CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Maili resident Deborah Ramirez is suing Japanese billionaire Gensiro Kawamoto over an injury she allegedly suffered at one of his properties in Kahala. Above, Ramirez showed where the mishap allegedly occurred. In the background, her attorney, Richard Turbin, spoke with the media about the lawsuit.
Kawamoto sued in Kahala mishap
The billionaire from Japan owns 20 homes in the neighborhood, most of which he has let deteriorate
Japanese billionaire Gensiro Kawamoto's stalled "Kahala Avenue Mission" has resulted in the first lawsuit relating to the neglect of his properties in the neighborhood.
Honolulu attorney Richard Turbin filed a complaint in state Circuit Court alleging that his plaintiff, Deborah Kekuawela Ramirez, was injured while walking by one of his neglected properties.
Ramirez, 46, a Native Hawaiian grants writer from Maili, said she was walking on the sidewalk past Kawamoto's vacant home at 4332 Kahala Ave. and Aukai Street on March 30 when she tripped over palm frond debris, causing her to fall backward over a wall he had knocked down, severely injuring her back.
Ramirez and her sister were walking around the neighborhood after reading about Kawamoto's mission in the newspaper, and wanted to see for themselves what he was doing.
"I'm beyond upset," Ramirez told the media during a meeting yesterday at the site where she tumbled. "Not so much for myself but for other people."
An elderly woman with a walker on the same sidewalk easily could be hurt, she said, as well as children on skateboards passing by.
She said she was still undergoing physical therapy for her back - and feels pain from time to time, though not daily.
The suit, filed on Sept. 10, seeks an unspecified amount of damages for the injury, in addition to lost wages, emotional distress and mental anxiety.
Kawamoto could not be reached for comment. His interpreter, Kana Yamamoto, said he was out of the state.
Turbin - who also happens to live next to one of Kawa-moto's neglected properties - said he has attempted to contact Kawamoto at three or four different addresses in Kahala as well as through his former real estate brokers.
So far, there has been no response.
Among the challenges Turbin faces is getting in touch with Kawamoto, as well as getting him to retain an attorney.
"He likes to be elusive and mysterious, but that's not a good thing when you create unsafe situations," said Turbin. "The point is it's not just the decay of one property, but of 20 properties. It's a pattern of behavior."
Many of the walls that Kawamoto knocked down still have sharp rebars sticking out, he said, which could easily injure a person passing by.
In addition, he pointed out other violations, like a desecrated U.S. flag on the ground of one of his properties and a stagnant swimming pool that continues to grow murkier by the day.
"Ms. Ramirez is concerned that her injuries were not only caused by Mr. Kawamoto's neglect but also by his intentional plan to devalue Kahala's property so he can buy more Kahala property at cheap prices," said Turbin in a statement. "Ms. Ramirez fears that Kawamoto's goal is to create a billionaire's barrio - so that he can purchase all of Kahala Avenue, destroy an American neighbor- hood, and build garish hotels landscaped with his own art collection."
The suit could be considered by some a desperate attempt to get Kawamoto out of the neighborhood.
For more than a year, residents have complained about Kawamoto's unsightly properties before the local neighborhood board, about his cutting down of palm trees (sometimes theirs and not his own), and overgrown yards.
The 1,700-member Kahala Community Association considered going after Kawamoto for violating the neighborhood's covenants and deeds, but is run by volunteers and has little clout.
The state Department of Health also has been called to inspect the properties, with no recourse, said Turbin, who also sits on the neighborhood board, but is filing the suit as an individual.
Kawamoto owns more than 20 properties along both sides of Kahala Avenue that he acquired over the last six years for anywhere between $2.7 million to $20 million apiece.
He stunned the neighborhood and garnered worldwide media attention last spring when he offered three of his homes - rent-free - to Native Hawaiian families. The families are still living in his homes today.
Kawamoto was supposed to give away five more homes to families, but never fulfilled that promise.
Turbin said it could take up to six months for Kawamoto to be served with the suit, after which he has 30 days to respond.
Turbin said he will have to respond.
"Eventually, he'll have to, or we'll get a default judgment," said Turbin.