Sen. Fong is deserving of Kahaluu park honor
THIS is in response to "Fong park name meets opposition" (Star-Bulletin, Oct. 9
), about community opposition to naming Kahaluu Regional Park after my father. In 1944 my father, the late Sen. Hiram L. Fong, purchased his first property in Kahaluu. Growing up, we would spend every weekend in Kahaluu split between the house on the ocean and the farm in the mountains, only minutes away. Every trip to the farm ended with a stop at the Hygienic Store for a bottle of ice cold Nehi.
Over the years, Dad continued to purchase land in Kahaluu because he loved the area. His green thumb tamed the former pineapple fields of the Sing Chong Company, where he planted fruit trees and tropical flowers. In 1986 Dad opened his 720-acre property to the public as a botanical garden.
Dad also was a businessman. As with most successful businessmen, he was always alert for business opportunities and when the land which is now the Kahaluu Regional Park was being sold he put together a hui to purchase the property. The 37 acres at that time had mixed zoning including light industrial, residential and commercial uses. At one time, Kahaluu was destined for more intensive commercial use with a harbor proposed for the area. It was during this time, the early 1980s, that a proposal to develop the property for a combination of commercial and residential uses was presented by the hui. At the same time a proposal by Alexander & Baldwin also was presented to develop the Kahaluu Industrial Project, and a real estate developer named Mr. Odor proposed a 60-lot subdivision for the area. Later, the city began to rethink the development of Kahaluu, and with the adoption of the Koolaupoko Development Plan in the 1980s the hui's property was downzoned to Agriculture-2.
At that time my father testified at several public hearings that the downzoning of the property devalued the land and court action was contemplated, as many believed that the county already had plans to condemn the land for a park. One could say, therefore, that the city stole the property that is now the park or that Fong donated a portion of the land for the park. Whatever interpretation one uses, the fact remains that it would be appropriate for the park to bear his name, not only for his connection to the land but also for the years of public service he dedicated to the people of Hawaii.
As Dad retired from the U.S. Senate 30 years ago, many of his accomplishments have been forgotten. Dad would have been 100 next week. His life spanned one of our most socially and technologically progressive centuries, and his life embodied that era. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school as well as college; it took him more than two weeks to travel from Hawaii to Cambridge, Mass., where he attended and graduated from Harvard Law School.
Dad holds the distinction of being the first Asian American to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Prior to serving 17 years in Congress, he was also a member of the Territorial House of Representatives and served as its speaker. He was the first person from Hawaii to receive the Horatio Alger Award for outstanding success in law, business, and public service despite humble beginnings. He never forgot his immigrant roots and he cosponsored a 1965 bill allowing Asians and Pacific Islanders to immigrate to the United States in similar numbers as people from other continents. Many of our state's residents were able to come here because of that landmark bill.
While in Washington, Dad pushed for federal funds that directly benefited the people of Hawaii. These included funds to provide for the Kahaluu flood control project. To qualify for the federal funds, however, the City and County of Honolulu agreed to provide a park adjacent to the controlled area. Dad's actions benefited the community but, in turn, his land was condemned and he and his fellow owners were never compensated adequately for their property.
Merie-Ellen "Muffy" Fong Gushi lives in Wailuku, Maui.