The Council voted 6-3 to repeal the mandatory lease-to-fee conversion law known as Chapter 38. The measure now goes to Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who has said that he would sign a repeal bill.
"To me, Chapter 38 promotes unfairness, and that is why it has been so controversial," said Councilman Nestor Garcia, who voted to repeal the law.
After the vote, repeal supporters, including representatives of charitable trusts, small landowners, charter school students and teachers, and native Hawaiian activists applauded the Council's action.
They stood and broke into a chorus of "Hawaii Pono'i."
"We won. I'm just so happy. ... We've been fighting for this for the longest," said 17-year-old Helena Crawford, a senior at Waianae High School who has taken part in programs sponsored by the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, which owns land in Waikiki with leasehold condominium units.
"This means we can continue to protect our lands, we can continue to rely on our ownership into the future, rely on its cash flow and take care of our educational programs," said Ray Soon, vice president of community relations with Kamehameha Schools, which also fought to kill the law.
Chapter 38 harms charitable trusts like Kamehameha Schools and Queen Liliuokalani by taking away needed revenue generated from the condominium leases, its detractors said. Small landowners also said they have been at a disadvantage with lessees who have had City Hall on their side.
"Today is a wonder day in Hawaii nei for our children, our alii trust and protection of landownership for all of Hawaii's people," testified LeRoy Akamine, a Kamehameha Schools alumnus.
But lessees said they fear they will face high lease payments or lose their homes as a result of the law being voided.
"I love my home and I don't really want to give it up, and I really don't think that it's fair that we should have to after the many years we have been there," Melba Maxwell, who owns a unit in the Kalia in Waikiki, testified.
They also contend the city is liable for its decision to not only repeal the law, but to cut off applicants close to converting.
"We assumed that the City and County of Honolulu would live up to its obligations under its contract. This is just a flagrant breach by the Council of that," said Robert Dupire-Nelson. A resident of the Kahala Beach apartment, he is one of the plaintiffs who filed suit Monday against the city over the anticipated repeal of the law.
Another lawsuit was filed Tuesday by lessees at the Admiral Thomas condominium.
"I think we're placing every faith that the courts of Hawaii will uphold the law and uphold reason and allow actions to continue," Dupire-Nelson said. "If the courts do not allow the (conversion) action to continue, I think ... it puts a great deal of questions into how long you can remain somewhere."
The Council rejected an amendment introduced by Councilman Charles Djou that would have permitted some lessees in cases close to Council approval to complete the conversion process. Djou and other members said the amendment would have helped limit the city's exposure to liability.
The mandatory leasehold conversion law was passed in 1991 to help condominium leasehold owner-occupants gain title to the land under their units. The city uses its powers of eminent domain to condemn the land and turn over the fee interests to the eligible unit owners.
Seen at http://starbulletin.com/2005/01/27/news/index5.html
Cross-posted to hawaiians