Council approves Waimea settlement
But one councilman says city negotiators failed to protect the interest of taxpayers
Five of the nine members of the City Council voted yesterday to approve a $14 million court-mediated settlement aimed at protecting Waimea Valley from development.
But the vote came after a closed-door session with attorneys -- and questions from some councilmembers on whether taxpayers got their money's worth in the deal.
Councilman Romy Cachola criticized the Corporation Counsel's Office for the way the negotiations were handled.
"The Corporation Counsel did not protect the taxpayers' money," Cachola said after the vote. "They gave away the store."
Deputy Corporation Counsel Donna Woo, who was one of the attorneys working on the settlement, said it's unfortunate that Cachola feels that way.
"This is a negotiated settlement. We don't always get in a negotiated settlement what we want," Woo said.
In December, the Council unanimously voted down an offer to settle a condemnation lawsuit affecting the valley. That proposal would have allowed the back portion of the 1,875-acre valley to be developed.
After the vote, Mayor Mufi Hannemann and the landowner's attorney announced that they had reached a tentative settlement that would pay owner Christian Wolffer $14 million for the property.
Voting for the settlement were Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, Todd Apo, Nestor Garcia, Barbara Marshall and Gary Okino. Cachola, Ann Kobayashi and Rod Tam weren't present to vote on the measure. Charles Djou was out of town.
The city's share of the settlement is the $5.1 million it deposited with the court when it filed the lawsuit in 2002 to condemn the valley.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Army through the Trust for Public Lands, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the National Audubon Society will contribute the remaining $9 million.
As part of the settlement, OHA would take title to the land while the Audubon Society would continue to manage the 300 acres of park currently within the valley.
For its contribution, the city would get a stake in public access and conservation easements.
But Cachola said he had hoped the city would get back a portion of the $5 million since it paid more for the easements than the $2.9 million OHA paid to get the title to the entire valley.
As a way of trying to recoup part of the money, Cachola has contemplated selling the easements to OHA after the settlement process was completed.
But after receiving the final settlement documents from city attorneys yesterday, Cachola said he learned for the first time that the city would own the easements jointly with the state, which would prevent the city from selling the easement without the state's permission.
Woo said she could not comment on ownership of the easement because all the settlement details have not yet been made public.
But she said "it was quite a feat" to get all the parties to the table along with the additional $9 million.