Sunday, December 30, 2001

Danny Perreira of D&G Equipment and Hauling, a commercial tenant in Ewa Villages, was preparing Friday to move after being evicted by the city.

This chapter of
Ewa Villages coming to
a painful, costly close

The remaining businesses in the mill section of Ewa Villages are packing up and moving out, signaling the start of the final chapter of the most expensive scam in the history of the city.
Former city housing officials Michael Kahapea and Norman Tam were entrusted with a multi-million dollar relocation fund to remove the businesses from what had become a visual blight to make way for the city's grand revitalization plan for the neighborhood. Instead, prosecutors said, bogus companies were set up and false billings submitted in a scheme that bilked some $5.8 million from the relocation fund.
The evictions are invoking joy in some, anger in others and melancholy in those yearning for plantation days long gone.

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

William Gonsalves moved his family of six into Ewa Villages in 1996.

A year later, Ewa Villages landed on the map of notoriety when former city housing official Michael Kahapea and others were arrested in connection with the theft of $5.8 million in city relocation funds.

Gonsalves is waiting for the city to put in a long-promised expansion of Ewa Mahiko District Park. The expansion is supposed to go on a portion of the mill site where the businesses that Kahapea was responsible for moving are now finally getting out.

People will always associate Ewa Villages with the scandal, said Gonsalves, a 33-year-old corrections officer and treasurer of the Ewa Villages Homeowners Association. "But I think in time, the first thing you'll think won't be Mike Kahapea and the scandal," he said. "You'll think 'that's a real nice park.'"

City Managing Director Ben Lee announced at the end of August that the city wanted to remove all 14 remaining business tenants by the end of October. As of last week, four remained and the city wants them gone by Jan. 15, Lee said.

Danny Perreira of D&G equipment and hauling was on the phone working to relocate his company from Ewa Villages on Friday. The company is about 65 percent ready and the city wants them out by the end of the week.

Some, like Mac's Home Improvement went quietly after some 18 years in Ewa. "The city was fair with us and we were fair to the city," said Robert McClung Sr., vice president of the family-owned business.

The city paid the McClungs $130,000 to move everything from a 22,000-square-foot warehouse to two smaller sites -- one in Waipahu and the other on the Big Island.

The city also paid $160,000 to Aloha Truck Parts and Equipment for its move, $18,375 to the McKee Corp. and $3,250 to Precision Gunite.

All four businesses who received assistance from the city moved themselves. None, Lee said, received any money until the sites were inspected to ensure they were free of personal property or materials. Relocation checks issued to the tenants were signed by officials from three different departments, Lee said.

A number of other businesses that moved did so on their own and were not owed relocation because they moved into Ewa after the city purchased the area from Campbell Estate in 1993, including Ewa Beach Barber Shop, Sandblasting Services, Heavy Truck Maintenance and the Ewa Villages Nonprofit Development Corp.

Jean Abe, the longtime proprietor of the Ewa Town Beauty Shop, was entitled to relocation funds. Instead, she chose to close up her business after three decades rather than go through the headache of relocating.

Abe said she is still shaken that Kahapea and his cohorts used her business on phony invoices to claim relocation money when she never moved.

"You're supposed to have people checking," Abe said. "Why didn't they check up on us? This thing still cannot register for me, that get people like that around."

Mostly, however, Abe is sad for the customers she's left behind including ones who didn't drive and would walk to her shop. "After you've been with the people for over 30 years, you get attached."

Five businesses have not yet moved: D&G Equipment and Hauling, Hawaii Truck and Forklift, Leeward Equipment Rental Inc., Matt's Transmission Repair Inc. and American Welding.

All have been on month-to-month leases. The city has taken legal action to try to get some of them out.

"If they have not shown any activity (toward moving), we're going to say basically we've given them more than adequate time and we want them out of the site," Lee said.

Lee said that Hawaii Truck and Forklift and Leeward Equipment Rental are both about 80 percent moved out while D&G is about 65 percent there. He wants all three completely gone by the end of this week. Court action is continuing with Matt's Transmission and American Welding.

American Welding is the largest of the remaining tenants and the only one left the city is obligated to pay to have moved. That relocation is being handled by a private hauler to be determined by sealed bids submitted to the city.

Danny Perreira, owner of D&G, said he wants until Feb. 1 to move off his 21,000-square-foot site and questions why the city is in such a hurry.

Perreira said he generates $1,714 a month in lease rent for city coffers and "try to clean this place up" but is not allowed to attend meetings held by homeowners' association.

Nathan Reyes, the owner of Matt's Transmission, wants until the end of March to remove everything he's had stored on 90,000 square feet over 10 years.

Reyes said he was never told that he would one day have to move out of Ewa and noted that Kahapea had actually moved tenants into the mill area.

He said he put in about $20,000 in improvements last year and would not have done so if he'd known he would be moving.

Perreira said leasing agents told him he would have five years on the site.

Area Councilman John DeSoto said he is happy the area, which he described as "an eyesore," is finally being cleared.

"Businesses with landfills and abandoned vehicles aren't a historic site," DeSoto said.

Lee agreed. "I think the community has been waiting a long time to remove this, I believe, visual blight from the Ewa Villages community," he said. The Mahiko Park expansion will include ball fields, community and recreational facilities (in five of the historic buildings) and possibly even a swimming pool.

DeSoto last year earmarked an initial $4.5 million for the project.

The improvements would have proceeded more quickly, Lee said, but the city was waiting for a settlement reached with former landowner Campbell Estate, lessee Oahu Sugar Co. and others over compensation for removing contaminants from the mill site, an issue resolved earlier this year.

Soil remediation is expected to take about three months and the area should be grassed by May, he said. Renovation of the buildings will probably occur sometime next year, he said.

Louis Maria, former president of the Old Ewa Villages Community Association, said young families will benefit from the redevelopment taking place at the mill site. But at the same time, Maria said, there is a sense of loss as the last vestiges of the once proud town disappear.

"When you lose a place like Jean's Beauty Shop, people get really hurt," Maria said.

City Prosecutor Randal Lee, who argued the city's case against Kahapea, said the crimes the former official committed not only resulted in the loss of some $5.8 million, but is requiring taxpayers even today to foot the bill for some of the companies to finally move.

Don Wilkerson, Kahapea's attorney, said he continues to believe his client received only a fraction of the total money lost and was a pawn for others.

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