Scrapyard: Kahana Valley Evictions
Last year, DLNR threatened six Hawaiian families in the Kahana Valley State Park with eviction. After protests, it punted the eviction decision to the state Legislature to resolve this session. Should the state allow the families to stay?
Laura H. Thielen
State Department of Land and Natural Resources, Chairperson
In 1965, the state turned Kahana into a public park. The state, Kahana residents and the community developed the concept of a “living park” that allowed residents to remain in the ahupuaa in exchange for interpretive services for park visitors.
In 1988, the state Legislature authorized DLNR to issue leases to 31 families in Kahana. All residents were required to move to the rear of the park, opening the park entrance to the public.
By 2004, children of the residents wanted their own homes.
They lobbied to increase the number of leases, and 28 people applied for new leases, including six families who had moved into abandoned structures at the park entrance.
In 2005, 2007 and 2008, the Legislature rejected new leases. By 2008, DLNR had to address the six families who lived at the park entrance without leases due to complaints that the park is not welcoming and looks like a private residential area.
We notified the six families and worked with OHA and Alu Like to provide transitional services. Later we posted eviction notices and brought back Alu Like, Catholic Charities and transitional housing.
Area legislators asked if we would let the six stay in Kahana another session while they revisited the law.
DLNR offered to relocate the families to the residential area of the park so we could open the entrance and ensure any new leases would be in the residential section. Unfortunately, the six families chose not to meet with us and are seeking leases for the park entrance.
Now the matter rests with the Legislature. We wish them the best in their deliberations. If the area remains a state park, we trust they will respect the basic foundation of the public’s right to access state parks, keep residential areas separate from public areas and make Ahupuaa o Kahana State Park a place that welcomes all residents and visitors of Hawaii.
Sadly, Thielen’s action to evict 44 people should never have occurred. No one quibbles with the right of state government to assert itself; however, the Kahana evictions are unnecessary and mean spirited. After 38 years of state control, Kahana has been little more than a series of setbacks, disappointments, malfunctions and frustrations. Astonishingly, Thielen believes that evicting families is essential to the state’s solution to making the park successful.
A 2001 Legislative Reference Bureau Report concluded that the “living park” at Kahana Valley is a miserable failure. Among the reasons. Hourly resident records lack enforcement; the DLNR has not implemented meaningful programs; and, most importantly, the state has been unable to adopt a master plan—all of which result in a dysfunctional park program borne by poor management, direction and focus by DLNR.
Thielen’s order to evict six Hawaiian families from Kahana Valley State Park is consistent with Gov. Linda Lingle’s proactive policies against Native Hawaiians. The evictions, added to Lingle’s outspoken support for John McCain, who opposes the Akaka Bill, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s appeal supporting the state’s right to sell ceded lands, are the latest examples of the government’s frontal assault against Hawaiian people regardless of what Lingle says. Her actions speak louder than her rhetoric.
Laura Thielen should assume a more positive leadership role, listen carefully, pay attention to the valley lessees and work with them to co-author a master plan for Kahana Valley. She should invite partners such as OHA, Alu Like, the Sierra Club and the Oahu Land Trust to fund programs such as reopening former taro terraces, establishing cultural programs and interpretive curriculum for the public and renovating Hawaiian sites, starting with the prehistoric Huilua fishpond, instead of throwing families on the street simply because she thinks she can.