Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Hawaiians marched to Iolani Palace yesterday to mark Queen Liliuokalani's birthday. From left, Richard Pomaikaiokalani Kinney, Kamanaopono Crabbe, Kenneth Carvalho and Stanley Aikala joined other marchers in flying flags upside down.

Hundreds remember
Hawaii’s last queen

A rally at Iolani Palace
becomes a protest against a
leasehold conversion measure

By Rosemarie Bernardo

The Queen Liliuokalani Trust provided money and counseling that helped Keoni Bunag, then 15, and his family recover from the death of his father from lung cancer.

Bunag, now 22, is a student at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, majoring in Hawaiian studies.

He told his story before hundreds of people who attended a rally at Iolani Palace in honor of the 164th anniversary of Queen Liliuokalani's birth and urged those present to oppose a leasehold conversion bill before the City Council that would make it easier for owners of condominiums on leasehold land to force the sale of the land under their apartments.

Bunag is among those who believe Bill 53 will lead to the end of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust.

"You gotta make sure it's here for other generations to come," he said.

As more than 500 participants celebrated the queen's birthday with hula and chant, several people held signs reading "Stop Legalized Land Theft" and "Stop the Land Grab" as they walked from the Royal Mausoleum to Iolani Palace.

Tables with petitions opposing the amendment were set up at Iolani Palace by Kupa'a Mahope O Liliuokalani, a grass-roots organization that formed in light of Bill 53. A third reading of the bill is scheduled for Sept. 25 at Honolulu Hale.

In a written statement, Michael Pang, principal broker of Monarch Properties and a supporter of Bill 53, said: "Some of the rhetoric being used to fan the emotional flame of opposition is inaccurate. For example, those opposed to fee conversion say that the effect of selling ranges from reducing a lessor's income to 'stealing' it.

"However, the opposite is true. The economic fact is, lessors selling at today's fair market value should profit in reinvestment over all the income they can earn from their leases plus the redevelopment value of the land at the end of it."

Holding a sign, "Bill 53 Make the Orphans Pay," Lono Correa said: "For us there's a lot more at stake. It's not about money."

Correa, member of Kupa'a, said the amendment represents an "incremental reduction of the trust."

"This is the beginning bite of taking the 16 acres (of the queen's land)," he added.

Council member Steve Holmes, who was one of five members who voted in favor of the bill two months ago, said he expects a close vote on the measure, and it could go either way.

Holmes said he still supports the bill.

Bill 53 would allow half of the owner-occupants in a leasehold building to force the sale of the land under their units.

The measure addresses a state Supreme Court ruling that set a higher standard that a minimum of 25 owner-occupants or half of all the owners of the units in a leasehold building must agree to mandatory conversion.

The Supreme Court ruling meant that Foster Towers, a leasehold building with 142 apartments on Queen Liliuokalani land, no longer qualified under the city's lease-to-fee conversion law. There are 16 owner-occupants in the building, and eight want to buy the fee.

"My feeling is that the Queen Liliuokalani Trust could be dealt with separate and apart from Bill 53," Holmes said. The trust itself could resolve the issue by dealing fairly with eight owners who are petitioning the council."

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