Mayor stays optimistic on Waimea talks
Resolution of a suit by the landowner will rely on cooperation, Hannemann says
Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he is confident he will help the city reach an agreement for the purchase of Waimea Valley without going to trial.
"It's not going to be easy, but I think I can," he said yesterday.
On Wednesday the City Council voted 9-0 to reject an offer to resolve the condemnation lawsuit the city filed in December 2001 to acquire the 1,875-acre valley.
Had it passed, the deal would have allowed the city to keep the 300 acres occupied by the park, now operated by the National Audubon Society, and allowed landowner Christian Wolffer to develop homes and an ecological camp further up in the valley.
The mayor said the goal is to get Wolffer to negotiate with the National Audubon Society, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the state. All three promised financial assistance to purchase the valley.
"Now is the time to show me the money. Let's get serious," Hannemann said. "So all of you out there that want to see Waimea Valley preserved, I'm interested in having you at the table."
But convincing everyone, especially the seller, might take some effort.
Wolffer is looking forward to going to trial because he believes he has a good case, said Bill McCorriston, his attorney.
Still, McCorriston said, Wolffer would be willing to continue mediation with the city as long as ground rules are set, including defining what role the City Council and the Audubon Society would play in the negotiations.
McCorriston said he found Audubon President John Flicker's testimony before the Council on Wednesday "disingenuous and dishonest" about the risks that face the city should the Council decide to reject the settlement offer.
"They don't seem capable of telling the truth," said McCorriston, who says his client does not want to negotiate directly with Audubon.
Attempts to reach Audubon officials yesterday were unsuccessful.
Hannemann said he could mediate.
"That's where I'm the go-between," the mayor said. "He doesn't have to talk to them directly. I'll talk to the Audubon Society, I'll talk to OHA, I'll talk to the state and that's what I'll do."
Hannemann also criticized the position taken by some people who say the city should take its chances at trial, which is scheduled for the week of Feb. 13. The city, he said, does not have deep pockets.
"There is too much risk for the city and all parties to let the courts decide," he said. "I don't buy that -- 'Let's throw it to the courts, and the courts will come up with a figure.' What if that cost is so astronomical that we can't afford it? Then we go back to square one."
Hannemann said that he would also like to see if the offers of financial help are credible: "I want real, hard dollar figures."
First Deputy Corporation Counsel Donna Woo said that the city will be preparing for trial.
"However, if there are serious negotiations ongoing and the court thinks that the parties can reach an agreement, that trial date could be moved," she said.
McCorriston said if there are negotiations, he would like the mayor to lead them.